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There are times when I think I’ve seen something before, but I’m not sure until a particular point in the movie. That was definitely the case with Warlock. I was almost certain that I had seen it before, but I didn’t have any real solid memory of it until about halfway through it. There are a couple of moments are surprisingly memorable. A couple for good reasons and one or two because Warlock has some effects that are almost embarrassing, even for 1989.
Warlock is a hard movie to place in terms of its target audience. There are some odd similarities to movies like The Terminator and Time After Time. Essentially, we have a, well, warlock (Julian Sands) several centuries past who is looking to complete a tome of power called the Grand Grimoire. The book has the power to, in the parlance of the time, unmake the world. But the warlock is foiled by Giles Redferne (Richard E. Grant). Still, being a warlock means having some powerful allies. He manages to free himself with the assistance of Satan himself, who whisks him a few centuries into the future to the film’s present. Redferne manages to follow and shows up in the present as well.
So here’s what I mean about this movie having trouble finding its audience. On the one hand, we’re going to eventually pair up Redferne with stereotypical late-‘80s LA girl Kassandra (Lori Singer). There’s going to be plenty of fish out of water style comedy as the originally-from-late-18th-Century-Boston Redferne deals with 1989 Los Angeles. But at the same time, we’re going to get some violent and upsetting moments. When the warlock arrives, for instance, he discovers the first third of the book in Kassandra’s home, and, in getting it, kills her roommate by first slicing off the man’s finger and then biting out his tongue. Later, he murders and dismembers an unbaptized boy so that he can turn the boy’s fat into a flying potion. That’s some surprisingly dark stuff for a film that also features Birdemic-level flying effects for Julian Sands and some really unfortunate aging makeup on Lori Singer.
Essentially, Warlock is a race between the titular warlock and the duo of Kassandra and Redferne. If the warlock can piece together the entire grimoire, he can learn the true name of God, which, spoken backwards, will destroy all of creation. We’ll spend a little time in Mennonite country as well, and that’s going to involve some bleeding eyes and other weird forms of torture.
Warlock is going to continue to ping-pong back and forth between buddy comedy and disturbing horror moments. It’s fun that Kassandra gets Redferne on an airplane and all that that entails. It’s disturbing that he has to perform triage on an old Mennonite farmer who looked the warlock in the eyes and started bleeding from his eyes. The relationship between Kassandra and Redferne is mildly flirty and cute even if it’s clearly doomed by the two-century difference. It’s disturbing when the warlock rips out the eyes of a medium to help lead him to the book.
There are some things here that work well. We’ll eventually discover that the third piece of the book is buried in a church cemetery back in Boston, and when we get there, it turns out it’s buried in the grave of one Giles Redferne. That’s a great moment—they have to open up the grave to get it, and we see the living Redferne confront his own nearly-200-year-dead body. It falls to Kassandra to remove the pages, clutched as they are in the hands of the body, and so it’s both funny and a little awful when she breaks Redferne’s fingers to remove the pages.
There are some terrible special effects in this movie. There are moments when the warlock flying looks like it was done on whatever was around before MS Paint. It’s sad, because it does have a real tendency to pull the viewer (or at least me) out of the film. The same is true of the weird aging effects on Kassandra. Early in the film, the warlock curses her to age 20 years every day and steals her bracelet to seal the deal. She can only break the curse if she gets her bracelet back, and this takes her a couple of days. Sixty-year-old Kassandra looks like a sort of lumpier version of Kassandra who acts like she’s in her mid-80s. At one point, she has to chase a train. This is treated as if she is running on hot coals and broken glass. As someone moving in those age circles, I object. I may no longer be lithe, but I can run if I have to without looking like I’ve been kneecapped.
The real reason to watch this, though, is Richard E. Grant. He’s having a lot of fun speaking in late 18th-Century-ese and wearing a big fury vest. He’s generally always worth watching, and in this, he’s the best reason. Julian Sands is…well, Julian Sands and no different from what you’d expect from him. As for Lori Singer, the only way I can describe her in this is that she desperately wants to be mistaken for an Arquette.
Perhaps the most telling thing to say about Warlock is that the first sequel stars Julian Sands and has absolutely no continuity with this film. The third film has a new star and has no continuity with either of the first two. Make of that what you will.
So what’s with the title of this review? We learn early on that Kassandra is diabetic. There’s no reason for her to be diabetic except for the fact that it’s going to come into play eventually. Chekhov always pays off in the end, after all.
Why to watch Warlock: Young Richard E. Grant is not surprisingly fun and charming Richard E. Grant.
Why not to watch: Some of the effects are funny even by 1989 standards.