Wishmaster (1997) (90 minutes)
Directed by Robert Kurtzman.
Written by Peter Atkins.
Starring Tammy Lauren, Andrew Divoff and Robert Englund.
Followed by Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999)
In the mid-1990s there was a void in horror cinema. Before Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s meta-slasher Scream (1996) reinvigorated the genre – and inspired the teen-horror boom that followed – horror was struggling to stay relevant. Psychological thrillers, such as 1990’s Jacob’s Ladder and 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs had taken center stage; thus the less-serious splatter-fests of the decade were overshadowed. Pre-Scream, genre fanatics still had their VHS tapes of 1989’s Bride of Re-Animator and 1992’s Braindead, but the future looked bleak.
When Wishmaster was announced, it was met with excitement. This was a horror movie created by horror fans for horror fans. Executive produced by Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street), directed by special make-up effects artist Robert Kurtzman (Evil Dead II, From Dusk till Dawn), starring horror icons Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Angus Scrimm (Phantasm) Tony Todd (Candyman), Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th), Joseph Pilato (Day of the Dead), and scored by Harry Manfredini (Friday the 13th), Wishmaster appeared to have the ‘killer’ team. What could go wrong?
“Once, in a time before time, God breathed life into the universe. And the light gave birth to Angels. And the earth gave birth to Man. And the fire gave birth to the Djinn, creatures condemned to dwell in the void between the worlds. One who wakes a Djinn will be given three wishes. Upon the granting of the third, the unholy legions of the Djinn will be freed to rule the Earth. Fear one thing in all there is… FEAR THE DJINN.”
In Persia, 1127, the Djinn (Andrew Divoff – Xtro 3: Watch the Skies) asks for the second wish of a Persian emperor, whose only reply is to be astonished. “Show me wonders!” But when mutilation and death occur throughout the palace, the emperor is horrified. Perhaps his third wish can be used to set things right? But before he can put forward his third, and final request, a sorcerer reveals the consequence of that wish and traps the Djinn inside a fire opal for eternity. Or so it may seem…
Fast forward to America, 1997, where Raymond Beaumont (Robert Englund) is in the midst of transferring the statue of Ahura Mazda to his own private art collection. As the boxed, antique statue is lifted by crane, the drunken operator (Joseph Pilato) accidentally drops Ahura Mazda to the dock floor with force; crushing Beaumont’s assistant (Ted Raimi) to death! The box and it’s contents are destroyed, but within the rubble lies the fire opal, still intact.
In the midst of the chaos, a dockworker discovers the fire opal and steals it, hoping the ancient gemstone is worth some value. From there, it makes it’s way to Regal Auctioneers, where Alexandra Amberson (Tammy Lauren) appraises it; an action that unfortunately, and unknowingly awakes the Djinn inside. Still trapped, it takes further evaluation of the gemstone to set the Djinn free. Alex’s assistant sends the fire opal through a thermal imaging machine, causing the machine to explode, and releasing the Djinn in the process. Mortally wounded and in severe pain, a wish is granted to Alex’s assistant; intended to provide him with relief from the pain, but resulting in his horrific death.
You see, the Djinn is still weak and must collect the souls of those he grants single wishes to. The perfect excuse for more grotesque set-pieces. In order to trick unsuspecting victims into making wishes, the Djinn takes on the form of of a dead man in the morgue, named Nathaniel Demerest (also played by Divoff). Once enough souls are trapped within the fire opal, the Djinn must grant Alex three wishes, and upon her third wish, legions of the Djinn will descend upon Earth.
“You wish to know what I am? To you, I am this: The cry of the abandoned child. The whimper of the whipped beast. I am the face that stares back at you from the shadows of your mirror. The hollowness at the heart of all your hopes… I AM DESPAIR.”
What is so endearing about Wishmaster is its numerous references to the horror genre. Even without cameos from Todd, Hodder, Raimi and various other horror alumni, Wishmaster contains various ‘Easter eggs’ for salivating horror fans to discover. Everything from the character names used that reference writers of the macabre (for example Charles Beaumont), to Raymond Beaumont’s collection room (and the appearance of the Pazuzu statue from The Exorcist). The Djinn, whilst not obtaining the same iconic status as Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, or Michael Myers, was a formidable villain that stood out in an era that continually attempted to make raincoats scary. Wishmaster feels less like a horror movie and more like a horror event.
And herein lies the problem… Wishmaster is a fun, gory movie that horror fans will appreciate, but won’t hold in the same regard as the iconic horror movies that came before it. As a horror event, the various cast, crew and references are undoubtedly bring about the greatest joy in watching Wishmaster, but they really shouldn’t. If you gutted Wishmaster, and replaced all the vital organs (i.e. star power), I honestly don’t think Wishmaster would be as fun to watch. With that said, Andrew Divoff’s performance as the Djinn is mesmerising and helps elevate the movie above those released during the same year. I’m looking at you, An American Werewolf in Paris!
Wishmaster’s special effects are also deserving of praise; focusing on practical effects over the computer-generated imagery that would dominate towards the end of the decade. I wouldn’t have expected anything less from K.N.B. EFX Group co-founder Robert Kurtzman, on his second directorial attempt after 1995’s The Demolitionist. Body horror is Wishmaster’s central theme, and K.N.B. pull no punches when tackling the mayhem dreamt up by screenwriter Peter Atkins (Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth).
Wishmaster is presented on Blu-ray; courtesy of Lionsgate’s Vestron Video Collector’s Series, with AVC encoded 1.78:1 1080p transfer, along with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track and English subtitles for the deaf or hard-of-hearing. If you owned the First Independent Video DVD release of Wishmaster, the difference is picture quality is outstanding.
This Blu-ray release also features three additional audio tracks: two audio commentaries, with the first featuring Robert Kurtzman and Peter Atkins waxing lyrical about the production process, and the second featuring Kurtzman again, alongside Andrew Divoff and Tammy Lauren. The third audio track is an isolated score selection and interview with composer Harry Manfredini.
And if that wasn’t enough to convince you to order Wishmaster, this Vestron Video Collector’s Series release also includes various featurettes, including Out of the Bottle, interviews with Kurtzman and co-producer David Tripet; The Magic Words, an interview with Atkins; The Djinn and Alexandra, interviews with Divoff and Lauren; Captured Visions, an interview with director of photography Jacques Haitkin; Wish List, interviews with actors Englund, Hodder and Raimi; and a vintage EPK behind-the-scenes featurette entitled Wicked Wishes: The Making of Wishmaster. Also included are trailers, TV and Radio spots, a storyboard gallery, and a still gallery.
Having initially seen Wishmaster during my early teenage years, I can look back at the movie with fond memories. Yet revisiting Wishmaster in my early thirties has also informed me that Wishmaster plays upon that nostalgia. Without the ‘killer’ cast, or the spectacular K.N.B. SFX, Wishmaster is no more interesting than any other straight-to-video monster movie. Indeed, Wishmaster would itself spawn three straight-to-video sequels: Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999), Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell (2001) and Wishmaster: The Prophecy Fulfilled (2002). For those unfamiliar with this genre, Wishmaster is difficult to recommend. But if you are reading this review as a fan of the horror genre, which I assume you are, then Wishmaster is a delightful curiosity.