From the Archive – Warlock (1989)

Warlock

 

Directed by Steve Miner
Starring Julian Sands, Richard E. Grant and Lori Singer

After a long chase, witch hunter Giles Redfern (Grant) runs to ground the Warlock (Sands) who destroyed his wife. However, calling on his devil-given powers the warlock flees through time to the twentieth century, where the Devil charges him with tracking down the sections of Satan’s Bible: The Grand Grimoire – an indestructible book of evil magic which can bring about the end of the world.

Redfern and his unwilling sidekick, Kassandra (Singer) – a twentieth century girl cursed by the Warlock to age twenty years every day – chase the Warlock across the country. They track him by watching for the traditional witch-signs – flames burning blue, milk souring and so forth – and by using Redfern’s ‘witch compass’, and striking at him through tried and tested means such as driving iron nails into his footprints and burning him with salt (to which all witches are vulnerable, dontcha know).

Eventually, they confront the Warlock in a deconsecrated cemetery which turns out to hold Redfern’s grave (in which the last pages of the Grimoire are buried). The Warlock is vanquished, and Redfern returns to the past, leaving Kassandra to bury the Grimoire in the heart of the Utah Salt Flats.

What’s wrong with it?

Julian Sands; acting as wooden as ever, bless him. Lori Singer’s outfits, and in fact the whole late eighties look of the thing (although  in their defence, it was the late eighties).

What’s right with it?

The whole thing with the witch-signs, and Redfern’s witch-hunting gear, is very nicely done. Redfern himself is played with great aplomb and gusto by Grant, reveling in the role of the anachronistic Puritan zealot. The effects are minimalist, but reasonably decent, and the whole thing does have something pretty closely resembling a plot, plus a Jerry Goldsmith score.

How bad is it really?

Actually, it’s not half bad. It has a good conceit in the witch-hunting methods, Grant is always watchable, and the film trots along at a nice pace.

Best bit?

Probably Richard E. Grant lobbing a weather vane at the Warlock; or possibly the Witch Compass exchange:

“What’s that? Some kind of compass?”
“Witch compass.”
“That compass right there.”

What’s up with…?

  • Burning the Warlock over a basket of live cats after they hang him? Is that kosher New England witch-hunting? Damn these people were strange.

Ratings

Production values – Not bad at all for their day; although somewhat dated now. The SFX is mostly restricted to some wire-work, a few flames and Kassandra’s premature aging make-up. As I recall, the Warlock’s death scene might leave a little to be desired. 10

Dialogue and performances – For the most part, the acting is fairly solid. The dialogue is fairly dry, but delivered with enough panache and timing to make it work. Tragically, Julian Sands lets the side down, slipping gently from sinister and dispassionate into just plain wooden.12

Plot and execution – While the plot of Warlock is fairly straightforward, it is played out with decent pacing, and is more interesting than much modern fare (for example, Warlocks II and III, which are basically just about the gore and the skin shots). 8

Randomness – Well, Redfern continually comes up with new signs of a witch’s presence, and new ways to hurt them, but as most of these methods are pretty much accurate – or at least no more ridiculous than the real thing – it doesn’t entirely count as randomness. 10

Waste of Potential – As movies about time-hopping witches go, Warlock is pretty much the bomb. 5

Overall 45%

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