The Summer of Lovecraft: Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)

The effects are not as special as this poster makes out.
The effects are not as special as this poster makes out.

“The Comedy Detective Thriller with Very Special Effects”

Directed by Martin Campbell
Starring Fred Ward, David Warner, Julianne Moore, Clancy Brown and Alexandra Powers

The Story

Okay, in fairness this one isn’t based on a specific Lovecraft story.

The Film

H. Philip Lovecraft (Ward) is a private detective in LA 1948, a city where everyone uses magic; everyone except Lovecraft. Hired by wealthy Amos Hackshaw (Warner) to recover his copy of the Necronomicon, he follows the trail of the thief through a world in which he knows almost everyone, from ex-partner-turned-hoodlum Harry Bordon (Brown) to old flame Connie Stone (Moore).


Lovecraft learns that Hackshaw plans to sacrifice his daughter Olivia (Powers) to summon the Old Ones, but he is betrayed and the ritual goes ahead. The end of the world looms, and only a deus ex machina can save it.

What’s wrong with it?

You know how HBO have this reputation for high production values and epic, cinema-on-TV presentations? Yeah, this was the 80s, and Cast a Deadly Spell looks like something from the mind of Anthony Hickox.

Sassy gargoyle
Sassy gargoyle

Oh, yeah; sassy gargoyle. This is a comedy horror movie, which is a treacherous breed. It’s not laugh out loud funny, but nor is it actually scary.

The ending is kind of predictable, if only because it got recycled in an episode of Angel.

What’s right with it?

Fred Ward is, if nothing else, excellent at playing a lovable schlub, and the supporting cast are pretty classy.

The idea that magic has become a pervasive presence in the world, and one that is causing a general decline in morality as well as the occasional apocalyptic threat is an interesting one.

How bad is it really?

Despite the absence of belly laughs, the film is a lot of fun.

Best bit (if such there is)?

In the opening, the smarmy cop gets knocked down after sassing Lovecraft’s client. His boss steps past him and growls: “Get up Grimaldi. Anyone’d think you’d never been slugged by a dame before.”

What’s up with…?

  • Sassy gargoyle?


Production values – It was the 80s, and I’m not sure anymore how the effects measure up to the standards of the era, but this was never the Game of Thrones of its day. 12
Dialogue and performances – The noirish aesthetic doesn’t lend itself to deeply affecting performances. No-one is bad, but it’s very controlled. 11
Plot and execution – The story jumps around a bit, and the ending is a little deus ex machina, but it mostly follows from what has come before. 8
Randomness – Aside from the gargoyle sass, it sticks to its guns. 5
Waste of potential – It’s not very Lovecraftian, but it’s a decent way to spend an hour and a half. 6

Overall 42%

2 thoughts on “The Summer of Lovecraft: Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)”

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