Summer of Lovecraft: Witch Hunt (1994)

witch hunt
The woman in this poster is in the film for all of thirty seconds.

“It’s a kind of magic”

Directed by Paul Schrader
Starring Dennis Hopper, Penelope Anne Miller, Julian Sands, Eric Bogosian and Sheryl Lee Ralph

Private detective HP Lovecraft is hired by starlet Kim Hudson (Miller) to tail her unfaithful husband. When the husband is murdered by magic, anti-magic politician Senator Crockett (Bogosian) uses it as a linchpin for the investigations of his Unnatural Activities Commission. Lovecraft’s friend and neighbour Hypolita Kropotkin is framed for the crime and sentenced to burn.

As his usual line in following unfaithful spouses once more veers into the realm of the supernatural, Lovecraft struggles to unravel the truth before Hypolita goes to the pyre. What is the senator’s true agenda? And what is the role of Lovecraft’s old nemesis, Finn Macha (Sands)?

What’s wrong with it?

Exchanging the noir pastiche of Cast a Deadly Spell for a satire of the McCarthyite witch hunts, Witch Hunt lacks the lighthearted charm of its predecessor. It doesn’t help that, whatever Dennis Hopper’s virtues may be, lighthearted comedy isn’t among them.

Julian Sands is rarely what you might call good, but in this he is diabolical (and not in the sense that he plays an evil warlock, although he does.) It’s the accent, which I initially mistook for a terrible German accent, but which I realised later was actually the worst Irish accent to be committed to tape until Billy Piper in Penny Dreadful.

The special effects are if anything worse than Cast a Deadly Spell.

What’s right with it?

It has a few decent moments, and some clever ideas in among the general mish-mash.

How bad is it really?

It’s not terrible, but suffers some tonal dissonance where the attempts at broader humour rub up against the darker satire.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Lovecraft tails his suspicious client to a drive-in movie, where someone attacks them by magic so that the shots from the characters on the screen are fired at them.

What’s up with…?

  • Julian Sands’ accent?

Ratings

Production values – Oh HBO; how far you had to come. 18
Dialogue and performances – The players are pretty pro, although some are miscast. The dialogue is nothing especially good or bad. 8
Plot and execution – Oddly, the addition of magic makes this less convoluted and easier to follow than many of Chandler’s plots. 7
Randomness – In fairness, the film never goes crazy. Of course, that might not be an unqualified boon given that its a concept that could use a little crazy. 7
Waste of potential – Witch Hunt is significantly less successful than Cast a Deadly Spell, and even less Lovecraftian. 14

Overall 54%

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