Wishmaster was, I thought, one of those 80’s films that I should seen by now. It was recommended to me last week, and I’ve been wracking my brains as to why it’s never really been on my radar. As it turns out, the answer is pretty simple. Centering on an ancient, evil djinn who collects souls by granting wishes that come with terrible, twisted consequences, all monkey’s paw-like, Wishmaster’s got Wes Craven’s name on it (though I don’t think he’s as involved as the movie posters would have us believe), a writer from the Hellraiser sequels, a who’s-who cast of horror gems, and, as it turns out… is actually a film from 1997.
This explains everything about why I never saw it. I was a few years out of high school by that time, and trying to figure out what to do with my life, and I don’t think I was doing much in the way of reading or movie-watching. I was doing a lot of anxious avoidance of everything, including and especially the things I loved–like horror. I had just seen Scream the year previously and that’s really the only film I recall watching during that time period. Last night while watching Wishmaster and trying to figure out the year it was made by observing the clothing and hairstyles and such (instead of the easier thing to do, looking it up on IMDB) I began comparing it to Scream for some reason, and came away with the impression that Scream just felt much more contemporary to me, whereas Wishmaster really did seem like an 80s relic. Imagine my surprise when I looked it up and realized that Wishmaster was actually released a year later than Scream!
Well, considering that Wishmaster had a bunch of ridiculously gory practical effects–some of them pretty great, actually, like the skeleton busting out of someone’s skin in the film’s opening–and Scream was a hip update of the slasher genre, I guess in comparison, Wishmaster would seem a bit retro?
There was a lot to love about this film! It begins with a Persian sorcerer trapping the malevolent djinn in a jewel, and then we fast forward to the present day, or rather, 1997. Some sort of relic is being delivered to a collector (Robert Englund!) and in a careless accident, a crane drops the box containing it, and Englund’s assistant (Ted Raimi!) is squashed and killed. A glowing red jewel is revealed in the broken statue and a construction worker pockets it and sells it to a pawnbroker, who then takes it to an auction house. This is how it ends up in the hands of Alex, who in examining the stone–which she annoyingly keeps referring to as an “opal”, but come on, it’s bright red!–somehow activates the djinn.
In the beginning, the narrator (Angus Scrimm!) explains that “God breathed life into the universe…the light gave birth to Angels…the earth gave birth to man…the fire gave birth to the djinn, creatures condemned to dwell in the void between the worlds.” And that the person who wakes a djinn will receive three wishes, but the third wish will free legions of djinn on Earth. So these are the stakes here, but no one’s ever going to follow a trail of carnage and immediately think “Ah, methinks this is the work of a djinn!” so I think it’s forgivable that it takes Alex a while to figure out what’s going on.
The djinn is played by a deliciously magnetic Andrew Divoff to gravelly-voiced devilish perfection…I don’t know that I know this actor from anything else but MAN he was creepy in this. There is a kooky, sassy professor of folklore (you can tell she’s kooky and sassy because of the statement necklaces) who is a hoot, and oh yeah–Tony Todd shows up as a doomed doorman, Reggie Bannister is a nasty pharmacist who meets a nasty end, Tom Savini plays a bit part and there’s even the husband of someone I know through Instagram who has a tiny part in this film!
And while the dialogue was just whatever, there were a few instances when the professor was talking about the lore and history of the djinn, for example, or when the djinn himself was describing the destruction and chaos he going to delight in bringing forth–I thought those parts were delightfully dark and poetic and well-written. This is coming from someone who likes a bit of purple prose, so take that with a grain of salt, I guess.
Do I want to watch the probably very silly and bad sequels? I think that I do!
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