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Transmissions to Earth Presents
Review by LL Soares
After the phenomenal success of Freddy Krueger in the movie A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), and its many sequels, the wise-cracking, murderous monster became a familiar figure in pop culture, with such wise-ass cinematic killers as the evil doll Chucky (CHILD’S PLAY, 1988), the titular villain in LEPRECHAUN (1993), and the sinister djinn of WISHMASTER (1997). All had multiple sequels, puns, and corny jokes.
Robert Kurtzman, best known as a makeup artist on such films as EVIL DEAD II (1987), A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD (1989) and ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992), had only directed one other film, THE DEMOLITIONIST (1995) before taking on the titular WISHMASTER. The film was written by Peter Atkins, who had previously written the screenplays for HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (1988), HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH (1992), and HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE (1996). Thus, the film’s creators were well steeped in the popular horror movies of the time.
In WISHMASTER, we begin with a flashback scene, taking us to ancient Egypt, where a sorcerer battles a strange creature who is tormenting the pharaoh. The creature is tricked into being trapped in a gemstone.
In modern day, two very familiar faces waiting on a dock for a valuable crate to be unloaded from a ship. Millionaire art collector Raymond Beaumont (Robert Englund, best known as Freddy Krueger in the various NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies) and his assistant, Ed Finney (Ted Raimi, brother of Sam, and in tons of movies and TV shows, including the current Showtime series ASH VS. EVIL DEAD), are watching as a crane operator, who has been drinking on the job, spills his cup on the controls. As a result, precious cargo is accidentally dropped, crushing Finney beneath a crate and shattering the priceless statue inside (of ancient god Ahura Mazda). In the debris, a worker finds the gem mentioned earlier, a fire opal, and pockets it. It finds its way to a pawn broker named Doug Clegg (comedian John Byner, also in the classic series SOAP, 1978 – 1980, and he was the host of the very early Showtime sketch comedy show, BIZARRE, 1980 – 1985), who brings it to Alexandra Amberson (Tammy Lauren, with over 60 credits, including roles on the TV shows HOME IMPROVEMENT, THE DREW CAREY SHOW, and THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS), who is an expert on jewels at an auction house. She says she will examine and appraise it.
When she breathes on it and wipes the gem, this presumably awakens the creature imprisoned inside. She brings the opal to her friend (and potential love interest) Josh Aickman (Tony Crane, also in THE WAR OF THE ROSES, 1989, and the TV series THE BIG EASY, 1996 – 1997) to laser scan it. During the process, the gem is shattered and the creature breaks free, destroying Josh’s lab.
Our monster this time around is a djinn (Andrew Divoff, also in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, 1990, and AIR FORCE ONE, 1997)—an ancient creature better known to the west as a genie—that has been around since before mankind. The djinn goes around granting people’s random wishes, building up power by accessing their souls in the process. For example, a homeless man (George “Buck” Flower, also in THE FOG, 1980, and BACK TO THE FUTURE, 1985) who has been insulted by a pharmacist (Reggie Bannister, PHANTASM, 1979) wishes cancer on the man, who then instantly dies from a sped-up version of cancer that eats him from within. The djinn also gets rid of people who stand in his way by tricking them into making a wish, like a security guard (Kane Hodder, who has played Jason Vorhees in several FRIDAY THE 13TH movies, starting with PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD, 1988, as well as playing Victor Crowley in the HATCHET films, starting in 2006) who refuses him entrance to an office, or the sales lady who he turns into a mannequin when she asks him to pay for a new suit.
But the djinn saves the majority of its attention to Alexandra—she is very important to him, perhaps because her breath is what woke him— trying to trick her into making three wishes, the third of which, according to legend, will open up a doorway into the djinn’s world, allowing more of his kind to enter and take over the earth. By first taking the face off a body in a morgue (Andrew Divoff sans monster makeup) and later using other faces to fool her (he can change his overall appearance when using another’s face), the djinn tricks Alexandra into making two wishes, but she proves very stubborn when the djinn tries to force her to make the third, fatal wish, even after he has captured Alexandra’s younger sister, Shannon (Wendy Benson).
The big showdown at the end takes place in the home of Mr. Beaumont, who is having a lavish party. The djinn goes wild, bringing statues of warriors to life and tormenting the party-goers in various gory ways. Alexandra faces off against the monster once and for all.
There are lots of fun cameos, several of which I’ve already mentioned, but there’s also deep-voiced Tony Todd (CANDYMAN, 1992) in a cool scene as a security guy named Johnny Valentine, checking that people trying to get into Beaumont’s party are on the guest list. He stands up to the Wishmaster, until he’s finally tricked by the djinn. Jenny O’Hara (also in MYSTIC RIVER, 2003, and DEVIL, 2010) plays a professor named Wendy Derleth who gives Alexandra some important background information on the djinn. Chris Lemmon (Jack’s son, also in AIRPORT ’77, 1977, and JUST BEFORE DAWN, 1981) plays Alexandra’s boss at the auction house, Nick Merritt, and Joseph Pilato (Rhodes from George A. Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD, 1985), plays Mickey Torelli, the guy who originally drops the crate while drunk. Even Verne Troyer (Mini-Me from the AUSTIN POWERS movies) has a role as an early stage of the monster when it first escapes from the fire opal. This one was also executive produced by Wes Craven, and THE WALKING DEAD’s Greg Nicotero was one of the people providing special makeup effects. There’s even some narration by Angus Scrimm (the Tall Man from the PHANTASM series).
The cast overall is entertaining, and Tammy Lauren is quite good in the lead, even in the sillier parts. Andrew Divoff is terrific as our villain, whether in human or monster mode. The monster’s jokes are as corny as they come, but the makeup effects are good, and he looks nice and creepy. There’s even a scene where Alexandra enters the Wishmaster’s world inside the opal, that’s like a red-tinted version of HELLRAISER’s Hell, where a puppet-like skeletal dog-monster chases Alexandra through endless hallways.
WISHMASTER is not a great film—in fact it’s downright goofy at times—but everyone plays it straight and it’s a lot of fun throughout. I can see why this one was successful and spawned three sequels: WISHMASTER 2: EVIL NEVER DIES, 1999, WISHMASTER 3: BEYOND THE GATES OF HELL, 2001, and WISHMASTER: THE PROPHECY FULFILLED, 2002.
If you don’t mind a side order of humor with your horror—hell, if you don’t mind outright silliness at times—I recommend WISHMASTER. For what it is, it’s very enjoyable. I might even check out the sequels at some point.
© Copyright 2017 by LL Soares