Tagline: Be careful what you wish for.
Director: Robert Kurtzman
Writer: Peter Atkins
Starring: Tammy Lauren, Andrew Divoff, Robert Englund, Chris Lemmon, Wendy Benson-Landes, Tony Crane, Jenny O’Hara, Kane Hodder, Tony Todd
18 | 1hr 30min | Fantasy, Horror
Budget: $5,000,000 (estimated)
Wishmaster‘s djinn is a classic horror creation.
It may be little more than a slight variation on the genie-in-the-lamp tale, but thanks to a scintillating performance from the vastly underrated Andrew Divoff as the movie’s eponymous demon, what we have beyond the dated CGI and sub-par heroine is one of the cutest horror movies of the 90s. If this had been made during the previous decade’s horror boom, I’m pretty sure it would have a much bigger cult following.
Like all low-key hits made on a relatively minuscule budget, there was bound to be a whole series of sequels, and inevitably those sequels would become tiresome and bereft of value. It happened to the majority of successful horror creations—think Jason Goes to Hell, Freddy’s Dead and Halloween: Resurrection—but like those movies, the marquee character was enough to keep moviegoers coming back for more, in spite of an increasingly tired formula. The fact that those sequels were all direct-to-video efforts probably goes some way to explaining the comparative anonymity of the franchise.
Of all those characters mentioned, the djinn is perhaps closest to Fred Krueger we would ever see. Divoff’s malevolent wizard is deliciously sadistic and able to plunge his characters into dreamlike scenarios, and his devilish charm eats up every frame. As is the case with Krueger and Robert Englund, there is no separating the character from the actor, and it is no coincidence that the quality of the Wishmaster series plummeted immediately after Divoff’s departure following the second instalment.
The plot is a simple one. The centuries-old djinn has been imprisoned in a blood red opal and in order for him and his brethren to be freed to wreak havoc on the Earth, he has to grant three wishes for the person to whom he first communicated. Of course, each wish has a terrible consequence, forcing the victim to make a second and ultimately third wish as they attempt to find a way out of their increasingly desperate predicament. The djinn is a master of twisting words to his advantage, making people ask for things that will ultimately prove detrimental to their lives or to the lives of those they love.
While unloading a valuable artefact from a cargo ship, a drunken dock worker contrives to drop the crate it is contained in, crushing an arrogant dealer’s assistant and freeing the long-buried opal. Soon the djinn and his alter ego Nathaniel Demerest are enforcing a reign of terror on the community, contriving to offer a whole bunch of heinous wishes which see skeletons ripped from bodies, chemists rot away from the inside out and store assistants turned into mannequins, while the monster sees fit to tear off faces and wear them as his own in his attempts to fool people into a false sense of security and draw their ill-fated desires.
The crux is, although the djinn has unlimited powers, he can only do what people ask of him, and heroine Alex (Lauren) proves a tough cookie to manipulate, refusing to take the creature’s offers even when he is in disguise, declining simple but easily distorted invitations to tea or dinner. It is from the creature’s frustrations, as well as the nefariousness of his actions, that much of the humour is derived in what proves a fun and witty horror outing that far exceeds its ambitions.
Incidentally, Robert Englund himself makes an appearance, here as an affluent and wimpish collector who succumbs to some krueger-esque imaginings in an ironic twist that underscores the movie’s tone magnificently, while Jason’s most beloved portrayer, Kane Hodder, makes an appearance as a security guard. Candyman‘s Tony Todd and Phantasm‘s Angus Scrimm (narrator) complete the line-up of horror royalty in a movie bursting with playful cameos and cheeky genre nods.
After charming a pretty store assistant with his piercing blue eyes and devilish grin, djinn alter ego Nathaniel Demerest asks if she would like to be beautiful forever, and she quickly sees her wish granted after being turned into a mannequin.
Most Devious Wish
While on the search for the whereabouts of golden ticket, Alex, sleazy art dealer Nick Merritt (Lemmon) agrees to reveal his so-called friend’s location in exchange for $1,000,000. Naturally, Demerest grants him his wish, one which involves his wealthy aunt prematurely declaring her will before boarding a flight and exploding along with a plane full of other unfortunate passengers.
Most Sadistic Dialogue
Djinn: [disguised as Alex’s friend, Wendy] Match wits with a creature older than time? Match wits with a prince of the dark dominions? Pit your tiny twentieth century mind against one who walked the spaces between the worlds, and trod the wings of angels beneath his conquering feet? Alexandra, you’re a delight! Really, you are.
Most Absurd Dialogue
Spotting a local vagrant outside of his drugstore, a chemist has some harsh words for the customer-repelling beggar.
Homeless Man: You left customers in there. That’s not a very good way to run a business.
Pharmacist: Don’t you tell me how to run my business. You’re a fucking bum!
Homeless Man: Well, you don’t tell me how to run my life! You’re a fucking prick!
Well said, old chap!
An undervalued classic, which although lacking in originality hits all the right notes in terms of comic tone and sadistic charm. A weak protagonist and dated CGI may detract from the movie’s overall punch, but the djinn proves a charming, Krueger-esque creation, while Divoff gives a career best performance that is sure to stay long in the memory.