Directed by Steve Miner
Written by David Twohy
Starring Julian Sands, Lori Singer, Richard E. Grant
Release Date January 11th, 1991
Box Office $15 million dollars
Warlock is a completely hilarious disaster. Though it stars respected English actors, Julian Sands and Richard E. Grant, it's an embarrassment to both men's legacies. It's a black mark on their CV's for sure and I feel unkind in even bringing it up in the wake of Julian Sands' tragic passing. But, sadly, as we start a new year of Horror in the 90s, winding out 1990 into 1991, we are confronted with Warlock as the next major horror movie release. Never mind that the movie was actually made in 1989, the release date and its subsequent reputation as both a disaster and somehow a franchise, begins in 1991.
Warlock stars Julian Sands as the title character, Warlock. Here we must pause to examine the first thing we see in Warlock. A man is building a cage into which cats will be placed. These cats are then taken to the gallows where they are stacked on top of kindling. The ritual is being undertaken for the execution of the Warlock. The cats are being burned alive along with the witch because... witches like cats? Cats and witches do have a long-standing association though where director Steve Miner got the notion that cats were burned with witches they weren't directly associated with; I have no idea.
Anyway, before he can be executed by fire with cats, Warlock talks to Satan and is tornadoed into the future. The movie literally shows a wispy cartoon tornado engulf Julian Sands and sweep him out of the room. It's the first of several unintentionally funny special effects in this epic bad movie. For reasons never explained, Satan tosses the Warlock into the future world via a farty tornado and tosses him through the window of a suburban California home. Here, the world's most chill roommates, Lori Singer's Kassandra and Kevin O'Brien as Chas, react to having a human being crash through the window of their home the way you or I might react to spilling our drink.
The casual way that Kassandra and Chas meet the unconscious Warlock sprawled bloody across their living room floor is jaw dropping comedy. A stranger, covered in blood, crashes through the window and Chas's main thought is 'well, he's not staying my room.' So, they put the unconscious, bleeding stranger in the bed of the only woman in the apartment. This seems like a great plan. Oh, and neither thinks to call the cops or to call for an ambulance. I understand that this is due to the plot needing the Warlock to be in the apartment for the first kill of the movie, but it defies all logic and good sense and makes both Kassandra and Chase look very, very silly.
Speaking of the first kill, Chas dies horribly the following morning, a cautionary tale about not offering a Warlock an omelet before he's had his coffee. Or, and this is just me being overly cautious, perhaps we should not just let random strangers who crash through our windows to sleep it off in our roommate's bedroom. I don't know, that just seems like a very bad idea and Chas's horrific bloody death, in which his tongue is bitten off and cooked, is a good thesis statement on why you should probably contact the authorities when a strange bloody man crashes through the window of your home.
So, Warlock escapes to somewhere, but not before he receives a message from Satan telling him that the grand grimoire, Satan's very own diary, is cut in three pieces, one of which happens to be in this suburban home. Warlock is now given the chance to find all three pieces of Satan's book and in exchange he will get Satan's powers on Earth or some such nonsense. Meanwhile, Kassandra has been at work as a waitress throughout all of this. Her day comes to an early end when the cops tell her about Chas' violent, brutal death.
Strangely, Kassandra doesn't feel the need to tell the police that a bloody stranger crashed through the window of her and Chas' shared home. For reasons that no one bothered to come up with, Kassandra never brings up this rather crucial detail to Police. And, the police, being ever so observant, don't think to ask about the giant broken picture window in front of the house or how it got there. I realize that the movie really just wants to get to its chase regarding Satan's book and Richard E. Grant's time traveling demon-hunter, but all of this back story is way to clumsy to support what the movie really wants to focus on.
It doesn't help that once the chase does begin, it is also very, very unintentionally silly. Warlock kills an unbaptized child and through this, he gains the power of flight. If you thought the cartoon tornado fart cloud from the opening of the movie was hilarious, wait until you see the adorable flying sequences of Warlock. Basically, poor Julian Sands struck a pose in front of a green screen and the filmmakers edited movement around him to make it appear that he's flying. Children with MacBooks could not craft an image more adorably low rent image than Julian Sands' flying scenes in Warlock. The secondhand embarrassment is real.
You can try to blame the late 80s technology or the low budget, but Superman came out more than a decade before Warlock and genuinely convinced audiences that a man could fly. Superman may look old today, but it doesn't illicit unintended giggles for how silly it looks. The makers of Warlock meanwhile should be ashamed of how they made Julian Sands look so very silly. Here is this incredibly handsome and dignified man leaning forward in something of a runners pose and being moved along by a wispy cloud against a static background. It would be charming if it were intended as a joke but it's not, this is our embodiment of evil, the man who intends to become Satan on Earth and he looks like something a YouTube creator would make as a gag.
And I have barely mentioned Richard E. Grant. The Academy Award nominated Richard E. Grant wears a full mullet, leather pants and is covered in animal skins the entire movie. And this is a movie shot in Southern California, some of it in the desert. I can't even begin to imagine the discomfort he was in for the entirety of Warlock although Grant's pained expression throughout the movie speaks volumes. Grant, at the very least, gives everything to the role. He plays a witch hunter from the 16th Century, the same time as the Warlock was to be executed in, and he time travels to 1989 to chase the Warlock and kill him. How did he time travel? Who knows, details, am I right?
Poor Lori Singer arguably has it worse than anyone. Singer's Kassandra is made to look very stupid for not calling the cops when Warlock crashed through her window. She looks dumb when she doesn't tell the cops about Warlock after he murdered her roommate and then she gets cursed. Kassandra is cursed by Warlock to age 20 years every day until she dies from old age. Why? Who knows, perhaps Warlock was bored. Singer spends most of the movie in deeply unconvincing old age makeup, looking deeply embarrassed, all while playing assistant to Grant's witch hunter.
It's all very sad, embarrassing, and unintentionally hilarious. And it all falls at the feet of director Steve Miner, the essence of a true hack director. Miner was an assistant on the original Friday the 13th who graduated to direct the less convincing but still iconic sequels, Friday the 13th 2 and 3. His credits also include the not bad horror comedy House, the criminal and deeply racist Soul Man, and the trite family flick Wild Hearts Can't be Broken. Miner is an entirely undistinguished filmmaker who is valued by studio executives mostly for his ability to complete movies on time and on a remarkably small budget. Miner cuts corners and doesn't care for detail or nuance and it makes him a terrific studio hack.
That's Warlock in a nutshell, a deeply, compromised movie made on the cheap with little care for whether or not it made sense or if it made the actors look very, silly. The movie simply needed to be completed on time and without much expense. Steve Miner delivered what was asked of him, a movie that probably arrived on budget and on time. That's a shame for the actors who got roped into the nonsense of Warlock, and were deeply embarrassed by that nonsense, but it's what a true hack director does.
Warlock is a one of a kind bad movie. It's got terrific stars in Julian Sands and Richard E. Grant and manages to make them look like amateurs. It has a hot rising star in Lori Singer, not long from becoming the object of teenage fantasy in Footloose, and the movie has her dressed as an old hag for more than half the movie when she isn't wearing one of the worst wigs in movie history. And yet, somehow, via some, well, some kind of witchcraft became a franchise. There are two more of these movies, 1993's Warlock: Armageddon, minus Grant and Singer but with Julian Sands, and 1999's Warlock 3: End of Innocence, without Sands returning. That I am somehow going to end up writing about two more Warlock movies feels impossible to me but, indeed, the sequels are real and they happened in the 1990s. Ugh!
This essay on Warlock is the latest serialized piece from my book and soon to be podcast on Horror in the 90s. I am writing about the wide release horror movies of the 1990s and tracking the trends, the actors, the directors and franchises that made the decade a pivotal part of horror movie history. It's a huge undertaking and I cannot do it without your help. If you'd like to help me complete work on Horror in the 90s, consider making a monthly pledge here on Vocal or leave a one time tip. Every little bit helps get me closer to a full fledged book and soon a full fledged podcast on Horror movies in made in the 1990s. Thanks!
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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