Wishmaster (1997)

Wishmaster (1997)

Be careful what you wish for.

In ancient Persia, an evil creature called the Djinn is encased inside an opal which is hidden inside in a statue so that it is imprisoned for all eternity. Centuries later, the gem stone breaks loose during a transportation accident. A young gemologist finds the stone but unwittingly releases the Djinn. Now loose on the streets, the Djinn must find the person who released him and offer them three wishes, releasing the rest of his kind from their imprisonment.

 

Wishmaster gets a lot of bad press and most of it is quite undeserved. Made for a reasonable sum of around $5m and grossing over $15m in the box office in the US alone, it was a modest hit and has deservedly found a bit more appreciation over it’s course on video and now DVD. Former special effects man Robert Kurtzman stepped up to the director’s chair for this one and assembled a whole host of horror talent both in front of and behind the camera. Wes Craven even “presents” the film, although the guy was pimping himself out to loads of low budget rubbish at this point in his career. Throw in a cool villain, plenty of creative and gory effects and you get Wishmaster, sort of a bigger and better version of Leprechaun.

Granted it isn’t the greatest horror film ever made but coming in the midst of the teeny bop horror fad brought on by Scream, Wishmaster was like a breath of fresh air. No annoying teenagers running around thinking they know everything about horror films. This is back-to-basics 80s-style gore and creativity. Wishmaster is, in its simplest form, a new spin on the Nightmare on Elm Street series. It contains a devilish, nightmarish villain who uses creative and novel ways to kill his victims, usually following up with some wisecrack. The Djinn is a pretty safe pair of hands to base a series around and the character has appeared in four films so far. In his original form, he’s a cool-looking devil with a nasty set of teeth and red, glowing eyes. The make-up department did a pretty good job on him.

In his human form, he’s played by the actor Andrew Divoff. With the Djinn being a speaking character, the right man was needed and they certainly chose him here. Divoff is smarmy as hell. You just want to slap the guy every time you see him because he’s always grinning. It’s such a dangerous grin because you know he’s thinking of some nasty way to turn your wish into something it isn’t. Divoff’s mannerisms are perfect, always talking to people with his head lowered but his eyes up. He makes the Djinn an intriguing character – he has the power to destroy and devastate but only if someone wishes it. Without the wish, he has no power so it’s great to see him try and tease and trick wishes out of his victims.

A lot has been made about the horror icons that are on board for this film and it’s a pity because it really does detract from the film quite a bit. It’s not simply a novelty flick, put together to simply see the likes of Robert Englund (Freddy Kruger), Kane Hodder (Jason Vorhees) and Tony Todd (The Candyman) on screen in the same film. Why? Because, barring Englund, they have only small cameos and even Englund’s role isn’t that big. There are also appearances from a whole host of other genre favourites but this review is too short to list them all.

Like the annoying Leprechaun, the Djinn has got the ability to grant wishes to people and this is the whole novelty value of the film. You see he doesn’t just grant the wishes that people want: he manages to twist them in any way possible so that the person ends up on the receiving end of a very nasty death. Each wish backfires in the most horrible way possible and this is where the effects team comes into play. There’s some impressive set pieces on display here, from the opening scene in Ancient Persia (where people turn into snakes and an unlucky victim even has his own skeleton rip itself from his body and go on a rampage of it’s own), to people being shattered like glass, right down to the finale involving stone statues that come to life. It’s clear where most of the budget went and it’s good to see Kurtzman playing to his strengths. The film was never going to be remembered for its acting or story so why not go a little overboard with the special effects?

There are standard problems with films of this type and Wishmaster is no exception to the rule.  It’s all a little style over substance and the film is basically a conveyor belt of set pieces. Every fifteen minutes or so there’s another backfiring wish and another excuse for mayhem. Feeling a little bogged down with the heroine’s attempts to piece everything together? Fear not because someone is about to get ripped apart! At under ninety minutes, the film is fast-paced and always entertaining, if somewhat unsatisfying at the end. There a few a lapses in logic and common sense and there’s too many random characters who are given a few minutes of time, simply to end up the victim of a wish (Ricco Ross’ cop for instance). And given that Kurtzman is an effects man at heart, he shows little ability to actually create anything resembling scares or atmosphere.

 

Wishmaster is an imaginative, entertaining and pacey horror flick made by guys who’ve worked in the industry for a long time and now what the fans want to see. It’s certainly the most creative time you’ll have spent with a horror film for some time and as I said earlier, it sticks one middle finger up to the teen horrors that are now swamping the market. However there is one thing I must add. “I wish there were no sequels.”

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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