Starring Andrew Divoff, Tammy Lauren, John Novak, Holly Fields
Directed by Robert Kurtzman, Jack Sholder, Chris Angel
Distributed by Vestron Video/Lionsgate
Pop quiz: how many films are there in the Puppet Master (1989) series? How about The Howling (1981)? Did you know Witchcraft (1988) has spawned thirteen sequels? Horror has plenty of series that somehow managed to remain on life support; a few still going, while others saw producers (grudgingly, I’m sure) pull the plug. Did anyone want any of the sequels that followed Pumpkinhead (1988)? How many readers even know a third and fourth installment exist? This is likely the scenario many will find themselves in when staring down Lionsgate’s latest Vestron Video Collection title, the Wishmaster collection, which features all four of the demonic Djinn’s outings. If you enjoyed the first film but never got around to seeing the others, don’t let the prospect of three sequels excite you. Just like the Species (1995) franchise, these films make a hasty plunge into the subterranean depths of swill right after the first entry.
Everyone has fantasized about how they would fulfill their dreams if a genie popped out of the proverbial lamp and offered up three wishes, but few stop to consider the genie’s true intentions. In director Robert Kurtzman’s Wishmaster (1997), that consideration is the focus of a story by screenwriter Peter Atkins. The “genie” in this case is from an ancient race, known as djinn, which are trapped in a void between the worlds of light and darkness. When a person summons the djinn they are given three wishes, though upon fulfilled of the third all of the djinn trapped in limbo will be released upon the world. In 1100s Persia, an emperor has woken the djinn (Andrew Divoff) and used two of his wishes, the latter of which has been violently twisted to inspire a quick follow-up. Before the prophecy-fulfilling third wish can be made, a sorcerer traps the djinn within a fire opal.
Present day. A dockworker (Joe Pilato), who is drunk, is lowering an ancient statue belonging to art dealer Raymond Beaumont’s (Robert England) from a ship when it slips and crushes Beaumont’s assistant (Ted Raimi). The statue breaks, revealing the fire opal hidden within, which one of the workers steals and later pawns. The gemstone eventually makes its way into the hands of Alexandra (Tammy Lauren), an appraiser for Regal Auctioneers. Her inspection wakes the djinn but she has to leave before finishing, handing the job over to her co-worker, Josh (Tony Crane), who soon after releases the djinn and, in a gruesome scene, winds up a dead mess. Alexandra is determined find out why Josh died, so she does some sleuthing and uncovers the history of the fire opal and the djinn, learning of the three wish prophecy as well as the djinn’s acquisition of power via taking souls.
The djinn has now fully reformed and made use of a “new” face (off a dead body, still Andrew Divoff) and he ventures out in public to grant wishes and steal souls. And, boy, does he have way too much fun doing it. Watch as he revels in the agony of a shopkeeper (Reggie Bannister) after killing the man with cancer per a hobo’s (Buck Flower) wishes. Alexandra and the djinn, now going by “Nathaniel Demerest”, finally meet and the rules of this “game” are explained. Alexandra makes her first wish – to know what the djinn is – and soon realizes how her words can be manipulated, as she is transported into the fire opal and the world in which he has lived for the past few millennia. She quickly uses her second wish to escape. The djinn figures the best way to force Alexandra into making her third wish is by threatening her family, specifically her sister, Shannon (Wendy Benson), who is attending a big soiree at Beaumont’s estate. Alexandra has to play by the djinn’s code if she wants to have any chance of coming out on top.
What Wishmaster lacks in directorial finesse it makes up for with top-notch FX work, a script full of fun barbs, and a compelling villain as played by Divoff. As the third and fourth sequels clearly prove, Divoff is the heart of this series; find no more proof than the fact he is able to make the second film watchable despite a horrid premise and an equally-appalling script. Anyone who has followed Divoff’s career knows he is a chameleon, able to play persons of any nationality with an appropriate accent to match. As the djinn, he conjures up a throaty, gravelly tone that is like the Middle Eastern cousin of Candyman. Combined with devilish charm and acerbic wit, his djinn crafts a persona that is captivating and entirely creepy. It is a real testament to Divoff’s abilities that the djinn often seems more malevolent when in human form than when his true form is revealed.
Being that the film is directed by a notable special effects artist expect to see all sorts of magnificent practical FX work on display. Both the opening and closing of the film feature an orgy of violence that has so many mutilated moving parts you’ll have to pause just to catch all the gory details. The djinn’s rebirth is one of a few standouts, featuring the creepiest wriggling humanoid character since Rev. Kane’s nubby appearance in Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986).
Wishmaster has been called “The Expendables of Horror” and while it might not be exactly that in the terms you think – everyone’s favorite icons slashing it up together on screen – the recognizable faces (and voice) include Angus Scrimm, Kane Hodder, Robert Englund, Tony Todd, Reggie Bannister, Ted Raimi, and a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Tom Savini (edit: I have been informed IMDb is full of lies and this is not Savini, just a lookalike). I remember being stoked on seeing all those faces in the theater, and seeing them again now, all these years later, is still a minor thrill. It’s comfortable, like hanging out with old friends.
Since the first film was a minor hit, a sequel was soon commissioned. Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999), directed by Jack Sholder, is a terrible, dumb movie. This much is indisputable. But again, it does feature a sly performance from Divoff, who makes a strong case for arguing this series might have enjoyed a better life had he stuck around. After an opening art heist, wherein both the fire opal is revealed and Corey Haim is killed, the djinn is once again reborn in gnarly fashion to prey upon the souls of the weak. Why does he have the same face after the last film explained he needed fresh skin to grow one? Because Divoff owns this role, that’s why. Police arrive on the scene and immediately arrest the man they suspect committed the robbery and killed a guard: the djinn, once again posing as “Nathaniel Demerest”. The djinn thrives in prison, granting wishes to one prisoner after another – each with horrify fulfillment – stockpiling a couple hundred souls in the process.
Morgana (Holly Fields), the one surviving robber who managed to escape the opening heist, turns to Gregory (Paul Johannson), a former lover who banished himself to the Friend Zone by becoming a priest, for assistance to defeat the djinn. This mainly involves checking a lot of hilariously dated web pages. Nathaniel, meanwhile, has acquired nearly every soul in the prison but he’s still short several hundred, so he and his new Russian bestie, Osip (Oleg Vidov), walk out the front door in search of more victims. Eventually the djinn strikes it soul-rich after setting up shop in a casino (wishes galore!) but Morgana, repentant as ever for her actions in the opening, confronts the djinn and tries to reset his evil deeds in order to free her own soul.
There is a scene in this movie where a prisoner tells the djinn that he wishes his lawyer would “go fuck himself”, at which point the prisoner is immediately called in for a meeting with his lawyer. You already know where this is going but, rather than imply the act by hearing screams/etc. from behind a closed door, Sholder allows us to watch as the lawyer’s lower half twists around 180 degrees and thrusts as the lawyer clings to the edge of the table like a life preserver. Divoff is still devilish as ever but you could have replaced him with Rob Schneider and this script wouldn’t have known the difference.
The latter sequels in this series are so terrible their summary will be brief (unlike the films, which are an endurance test even at 90 minutes). In Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell (2001) yet another beautiful babe, Diana (A.J. Cook), unlocks the djinn (although how it wound up inside another ancient relic post-Wishmaster 2 is never explained) and he wreaks havoc – this time on a college campus! How original, although I will admit to being somewhat partial to bad horror movies set on a sprawling college campus. I cannot explain why. At least this time the djinn follows his own rules and claims a fresh face for his own, taking on the persona of Prof. Barash (Jason Connery – yes, Sean’s son). And thanks to a lower budget, he spends even more of the film in human form than before. Though, to be fair, his djinn form (played by John Novak) looks like the store brand version of Divoff’s so this isn’t such a bad thing. Just look at those friggin’ earlobes! If I met the djinn and he gave me three wishes, I would use two of them to erase these films from existence.
Wishmaster 4: Why Are You Back For More?… ok, it’s actually Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled (2002) gets a modicum of credit for trying to do some things differently. The djinn is back again – who cares how it happened? – and this time he spends 90% of the running time inhabiting the body of Steven (Michael Trucco), a lawyer who is arbitrating a settlement for Lisa (Tara Spencer-Nairn) and her crippled alcoholic husband, Sam (Jason Thompson). Steve is able to trick plenty of people into making wishes and stealing their souls, including Lisa, but he’s practically over the moon when she actually makes that third wish! Time for a djinn party! Except her wish had something to do with love, and human love must be earned, and blah, blah, blah now the djinn is ambivalent about whether or not to free his djinn buddies and take over the world or just hang back here, love Lisa, and be Steve for all of eternity. I wish I could have been Steve, who died at the beginning of this movie and thus did not have to endure it.
I have written in my notes “HOLY SHIT I’m only 45 min. into this” which should probably be taken as a sign this is a rough road. I’m going to give director Chris Angel (no, not that one) some kudos for trying to shake up the djinn routine a touch but the ambitions never quite take off and the end result is still another by-the-numbers genie slaughterfest – and we have so few of those in horror that if it’s already gotten to the point of being routine you know someone screwed up.
Do yourself a favor and stick to the first two films, recognize the steep drop in quality, and then just file this set away and pretend no further entries were made. As a completist I’m glad Lionsgate decided to toss every film in this set – and at around $10/each this collection is a decent value – because I can’t say I would have ever purchased them solo.
Wishmaster features a 1.78:1 1080p image that appears to be an outdated master. Definition and fine detail look average, with the best moments coming via close-ups and brightly lit scenes. Colors look a bit wan, lacking in rich saturation. Film grain looks natural and mostly fine, though it does get a bit clumpy at times. This is not a bad image by any means but a bit more spit-and-polish might have really spruced things up a bit.
Wishmaster 2 is framed at 1.85:1, with a 1080p 24/fps picture that is emblematic of direct-to-video ‘90s titles. This serviceable image is very similar to the first; in fact, all of the above statements would apply here, too.
Wishmaster 3 and Wishmaster 4 are virtually identical in appearance, and not so dissimilar from the first two films, with each sporting a 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps image that only bests the earlier pictures in terms of fine detail and a more refined grain structure. Otherwise, expect a similar DTV aesthetic as seen in the second film. None of the films features a striking video presentation, though none of them are a bust, either.
English DTS-HD MA is the codec of choice here, but the channel options are all over the place. Wishmaster says it features a 5.1 surround sound track but it in fact only has a 2.0 stereo track available. Manfredini’s score is very typical of his work and it does the job well enough without getting too cheesy. Dialogue is balanced and sounds great. Wishmaster 2 gets an actual 5.1 surround sound track, although the additional channels don’t exactly take advantage of their existence. There is some terrible ADR during the casino scenes. Wishmaster 3 goes back to 2.0 stereo, while Wishmaster 4 ends things with a 5.1 surround sound track, both of which have their own share of faults that mainly includes lacking impact and sounding “boxy” at times. All four films feature subtitles in English and Spanish.
DISC ONE: Wishmaster
There are two audio commentary tracks available – with Director Robert Kurtzman and Screenwriter Peter Atkins; and, with Director Robert Kurtzman and Stars Andrew Divoff & Tammy Lauren. Additionally, there is also an option to view the film with isolated score selections and an audio interview with Composer Harry Manfredini.
“Out of the Bottle – Interview with Director Robert Kurtzman and Co-Producer David Tripet”.
“The Magic Words – Interview with Screenwriter Peter Atkins”.
“The Djinn & Alexandra – Interview with Stars Andrew Divoff & Tammy Lauren”.
“Captured Visions – Interview with Director of Photography Jacques Haitkin”.
“Wish List – Interview with Actors Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, and Ted Raimi”.
A teaser trailer, the film’s theatrical trailer, a handful of TV spots, some radio spots, a “Vintage Making-Of Featurette” and “Vintage EPK”, “Behind-the-Scenes Footage Compilation”, storyboard gallery and a still gallery are also included.
DISC TWO: Wishmaster 2
There is an audio commentary track with director Jack Sholder, along with a trailer and still gallery.
DISC THREE: Wishmaster 3/Wishmaster 4
“Wishmaster 3” Bonus Features:
Audio commentary with director Chris Angel and Cast Members John Novak, Jason Connery, and Louisette Geiss.
“Behind-the-Scenes” and a trailer.
“Wishmaster 4” Bonus Features:
There are two audio commentary tracks: one with director Chris Angel and Cast Members Michael Trucco & Jason Thompson, the second with director Chris Angel and Actor John Novak.
“Wishmasterpiece Theater featurette”, done in the style of “Masterpiece Theater” this is actually pretty funny.
A trailer is also included.
Wishmaster (1997) Special Features:
- Audio Commentaries:
- Director Robert Kurtzman and screenwriter Peter Atkins
- Director Robert Kurtzman and stars Andrew Divoff and Tammy Lauren
- Isolated Score Selections/Audio Interview with composer Harry Manfredini
- “Out of the Bottle” – Interviews with director Robert Kurtzman and co-producer David Tripet
- “The Magic Words” – An Interview with screenwriter Peter Atkins
- “The Djinn and Alexandra” – Interviews with stars Andrew Divoff and Tammy Lauren
- “Captured Visions” – An Interview with director of photography Jacques Haitkin
- “Wish List” – Interviews with actors Kane Hodder and Ted Raimi
- Vintage Featurette: “Making of Wishmaster”
- Trailers, Spots, Galleries: Teaser & Theatrical Trailers, TV & Radio Spots, Storyboard & Still Galleries
- Behind-the-Scenes Footage Compilation
Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999) Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with writer/director Jack Sholder
- Still Gallery
Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell (2001) Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with director Chris Angel and cast members John Novak, Jason Connery, and Louisette Geiss
- Vintage Featurette: “Making of Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell”
Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled (2002) Special Features:
- Audio Commentaries:
- Director Chris Angel and cast members Michael Trucco and Jason Thompson
- Director Chris Angel and actor John Novak
- Featurette: “Wishmasterpiece Theatre”
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual
Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.
Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!
Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!
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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
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