Cast a Deadly Spell is an HBO movie that epitomizes the term “Forgotten Gem” as it has a fantastic concept and even a better cast that all put together create a sweet tribute to both the horror and detective genres. If ever a movie deserved to a get television spin-off it’s this one.
Set in an alternate 1948 Los Angeles where everyone uses magic, well everyone but private investigator H. P. Lovecraft (Fred Ward), we see a world where magic isn’t just used it has become commonplace; luggage will float behind their owners, a flick of the finger and a flame appears to light a cigarette, and demons can be raised to slay your enemies. It’s the latter use of magic that has Police Chief Bradbury (Charles Hallahan) often calling on Lovecraft for help as this private dick refuses to use magic in any way shape or form, and sometimes no magic is just the trick you need.
Sadly a private eye who doesn’t use magic is a bit of a hard selling point for a detective agency and so with office rent overdue, and a witch landlord you don’t want to screw over, Lovecraft is grateful to get a rich client. It seems Amos Hackshaw (David Warner) needs Lovecraft to track down a chauffeur that was fired for making amorous moves on his virginal daughter Olivia (Alexandra Powers) and upon being fired the angry ex-employee left with a stolen book, a book that just so happened to be the Necronomicon. And just why does a Los Angeles millionaire have such a book in his library?
Also after the book is Harry Borden (Clancy Brown) who owns a nightclub called The Dunwich Room and unlike Lovecraft, he’s a man not at all averse to using black magic to get what he wants. Harry was also Lovecraft’s partner when they were both on the force, that is until Harry had to leave the police department under a cloud of corruption charges.
Things get a bit rough for good all of Lovecraft as Harry sends his main goon Tugwell (Raymond O’Connor) to end Lovecraft’s involvement by casting dark ruins that will unleash a demon on whoever reads them. Oh, and he has a zombie henchman as well.
Adding a dash of difficulty to the situation is the fact that he also has to contend with the raging hormones of Olivia Hackshaw who is only a virgin because of her father’s iron grip on her social life.
No nod to Raymond Chandler would be complete without the femme fatale and nightclub singer Connie Stone (Julianne Moore) fits the bill perfectly. Of course, she and Lovecraft have a history and now that she is working for Harry it becomes a rather sore spot, not that it will stop either of them from jumping into bed together.
Will Lovecraft track down the missing chauffeur? What exactly does Amos Hackshaw intend to use the Necronomicon for? Where does Harry get such wonderful zombies? And whose side is Connie really on? All these questions and more are answered in this quite fantastic little movie. Characters like Olivia, Harry, and the chauffeur are almost lifted straight out of The Big Sleep while much of everything else are nods to the works of horror icon H.P. Lovecraft, and the blend is handled perfectly by director Martin Campbell, who went on to direct many more prestige’s movies since, but I’ll always have a warm spot for this one. And one further shout out to Fred Ward who just nailed the hard-nosed private brilliantly and just oozes that era.
Note to HBO Executives: With shows like True Blood and Sleepy Hollow proving that there is a market for this kind of stuff on television I don’t see why your network isn’t jumping at the chance to bring this back as a weekly series.
Cast a Deadly Spell
Taking the works of Raymond Chandler and blending them into the world of H.P. Lovecraft is just a brilliant idea