“He comes from the past to destroy the future.” This was the tagline for Steve Miner’s supernatural thriller Warlock and it owes a little to James Cameron’s The Terminator as it also has a hero chasing the villain through time and landing in modern-day California. The difference here being magic instead of science.
The movie begins by landing us in Boston, Massachusetts in the year 1691 where a group of town elders are laying sentence on an evil Warlock (Julian Sands). The Warlock was captured by Giles Redferne (Richard E. Grant) who became a witch-hunter after his wife was be-spelled by the evil bastard and now revels in the fact that the warlock will finally burn for his crimes, but all the gloating in the world won’t help when Satan is waiting to play his hand. Strange storm clouds begin to form above the tower where the Warlock is held, Redferne runs back up the tower stairs but when he tries to stop the Warlock from escaping he is caught up in the spell as well.
The story now moves us to modern-day Los Angeles where we are introduced to our other key player Kassandra (Lori Singer), a woman who couldn’t be more 80s if she lived in the valley and dated Nicholas Cage. She is woken from her sleep by a crashing sound from the living room which turns out to be our ever-lovable Warlock. He’s a bit cut up and unconscious but when Chas (Kevin O’Brien) her gay landlord tries to call the police they discover the phone lines are down due to the weird storm. The only natural thing to do then is to give the stranger her bed.
Kassandra goes off to work leaving Chas to deal with their late-night visitor. Things don’t go well for good ole Chas as the Warlock takes a fancy to his zodiac ring, removes it and the finger it resided on with a butcher knife. The Warlock then bites off Chas’s tongue and uses it as an ingredient for an omelet.
The Warlock visits a medium (Mary Woronov) who works out of a local occult bookstore and he requests that she make contact with someone of the spirit world by the name of Zamiel. She is clearly a fraud as she fakes a “spooky” voice but then she becomes genuinely terrified as some force begins to take control of her body. Through her, the demon Zamiel informs the Warlock that he has been brought to this time to find the Grand Grimoire. This evil book of black magic had been divided into three parts, hidden in secret locations and it is the warlock’s job to locate them and make the book whole again. To aid in his search he gouges out the mediums eyes.
Meanwhile, Kassandra has returned home and has decided it’s time to move on, but before she can get much packed Redferne arrives. Question: Did he catch a slower temporal lane through the magic vortex or has just been wandering around Los Angeles for the past day? He holds up the shackles that once held the warlock and demands to know if “the one who wore these bled.” She tries to get away and he slaps her hard, proving that witch-hunters are not the most gallant lot. Kassandra eventually realizes that this strange intruder is talking about the man who killed Chas and she shows him a piece of glass from the broken window that has the warlock’s blood. He scrapes the blood off into vial of water and then begins to construct a compass that will point in the direction of the warlock, unfortunately, he didn’t keep a close enough eye on Kassandra and she was able to call the police. Redferne charges the police with his bullwhip. Sadly, he is not Indiana Jones.
With Redferne being carted off to jail Kassandra returns to her packing only to be interrupted again, this time by the returning Warlock. Turns out that one of the portions of the Grand Grimoire was hidden inside an antique table that Chas had collected, which I guess explains why the forces of evil tossed him through that particular window. The Warlock doesn’t gruesomely murder Kassandra but he does steal her bracelet and casts a particularly nasty enchantment, “Tout, Tout, through and about; your callow life in dismay. Rentum, Osculum, Tormentum: a decade twice over a day.” When she wakes up in the morning she finds herself twenty years older and all the hair and fingernails to prove it.
When some weird-ass Brit ages you twenty years in one day you start thinking outside the box, so she quickly bails Redferne out of jail and the two hit the road. Kassandra learns that her curse cannot be lifted until she gets back her stolen bracelet, and even worse she is told that she will age an additional twenty years each day. Thus begins the “Buddy/Cop” portion of the film as the two go on a road trip across the country to track down the warlock. Kassandra makes it clear that she has no real interest in stopping the warlock outside of getting back her stolen years, and once she has her bracelet back she is history.
Richard E. Grant is certainly not your typical choice for an action hero as he is known now for mostly comic performances, but he pulls off the part rather well with an exceeding amount of gravitas, pathos, and urgency. Julian Sands, of course, has the more showy part as the evil Warlock; he cooks up a guy’s tongue, rips out the eyes of a medium, and to speed things along he finds an unbaptized little boy so that he can cook his fat for a flying spell. You don’t get much more evil than that.
Lori Singer gets less to do as she is mostly relegated to being the person who drives the car and expository dialog receiver. Though she does have a cool scene where she runs after the warlock and hammers nails into his foot and ass prints which causes him a great degree of pain, and she is actually the one who saves the day in the end. So as heroine characters go she’s kind of like Sarah Connor in the first Terminator, but unlike Sarah, she doesn’t get to return in the sequel as a badass. Even stranger is that one would expect an intimate relationship to develop between Kassandra and Redferne but it gets shut down when our Witch-Hunter explains that their lives are “too out of joint,” and when Kassandra leans in for a kiss he vanishes back to his time.
So the movie had an excellent script by David Twohy that was chock full of interesting characters, it had a decent cast fleshing them out and a serviceable man at the helm, but what it didn’t have was an effects budget. Any time the Warlock used his magic the effects were bargain basement bad. From the warlock’s silly flying down the highway past a speed trap to his blasting poorly animated magic at our heroes in a graveyard that couldn’t be more obviously a set if it tried. It’s never even remotely convincing. Julian Sands does his best to sell it but not even Laurence Olivier could have made this anything less than laughable.
I haven’t seen the direct to video sequels, nor am I all that eager to track them down, for the original is a solid little horror flick and I’d rather not tarnish its memory by seeing the half-assed sequels.
Warlock is a solid “man out of time” supernatural thriller that has the brains not to take itself too seriously.