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Warlock 1989 ****

At a time when the world is immersed in stark tragedy, it would be churlish not to appreciate Donald Trump’s appearance at a mask-making factory yesterday, while Live and Let Die played to blackly comic effect. In this one rich, multi-layered image, we can unite in the darkest of humour; when the world ends, as T.S. Eliot predicted, it’ll end not with a bang, but with a meekest of whimpers.

In the movies, we prefer a bang, and Steve Miner’s end-of-the-world scenario in 1989’s Warlock would be a classic if it didn’t adhere so closely to previously familiar scenarios, namely The Terminator and Highlander. Warlock is about a warlock, named Warlock and played by Julian Sands, who journeys from 1600’s Boston to 1989 LA, and focuses largely on Giles Redferne (Richard E Grant) who teams up with resourceful gal Kassandra (Lori Singer) to stop Warlock from triggering the end of days. Redferne has all kinds of gadgets (witch compasses!) and folklore up his sleeve, but Warlock is a fearsome foe who casually whips the eyeballs out of the owner (the game Mary Woronov) of a metaphysical bookshop. Such cruel acts are part of the Warlock’s search for the Grand Grimoire, a magical text which will enable him to say the name of God backwards and unmake creation, with potentially harmful economic effects.

There was a hunger for this kind of fantasy back in 1989, and Warlock was a hit in the UK before various issues hamstrung the US release. A copycat killing in Canada is presumably one of the reasons Miner’s film has not been a regular fixture since, and that’s a shame, because Warlock is knowing fun. Sands has got presence as the supernatural being, slyly straightening a decorative crucifix on the wall as he enters the room. Meanwhile Grant soars over the top with Rickman-esque glee as Redferne; detailing his many quasi-medieval quotes would require a full transcription of the dialogue, but you can get the flavour from the way he sternly warns a tough Boston taxi driver ‘Lest you favor throttlings to the ears and face, bear west here.’

The warlock has a weakness for pure salt, and can be slowed by hammering nails into his footprints; such innovative bits of detail pushed the Warlock franchise to three entries, which on the strength of this one, seems like a path worth pursing as the darkness envelops us. Sands returned for Warlock: The Armageddon, but by 1999, Warlock III; The End of Innocence saw the great Bruce Payne (Passenger 57, One Tough Bastard) take the central role. For years, decades, even, I’ve been saving up an anecdote about how I carried Bruce Payne’s ironing board across a zebra-crossing on a Maida Vale street, and when I finally get around to Warlock III, gentle reader, you can expect full disclosure on this exclusive show-biz name-drop.

 

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  1. Fab review of old chestnut. I recall being annoyed because buzz was story was sympathetic portrayal of warlock and non Christian (no Satan) storyline, which wouldn’t fly—so black white good evil was written into final script. Made me want to write my own script. My fav witchy movies from early 90s – The Witches, Eves Bayou, and Practical Magic. Waiting for Elizabeth Hands book Waking the Moon. Thanks much!

    • Although he’s pretty bad-ass, I think there’s quite a lot to engage us about this Warlock guy; taking a lead from sci-fi, the script suggests an ongoing ying-yang balance between two sides. Both The Witches and Practical Magic play the idea of witchcraft enduring under a disguise in today’s society, but it’s kind of fun the way Warlock plays out the battle in plain sight. You’re probably right to think that literatuure, rather than a medium that depends on bums-on-seats, is a more practical tool for exploring witchcraft; I’l add Waking the Moon to my reading list, thanks!

  2. And I can’t find the sweet spot for the reply.

    Anyway, it looks like all 3 are rent/buy only for Prime here in the US. I’ll look into youtube maybe this weekend…

  3. Free on YouTube when I watched it last night; strange that Prime has Warlock 2 and 3, but not the first one. Warlock is like a compilation of 80’s action movie tropes, just as I remembered it!

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