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WARLOCK (1988)

"Witches charge that should this name, this true name of God, be uttered back to front--- Should this name be uttered in reverse, all creation will undo…."
21.jpg (11411 bytes) Director: Steve Miner

Starring: Julian Sands, Richard E. Grant, Lori Singer, Mary Woronov, Richard Kuss, Allan Miller, Kevin O’Brien, Anna Levine, David Carpenter

Screenplay: David Twohy

Synopsis: In Boston, 1691, a condemned warlock (Julian Sands) calls to Satan for rescue and is removed from his captivity. Witch-finder Giles Redferne (Richard E. Grant) tries to prevent the escape, and is caught in the slipstream. In contemporary Los Angeles, Kassandra (Lori Singer) and her flatmate, Chas (Kevin O’Brien), are startled when, during a violent storm, a stranger suddenly comes crashing into their house through a window. The stranger is unconscious and, deciding that he’s drunk, Kassandra and Chas let him stay the night and sleep it off.

The next day, the warlock awakens to discover that he has travelled forward in time almost three centuries. Encountering Chas, and recognising a ring that Chas wears as his own, the warlock murders him brutally and reclaims his property. The warlock visits a fake spiritualist (Mary Woronov). While pretending to channel spirits, the woman is suddenly possessed by Satan, who tells the warlock that his mission is to locate the three parts of the Grand Grimoire, the witches’ bible that contains the secret name of God.

That night, still trying to come to terms with Chas’s death, Kassandra is terrified when she encounters Giles Redferne, who grabs and overpowers her when she tries to run. Gradually comprehending that Redferne wants to know whether any of the blood in the house is the warlock’s, Kassandra retrieves a shard of broken glass on which the warlock cut himself. Redferne makes a potion from the traces of blood and constructs a "witch-compass" which will allow him to locate his adversary. While Redferne is distracted, Kassandra calls the police, who arrest him. Deciding to flee the house, Kassandra is packing when she notices the needle of the witch-compass moving. The warlock forces his way into the house, tearing apart an antique alter table that belonged to Chas to discover one part of the Grimoire within. Before leaving, the warlock curses Kassandra, who regains consciousness the next morning to discover that she has aged twenty years overnight. Desperate, Kassandra bails Redferne out of jail and the two go in search of the warlock, Redferne determined to stop his ancient enemy at all costs, and Kassandra realising that if they cannot find him, she will die of old age within days.

Comments: The late eighties saw a wave of films that, Exorcist-like, were couched in straightforward religious terms, centering about the possible end of the world and the sometimes unlikely group of mortals entrusted with the task of preventing the apocalypse. Warlock, which fits comfortably within this general scenario, is a surprisingly old-fashioned horror film, not only because of its fundamentalist depiction of the battle between good and evil, but because, more unusually for its time, it has a plot that is almost entirely character driven. The special effects and makeup in Warlock are distinctly second rate, but this fact loses its importance due to the strength of the three central performances.

As the warlock, Julian Sands positively oozes maleficence. Dressed entirely in black and sporting a blond ponytail, he glides easily through the late twentieth century, enjoying the possibilities for mayhem caused by modern man’s lack of belief in the reality of evil. Richard E. Grant has a tougher task than Sands. Genuine good is much more difficult to portray than genuine evil, and his Redferne is always convincing: righteous without being self-righteous; zealous, yet twice risking his mission in order to save someone’s life. The third point of the triangle, Lori Singer’s Kassandra, is in some ways the most interesting. Infuriatingly bubble-headed and shallow at the outset, she is – unusually for the genre – given the chance to develop as a character, displaying both intelligence and strength of will. It is she who realises how to head off the warlock, she who delivers the decisive blow against him, and she who must finally dispose of the reassembled Grand Grimoire.

Surrounding these three is a story that holds the viewer’s interest through a series of imaginative character touches and plot details - and in this respect, David Twohy’s screenplay for Warlock easily outstrips some of his later and better known efforts, including Waterworld (1995) and G.I. Jane (1997). Twohy is also to be commended for not manufacturing a romance between Redferne and Kassandra, although the latter is understandably rather wistful when Redferne is taken from her at the film’s conclusion. The by-play between the two is entertaining without distracting from the story’s tensions, as when Kassandra, delighted at meeting someone who, as she thinks, knows even less than she does ("Go ahead, ask me anything! I had two years of high school!"), is crushed to find that Redferne is quite well aware that the earth is round.

While both the warlock and his pursuer, it must be said, adjust a little too easily to their new surroundings, there are some nice "fish out of water" scenes, including the warlock’s puzzlement at an electronic game, a Boston cabbie’s reaction to Redferne’s wardrobe ("California, right?"), or when Redferne, having accepted the notion of a car without difficulty, has a panic attack when Kassandra tries to put him on a plane. Scattered throughout are intriguing bits and pieces of witch-lore: Redferne’s compass; Kassandra’s distant attack upon the warlock with hammer and nails; and the use of the warlock’s blood as a weapon. There is also the meeting of Redferne and the traditionalist farmer who has inadvertently come into possession of the second piece of the Grimoire. "Amish?" queries Redferne. "Mennonite," is the terse reply. That settled, the two men get down to business, to the acute discomfort of the farmer’s modern son, who tries very hard to look as though he doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Although they are comparatively muted, Warlock does contain a couple of gross-out scenes, starting with Chas’s murder. Ordered by the possessed medium to "let mine eyes guide thee", the warlock obeys quite literally. Later, he is seen consuming a potion that we have been told was concocted from the fat of a human child.

Surpassing these moments, however, are two scenes of real psychological horror: the warlock’s encounter with a young minister and his pregnant wife; and Redferne’s discovery of a coffin that may hold his own dead body. The climactic sequence also contains a pointed criticism of the modern world, when we discover that the final piece of the Grimoire is in danger of being moved from its resting place in consecrated ground in order to make way for a condominium development. This leads to a clever final scene in which the Grimoire is given a new home by Kassandra. This scene is doubly satisfying inasmuch as the film simply ends there – no twist, no suggestion that the evil hasn’t really been defeated. With the kicker ending reaching plague proportions in the horror genre, this restraint is both unexpected and very welcome. A sequel of sorts, Warlock: The Armageddon (1993), did appear, but it has little to do with the original film beyond the presence of Julian Sands.

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB