Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be reviewing the horror trilogy WARLOCK (1989 - 1999). To best describe the story of the first entry, aptly titled WARLOCK (1989) by director Steve Miner, I will turn to the IMDB plot summary:
"A warlock flees from the 17th to the 20th century, with a witch-hunter in hot pursuit."
Pretty simple story, right? Well if that were all that was going on, it would in many ways be quite a boring tale. Luckily, the warlock in question is also trying to build a grand grimoire in the hopes of finding out the name of God and undoing all of humanity. At this point, one might wonder, why would he want to do such a thing? To be honest, this question is not really answered. At one point he even says something along the lines of not wanting to destroy the world, yet he continues to go through with a plan that will do just that very thing. I guess it is better to not ask questions about the story.
One thing the plot does lend itself to, which is the format sort of followed in the sequel, is a rod trip/pursuit across country style story. For some reason we jump from Boston, Massachusetts in 1691 to Los Angeles, California 1988 and our heroes, one a modern day girl and the other a time traveling witch hunter, have to pursue the titular warlock across the country to Boston, Massachusetts. The setup leads to some chase scenes, but also has some good moments where they catch up with the warlock for a showdown at a barn.
In this iteration, the warlock is pretty brutal and has no problem slaughtering anyone, whether or not they are in his way. From the man who takes him in at the beginning to a child who tells him that witches are supposed to fly, he is entirely indiscriminate in his killing. This lends a dark edge to the often silent character that makes him a true force of nature.
The effects are mostly down to animated fire or some ridiculous looking green screen flying, but they add some amusement to the dark proceedings. Of particular note is the moment where a page sews itself back together in front of our eyes and the warlock's death scene. In keeping with the tradition of amazing villain deaths of the time, our villain's death scene is a pretty impressive, pyrotechnic affair that looks like it ate up the majority of the budget.
Moving on, we get to the second entry in the series, titled WARLOCK: THE ARMAGEDDON (1993) by director Anthony Hickox. Once again, I will turn to the IMDB plot summary:
"An order of Druids train their children to battle an evil Warlock determined to unleash Satan upon the world by bringing a collection of six mystic rune stones together."
As mentioned above, this retains some of the road trip aspects of the first feature in that the warlock starts his journey off in New York City and travels across the country picking up the rune stones along the way. His journey leads him through many different states as he tries to track down the owners of the stones so as to acquire them for his own devious purposes. As he is on a time schedule this go round, he tends to move quickly and tries to dispatch each owner fast so that he can continue on his journey.
Why is he on a time schedule, one might ask? See, he has to get all six stones together before a solar eclipse so as to summon a great evil upon the world. Yes, this story has no connection to that of the first entry and no, this is not a strike against this feature. In fact, I would argue that in some ways the setup being disconnected makes more sense as he is more an agent of evil in this one, having been defeated in the last, rather than having some control over the darker powers.
Speaking of powers, the warlock of this feature is cleverer, and more amusing, thanks to the fact that he uses his powers to twist people's desires. Much like the genies of old, with their ironic twists, each person he dispatches meets their fate through some sort of trick that gives them exactly what they wanted, but at the cost of their own life. It made the different kills interesting to watch as each had its own tableau that added a great variety to the deaths.
While the parts with the warlock are a lot of fun to watch, the portions with the druid training are not nearly as entertaining. It does not help that this part of the plot is essentially all taking place in one small town where there is layered in drama about the dangers of druids and magic. These moments also, amusingly, reference The Empire Strikes Back (1980) with not only the training portions, but also music that is very reminiscent of John Williams' score. In a way this nod makes these scenes a bit more fun, as does the rampant overacting, but overall the drama just feels to stale to be of much interest.
From a production standpoint, though, this is easily the most entertaining of the three movies as they went all out with the special effects. Whether it be the gory rebirth of the warlock or one of his many intricate kills, they went above and beyond the first feature when it comes to practical effects. It makes this entry not only more fun, but also just more visually stimulating in general as it seemed like any scene with the warlock was going to have at least something impressive happening.
Now onto the final chapter int he warlock trilogy titled WARLOCK III: THE END OF INNOCENCE (1999) by writer/director Eric Freiser. For this final entry, I will also turn to the IMDB plot summary:
"A college student unexpectedly finds that she has inherited a derelict house. Accompanied by a group of friends, she goes there to clear it of heirlooms before the structure is demolished. Almost immediately, she and her friends are targeted by a powerful warlock who is very interested in her bloodline."
Gone from this is any vestige of the road trip setup found in the first two pictures. Instead, we are offered a single house where the warlock tries to turn the students against one another by playing on their vices. In all honesty, this movie feels like it is very long as not much really happens with this setup and it does not help that it seems like it takes forever for our beloved warlock to appear.
Of course, most people's concern at this point will not be with the plot, but instead with the recasting of the warlock. While I was initially hesitant myself, I was pleasantly surprised to find our new warlock to be a very capable actor. If he had a more interesting, fun, or logical script to work with, he could have been an absolutely worthy replacement. Sadly, he is hampered by the writing which has his character not using his powers during points where it would have certainly turned the tide in his favor and at moments where the warlock of the past two films would have offed his prey with a flick of his wrist.
The lower production values, plodding pacing, and illogical story just made this feel like a major come down from the heights of the second feature. I liked the new warlock's acting so much that I really wanted to connect with this movie, but I had so many issues with the above mentioned items that I just could not get into this picture. This seems less like a warlock movie and more like something that was trying to cash in on the name recognition of the series.
All in all, while there is little in the way of a through line in this series, each movie has its weaknesses and strengths. It was fun revisiting this series that I have not seen in over fifteen years and seeing some of the errors and triumphs present in the special effects. Fans of series like Wishmaster (1997-2002) or A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984-1994) will probably have a lot of fun rediscovering these flick.
The Creeping Craig