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John’s Horror Corner: Warlock (1989), a great witch movie using the Terminator playbook.

April 19, 2016

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MY CALL: This film is far better than horror fans today realize and sadly I fear it is overlooked when people delve into 80s and 90s horror to round their horror film educations. If you’re in the market for a good “witch movie” or simply a great horror movie choice in general, this is it. MORE MOVIES LIKE Warlock: Other favorable witch movies include the contemporary The Craft (1996) and The Witches (1990), the campy The Kiss (1988) and Spellbinder (1988), the dark noir Lord of Illusions (1995), and then The Witch (2016), Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000), The Blair Witch Project (1999). And check out Pumpkinhead (1988) for a great depiction of a witch.

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I had long been yearning for a good witch movie after seeing The Witch (2016), which was successful as a movie “involving” a witch but didn’t at all feel “about” the witch. So it had me yearning for a good movie that “focused on” the witch. And this movie is an excellent choice for that!

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After a lengthy atmospheric introduction to 17th century Massachusetts, we meet our Warlock (Julian sands; Tale of a Vampire, Arachnophobia). For his actions in league with the Devil he is sentenced to death or, put much more specifically by his accusers: “You are to be hanged, and then burned over a basket of living cats.”

A hellstorm arrives which by the Devil transports the Warlock through time, three centuries into the future to 1988 so that he may collect and assemble the three parts of the greatest spellbook the Grand Grimoire, the dark Bible. He is followed through time by the witch hunter Redferne (Richard E. Grant; Bram Stoker’s Dracula) to the home of Kassandra (Lori Singer) and her roommate.

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Much as with the pansexual nature of vampirism, our Warlock homoerotically kisses and bites the tongue from a gay man and spits it into a frying pan after cutting off his finger and procuring his fanciful ring. Not only a tongue and a finger, but he goes on to remove the eyes of a spiritualist (Mary Woronov; House of the Devil, Chopping Mall) which look (despite being disembodied) where he must go.

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But his spellcraft advances with the story and he eventually casts a spell cursing Kassandra to age 20 years every day–a fate worse than death to a once stunning twenty-something.

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Our witch hunter Redferne is similar to a lower budget, smaller muscled, less suave The Last Witch Hunter (2016). He uses arcane tricks to track the Warlock–like his witch compass using the Warlock’s blood, nails in foot prints to cripple him, and recognizing bewitching signs such as cream that sours overnight and bread that doesn’t rise to detect his presence. As Redferne traveled through time to “the present” in tow of the Warlock, their dynamic is much as The Terminator‘s (1984) Kyle Reese and Sarah Conner to the T-800, with an ordinary but brave man aiding a diner waitress trying to prevent the end of humanity from a supernatural opponent against overwhelming odds.

WARLOCK, from left: Richard E. Grant, Lori Singer, 1989, © Trimark

Director Steve Miner (Lake Placid, Halloween H20, House, Friday the 13th Parts 2-3) already had some horror experience, but I think he outdid himself here. I was pleased with the story from start to finish (a stunning rarity in horror especially back then), the acting was solid (but not wowing), the nuance and discovery of mysticism was developed well, and the special effects were really quite good for their time with the ectoplasmic magical energy not at all looking hokey (although the flying was a bit silly by today’s standards) and a nice gory finale! I was especially pleased with the ending, had a dash of acceptable warm-fuzzy feelings and a bit of clever tongue-in-cheek humor.

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This film is far better than horror fans today realize and sadly I fear it is overlooked when people delve into 80s and 90s horror to round their film educations. Let’s correct this. Buy it, see it, and celebrate the Warlock!

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