I wanted to link my review of Wes Craven’s Wishmaster only to discover I never actually wrote it. It’s a shame because I rewatched it as recently as a couple years ago. In summary, it was a movie I really admired despite its many faults. If you enjoyed that movie, but passed on the sequels, this post is for you.
Don’t say I never did nothin’ for ya.
Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies
I avoided Wishmaster 2 for over a decade because everyone said it was awful. Even mega fans of the original said it sucked. In fact, the film currently holds a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. The director himself admitted he hasn’t seen it since he made it.
These are bad signs for the franchise.
The opening credits, which didn’t get Craven’s seal of approval this time around, make it clear Wishmaster 2 isn’t going to have any horror icons making cameos like the original did. Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Robert LaSardo, and Bokeem Woodbine from Fargo’s second season make substantial appearances, but beyond that there’s rarely a moment of “Hey, it’s that guy!” Fortunately, Andrew Divoff returns as the evil Djinn. His performance isn’t something I can gloss over. It’s the entire reason the picture works.
Sometimes good acting and compelling acting aren’t one in the same. Even though I wouldn’t call Divoff a good actor here (he’s been good in movies which didn’t have “Wishmaster” in the title), there’s something interesting about him—something playfully sadistic and bizarre. You can almost hear the director calling, “Okay Andrew, be menacing here,” before Divoff puts on a mischievous face which looks like he secretly farted. Whether or not this facet of his performance is intentional, it works. He’s a demon so why shouldn’t his expressions be completely alien to humans? I imagine it’s something Crispin Glover would do in a similar role.
We’re going to see a lot of the Djinn this time around. If you disliked that Hellraiser: Bloodline made Pinhead a little too pedestrian, you’re probably going to hate this movie because the Djinn doesn’t lurk about the shadows anymore. But if you want to see Ernest Goes to Jail starring an evil genie as opposed to a clumsy idiot, you’re going to get your money’s worth. (I’m going to be very upset if they never make a Wishmaster in Space. Seriously. I want that movie so bad it hurts.)
In the first film, whose tagline was, “Be careful what you wish for,” the Djinn had twisted interpretations of his victim’s wishes. This time around we quickly learn that the rules regarding the Djinn’s powers are murky. When a police officer tells him to “freeze,” the Djinn encases him in a block of ice. This would have been clever if the character had said “I wish I was cool” or something like that, but whatever. I’ll take what I can get. More often than not the setups to these ridiculous payoffs are poorly worded from the get-go.
I do have to say my favorite wish fulfillment is when LaSardo’s character wishes his lawyer would “go fuck himself.” The anticipation of that moment is supremely satisfying. Whether or not the payoff itself is any good is debatable so I won’t ruin it for you.
There’s also a scene in which the Djinn is having a dull conversation, which is unexpectedly interrupted when the heroine pops out of nowhere and shoots at him. It’s one of the most awkward and hilarious things I’ve seen in a long time. Anyone who’s ever gotten a case of the giggles during a movie like this should be able to relate to the fun of that non sequitur moment.
I know what you’re thinking: it sounds like I actually enjoyed this movie. Well, I hope this doesn’t ruin my street cred’, but I did. I’m sure you can say this of any film, but I was in the right frame of mind. Even though the practical effects can’t hold a candle to the original, and it’s severely lacking in the blood department, it’s an oddly satisfying film. And not only because it’s so honest and pure in the misguided era that gave Jennifer Love Hewitt leading roles.
So yeah, if there’s ever a Kickstarter for Wishmaster vs. Leprechaun, I’d fund that shit in a heartbeat.
Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell
First off, there are no ‘Gates of Hell’ and nobody goes beyond them. Knowing nothing more than the erroneous title, I was expecting someone to, like, end up in the Djinn’s domain or something, but I guess they already did that in the previous installment.
I wasn’t aware Wishmaster 3 didn’t have Andrew Divoff in it. I probably would’ve skipped this one had I known that beforehand. For some reason I thought Bruce Payne might be in this one, but I was probably thinking about Warlock 3.
Look, I’m talking about other movies here because I want to do anything but talk about this one. I’m sighing as I type this. Really.
The previous film opened with a shootout. It wasn’t spectacular by any means, but it was entertaining enough. Wishmaster 3 opens with a drawn-out introduction to some of the tamest college co-eds I’ve ever seen. If these kids were any more wholesome, they’d be organizing church activities. And I’ve got a hunch the casting director chose his talent from the pages of a hairstyle book at Supercuts. Although the series’ acting was never its strong suit, it gets worse. Much worse.
At the end of Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, the heroine hid Pinhead’s puzzle box deep in freshly poured concrete. As temporary as that solution turned out to be, the heroine of Wishmaster 2 must have done an even lousier job of hiding the Djinn’s summoning stone. (Maybe it’s supposed to be a different jewel and a different Djinn entirely, which could explain Divoff’s absence. Either way, the new actor sucks and the special effects take yet another step in the wrong direction.) Without explanation the jewel ends up in the hands of a college professor so bland I couldn’t wait to see him die.
When the demon finally gets around to killing the professor off, in what proves to be the dumbest wish fulfillment to date, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief because you think you won’t have to see that actor’s stupid face anymore. Unfortunately, the Djinn decides to wear the character’s skin as his own (so that the makeup crew no longer has to do anything), a creative decision which makes it clear the filmmakers weren’t even trying to make a likable movie. Imagine Simon Pegg without any interesting characteristics whatsoever and you’ve got a good idea of what the villain looks like this time around.
Wishmaster 3 kills fewer victims per hour than the previous films did per scene. You keep hearing about this big party on campus and expect the Djinn to crash it for the movie’s climax. But he never does and you end up watching the end credits with the bluest pair of balls in history. The one moment that almost redeems the entire production is the hilariously anti-climactic resolution, which reminds me of a gag from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
At this point I’m so militantly anti-Wishmaster, I have no desire (or energy) to watch the fourth film in the series. But hey, in for a penny, in for my soul, right?
Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled
I figured it was a safe bet the prophecy would go unfulfilled in this one. I was partially right.
The heroine of this film actually makes three wishes—which is further than the Djinn has ever gotten before. Unfortunately her third wish is a paradox due to the bullshit rules of the Djinn’s magic (read: lame excuses to stretch this film to feature length). We quickly learn the foretold apocalypse will be postponed once again.
I don’t know what else I was expecting. If the prophecy ever does get fulfilled, it’ll bring the kind of fire and brimstone that straight-to-video producers can’t afford. We’ve also got the same director we got last time, Chris Angel (no, not the Mindfreaker guy… at least I don’t think it is), whose climax in the previous film proved he’s not the go-to guy for an exciting ending… or an exciting anything, really. I will say this about the director: although Wishmaster 4 is more or less the same movie as Wishmaster 3, it’s a helluva lot better. I mean, it’s still not very good, but the difference is stark.
The new heroine is the girlfriend of a man who lost movement of his legs in a motorcycle accident. Three years later, the lawyer they’ve been working with surprises her with a gift: an artifact which inexplicably contains the Djinn’s summoning jewel. The Djinn, played by the same guy who played him last time, is up to the same ol’ tricks: he uses the lawyer’s form to worm his way into the main characters’ lives. There are plenty of opportunities to be clever here, but the filmmakers apparently had other plans.
It takes twenty minutes until we see the first victim meet his demise. The special effects here are way more convincing (and gruesome) than anything in the previous entry, but nothing after the first kill hits the same mark. I’m happy to say there are a lot more unintentionally hilarious moments (an unexpected decapitation is one, a stupidly gentle car crash is another, but just wait until you see the camera linger on the phoniest sword in movie history). The increased cheese factor makes this one a lot more watchable than its predecessor.
I think the biggest missed opportunity will be apparent to anyone: a bartender casually remarks he would give his soul “just to be a pimple on her ass” in regards to an attractive stripper. Naturally, the Djinn grants him this wish, but we never actually see it happen. Remember the human face on the meatball in Nightmare on Elm Street 4? Wouldn’t it have been great if they had showed a human-faced pimple sprout on the woman’s ass? Even better, I would have loved to see her go twirling down the pole, intercut with reaction shots of the pimple-face drawing toward the stage which would ultimately squish him.
What we have here is a director whose intentions are admirable: you can tell by the amount of drama he shoehorned into it that he wanted a more mature horror movie. The problem is parts three and four were filmed back-to-back while he was trying to make Titanic on a soap opera budget. We ultimately got two films for the price of one and it really shows. This one was a lot easier to get through than the last, but I can’t recommend it to anyone but masochists.