Warlock (1989) [Midnight Movie]

Julian Sands speed reader

I said I got bored blogging about movies, but apparently I just needed a break. Today I have a recommendation for a movie I don’t see discussed much anymore. Now this is coming from the only person on the planet who genuinely enjoyed The Wishmaster 2, so my opinion on anything should be taken with a grain of salt: I rank Warlock among the best witchcraft movies ever made. Warlock may very well be where my love for the subgenre began in the first place.

In 1600s Massachusetts, the meanest warlock in history eludes execution by casting a spell which whisks him away from the tower where he’s contained. Witch hunter Giles Redferne fearlessly chases the villain through the portal, but it turns out the spell is amiss and the two find themselves stuck in 1980s Los Angeles. The hero has a much harder time dealing with the culture shock: when the LA police arrive to question him, he lamely attacks them with his whip, which is no match for a stun gun.

UnlikelyDuoCrusin

As the warlock travels the countryside in search of a book which will allow him to undo creation, he casts a spell on the female lead, a spunky young woman named Kassandra: she’ll age twenty years everyday, which means she’ll die in half a week, tops. Hair graying and face wrinkling, Kassandra teams up with the witch hunter to reclaim her youth and save the universe. One of the many things that sets Warlock apart from the sensibilities of its era is that its lead female appears in old age makeup for a sizable chunk of the running time. Meanwhile, most of the horror scenes take place in broad daylight.

That’s exactly what makes Warlock so fun: its creativity. The warlock keeps a pair of eyeballs which look in the direction he needs to go; later, the prude witch hunter is faced with desecrating his own grave due to the plot’s time traveling shenanigans. During an amusing chase sequence across a Mennonite farm, the witch hunter reveals that hammering nails into a warlock’s footprints causes him pain, which is a bit of lore that feels like it belongs in a classic fairy tale. The movie is intentionally goofy at times, such as when the witch hunter insists on carrying a weather vane onto a commercial airliner, but though it plays it fast and loose with the logic you never feel insulted… except maybe during the scene in which Kassandra defeats a credit card machine by simply unplugging it.

High as a kite

A lot of people compare Warlock’s time traveling plot to The Terminator, but I feel the spirit of the movie is a lot more like Time After Time, the fun fantasy film in which HG Wells (Malcolm McDowell) follows Jack the Ripper (David Werner) into 1970s San Francisco. This film, like that one, features two great leads cast against type: Julian Sands and Richard E. Grant, who are far more entertaining to watch than the teenage leads who normally populate films like this.

Mea

2018-8-5 Mea WebVersion

This is what I’m into at the moment: single page comics. Other than a handful of three-panel strips, this is my first stab at sequential art since about ’98, when I attempted an ongoing comic on notebook paper (it was terrible). Obviously there’s a strong Jack Kirby influence on this one. I’ll be posting more of these one-pagers in the near future so subscribe to this blog if you’re interested (the button’s on the right for desktop users and on the bottom for those browsing on mobile).

Got bored bloggin’

2018 7 28 hereliesgougblog

For about a decade my blogging here has been effortless, but for the last couple of months I haven’t felt the need to tell complete strangers on the internet about the media I’ve recently consumed. “The Goug’ Blog” era is coming to an end, but I’m not deleting anything and http://www.gougblog.com will continue to direct here if you don’t feel like updating your bookmark.

From this point forward the site is now http://www.grantgougler.com. Boring, I know, but ten years is a long time to spend on anything. I just don’t have the energy I used to and what little I have is better spent on writing fiction, some of which will end up right here on this very blog. I also picked up drawing again and didn’t realize how much I missed it.

There’ll still be the usual posts here and there, but things are gonna look a bit different in the future, I reckon.

Of Mice and Simple Plans

Twenty years ago a high school buddy and I went to see A Simple Plan. We went into the theater with short sleeves on and, leaving through the windowless stairwell exit, we were shocked to discover everything had been covered in snow by the time we came out. It was as if the movie had literally transported us to its dreadfully claustrophobic winter land.

Weather coincidences aside, A Simple Plan is an extremely effective crime thriller. It may even be my favorite book-to-film adaptation. The most you can hope for from a typical adaptation is it won’t change too much. Scott Smith, who has only published two novels, didn’t write an adaptation so much as he wrote a leaner, meaner draft of the original story. (His second novel, The Ruins, is one of the few long books I’ve read in a single day.) In the movie, his characters became a lot more human and sympathetic.

I chose the short trailer because the long one gives too much away. Do not—I repeat: do not go looking at related Youtube videos if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

Bill Paxton plays Hank Mitchell, a man of average intelligence and, in the beginning, of average morality. He’s the smart one compared to his brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thorton) whose literary cousin could very well be Lennie Small. Though Hank is the smart one, at times snobbishly so, there are key scenes in which Jacob reveals he knows a lot more than Hank suspects, particularly regarding family matters and accurately reading the cards life dealt ’em. (There’s a scene in which Jacob talks about the only girlfriend he’s ever had and it’s at once funny and heartbreaking.)

While searching for their dog in the snowy Minnesota woods, the brothers discover a crashed plane containing millions of dollars. Unfortunately for Hank, Jacob’s dimwitted buddy Lou (Brent Briscoe from Larry Clark’s Another Day in Paradise) is also wrapped up into the plot; he plays the wild card who’s integral to these types of movies and he’s scarily good at the job. Described as “a forty year old high school dropout who’s proud of people calling him the town drunk,” he can cause the whole thing to come crashing down at any moment.

The plan, as it should be, is simple: Hank will sit on the money until spring, at which point the snow will melt and the plane will be discovered by the authorities. Then they’ll know who’s looking for the money and adjust the plan accordingly. Hank warns Jacob and Lou not to tell a soul. Hank proceeds to race home and blab about the money to his wife, Sarah (Bridget Fonda).

The expression on Sarah’s face, when Hank dumps the money on the kitchen table, is pure movie magic. No matter how good a person you think you are, nothing can prepare you for staring at a load of cash like that. And nothing can prepare you for how it changes everything. Sarah is the dutiful wife who becomes the mastermind of the increasingly complex plan, acting as the puppet master for everything that follows. She becomes so immersed in the plan she becomes sinister in her tweaking of it; even as the nurse hands her her firstborn child, she immediately whispers conspiratorially about what Hank should do next.

Naturally, the plan is never as simple as it seems and, a mere twenty minutes into the film, Hank finds himself helplessly cornered by unforeseen consequences. In that regard, the film is a lot like Fargo (my favorite film of all time) and Blood Simple, and it’s no wonder the directors of those films and the director of this one have had their careers cross paths at times. Listen, I’m a guy who grew up watching the Evil Dead franchise about a billion times so I don’t say this lightly: this is Sam Raimi’s best movie, period.

The similarities it shares with John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men didn’t occur to me until recently, when I happened to read one and watch the other on the same day. Those comparisons can’t be said of Smith’s source material, which is yet another reason to cherish this movie as something special. And when you learn it was a commercial flop, a double whammy on the heels of Raimi’s disappointingly goofy The Quick and the Dead, you can kind of see how such a visionary movie director eventually got lost in Hollywood mediocrity.

This is what you get: a suspenseful plot, an excellent cast, and wonderful dialogue. I adore crime movies and consider this one among the best.

Aging Warriors and Knowing Shadows

Do you know how much I love The Shadow? In general, he’s just about the baddest ass character I can think of, not to mention the reason I spent so much time on “The Silver Shroud” missions in Fallout 4. The 1994 movie isn’t the greatest adaptation in the world, but it’s certainly not as bad as a lot of people think (my girlfriend included). Besides, I would kill to own the pinball machine which came out for the movie.

I do see the problems, however, and I agree: you’d think the screenwriter of Jurassic Park and the director of Highlander would produce something a lot better than this. Jonathon Winters does absolutely nothing for the plot, Tim Curry seems to have been told to “yuk it up,” and the romance between Cranston and Margo Lane is entirely uncooked. The lab sets are laughably unscientific, even by Hollywood standards (When was the last time you saw a Jacob’s Ladder in a modern movie?) and they even do the ol’ ticking time bomb routine. (Red wire or green wire? Just shoot me now so I won’t have to decide.)

TheShadow

But even if the exceptional cast is wasted (John Lone, who plays the last living decedent of Genghis Kahn, should be in a lot more movies while Penelope Ann Miller is more believable in the time period than anyone else), you get a rousing adventure with awesome music and some exceptional visuals. Besides, it’s the freakin’ Shadow. The last time I heard Hollywood talking about a Shadow movie, Sam Raimi had dropped out and the director of a Twilight sequel had stepped in… so, yeah, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get anything better in the foreseeable future. (Which reminds me: Doesn’t the recent news of a Gremlins reboot just churn your fuckin’ stomach?)

So I’ve always wanted to read The Talisman. I finally did and now I don’t know what to think of it. I suspect I just read it at the wrong time in my life. Considering everything else I’ve ever enjoyed, I should have loved this book. I didn’t. I didn’t dislike it, either, but I found it a bit hard to pick up at times, particularly after the Sunlight Gardner’s School subplot wrapped up. The older I get, the more I have trouble getting into “epic” fantasy (I hope this is just a phase I’m going through).

Legend

David Gemmell’s mostly self-contained Legend, on the other hand, is one of my favorite fantasy stories. It’s not long, it’s certainly not epic, and you don’t have to read the entire series to get a satisfying conclusion. This is what happens in Legend: good guys are in a great fortress. Bad guys want to get into said fortress and kill everybody. The bad guys have some pretty mean mofos on their team, but the good guys have this legendary warrior on theirs. The problem is the legend is aging and he’s not quite what he used to be.

I later learned Gemmell wrote Legend when he believed he was dying of cancer (it later turned out to be a misdiagnosis). When you read the story it’s not at all apparent that’s what he’s writing about, but it is kind of apparent in retrospect. It’s one of the purest stories I’ve ever read in the sense that it primarily exists to entertain, but you sense it’s about something bigger than what it purports to be even though you can’t quite put your finger on it. I love that kind of stuff. I typically find it much more satisfying than a story with obvious metaphors and morals.

In other news, I’m stoked to learn Joe Bob Briggs, one of the most authentic and intelligent people I can think of, is FINALLY returning to host silly movies for a 24-hour movie marathon on Shudder. They haven’t released an official date, but Briggs said, “It’ll start on a Friday in June, although we don’t know which Friday yet.”