Friday, February 13, 2015

Worth Mentioning - Fear the Djinn

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.


Cody wishes for a viewing of a horror quadrilogy.


WISHMASTER (1997)

A film that kicked off a four installment (to date) franchise, Wishmaster is a who's who of the horror genre, both in front of and behind the camera.

The project originated from a screenplay by Peter Atkins (writer of Hellraisers 2 through 4) and was brought to the screen by special effects artist/director Robert Kurtzman (best known for being the K of FX group KNB and coming up with the story for From Dusk Till Dawn), with Jacques Haitkin (A Nightmare on Elm Street) handling the cinematography and composer Harry Manfredini (Friday the 13th) providing the score. The film was produced by Pierre David, the man behind some of David Cronenberg's earlier work like The Brood, Videodrome, and Scanners, with master of horror Wes Craven serving as an executive producer, which got the movie marketed under the banner of "Wes Craven Presents".

Following an opening narration read by Angus Scrimm (The Tall Man of the Phantasm franchise) that warns viewers to fear the djinn, creatures born of the fire that existed at the beginning of the universe and which offer to grant unsuspecting people three wishes only as a way to unleash their unholy legion upon the earth, the film begins in Persia in the year 1127.

Portrayed by character actor Andrew Divoff, the titular Djinn has twisted a Persian ruler's wish to be shown astonishing wonders into a way to cause the people he rules over to die horrific deaths that are a showcase of KNB's abilities. One person is transformed into a hideous snake creature. Another is made one with a stone wall. A skeleton takes on a life of its own and rips out of its host's body to go on a rampage. A man's guts turn into a ravenous beast that tears out of his stomach and attacks the woman next to him.

Before the emperor can make a third wish, which will allow the Djinn to free his kind from the void they've been condemned to exist in, a wizard imprisons him in a fire opal. That opal is then hidden within an eight-foot-tall statue of the god Ahura Mazda.


In the present day, that statue has been purchased by wealthy American collector Raymond Beaumont (Freddy Krueger himself Robert Englund), who is so excited to receive it that he's there to observe the statue being unloaded off of a cargo ship in its crate. Unfortunately, the dock worker handling the unloading (Joe Pilato of George A. Romero's Day of the Dead) has been drinking on the job and causes a fatal accident. The crate is dropped onto Beaumont's assistant (Sam Raimi's younger brother Ted), smashing him and shattering the statue to bits. Another dock worker spots the fire opal in the rubble and pockets it.

The opal passes from hand to hand until it ends up in the possession of Alexandra Amberson (Tammy Lauren, the 1988 version of I Saw What You Did), who is asked to appraise it by her boss at Regal Auctioneers (Chris Lemmon of Just Before Dawn). Alex awakens the Djinn held captive inside the opal, so when he is violently released from within, he is connected to her. It's her three wishes he will require to fulfill his evil goal... but that doesn't stop him from granting deadly wishes to random people he comes across in exchange for their souls.

It has always rubbed me the wrong way that these people don't explicitly have to say "I wish" to get the Djinn to twist things around on him, he'll count someone simply saying something like they'd love to see something as a wish, but that's his prerogative.


The Djinn makes his way around the city, terrorizing characters played by the likes of genre regular George "Buck" Flower, Phantasm's Reggie Bannister, Tony "Candyman" Todd, and four time Jason Voorhees performer Kane Hodder. Not only is Alex haunted by memories and nightmares of the housefire that claimed the lives of her parents and nearly killed her younger sister, she also experiences intense sensations every time the Djinn claims another life.

There is an attempt made at giving Alex depth, but it's often pretty laughable - for example, her gig as a basketball coach gives her extra insight for her battle against the supernatural! This character isn't going to make much of an impression on you, just sit back and enjoy the mayhem and familiar faces.

Its impressive pedigree wasn't enough to make Wishmaster a great horror movie, but it is a perfectly entertaining way to spend 90 minutes. The script is often quite cheesy and some performances suffer simply due to the lines the actors have been made to deliver (although Divoff also made an odd choice with his line deliveries as the Djinn), but this just adds to the entertainment value.

While the filmmakers were out to present genies as a creepy force of evil and alter the silly reputation things like I Dream of Jeannie and Aladdin had given them, they also weren't taking themselves too seriously. The Djinn is a nasty villain, but there's a sense of humor to the movie and the deaths the Djinn causes are just as likely to make you laugh as they are to gross you out.

This is the type of horror movie you watch just to see the special effects and the inventive ways in which characters are knocked off, and if you're into things like slashers or the Final Destination movies, Wishmaster is totally worth giving a watch. Especially when it's genre icons who are bearing the brunt of the Djinn's deadly trickery.



WISHMASTER 2: EVIL NEVER DIES (1999)

When the burglary of an art gallery goes awry, the ensuing shootout between the three burglars and the gallery's security guards causes an ancient statue to get blown apart. In the rubble, one of the thieves, Morgana Truscott, notices the fire opal that the evil Djinn at the heart of this franchise resides within.

Morgana pockets the opal, and because of this she's the only one of the burglars who escapes from the gallery with their life. The fire opal is hit by a bullet that otherwise would have killed her, then she guns down a security guard.

The bullet cracked the opal open, releasing the Djinn (Andrew Divoff reprising his Wishmaster role) into our world, where he proceeds to once again turn people's wishes against them in a deadly manner. Because Morgana's actions awoke him, he is connected to her and will need her to make three wishes so he can unleash his fellow Djinn from the void they're condemned to inhabit, but first he needs to grant wishes to random people, cause deaths, and reap souls, as the story of this film adds the wrinkle that the Djinn must have taken 1001 souls before he can accomplish his goal.

Following him on his soul-gathering quest, it takes an unexpected turn and becomes, for a large portion of the running time, a prison movie. In the human guise of Nathaniel Demarest, the Djinn confesses to the robbery gone wrong and gets sent to the big house... where he's surrounded by desperate people who are willing to trade their souls to get what they want.

Wracked with grief over the death of her burglary partners and with guilt over the family man security guard she killed, Morgana is also plagued by nightmares about the Djinn and experiences intense, disturbing sensations every time he causes another death.

This sequel, written and directed by Jack Sholder (The Hidden, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge), leans more heavily on the comedic than its predecessor, and though the ways in which the Djinn's victims are killed can be horrific and grotesque, they can also be ridiculous and funny. Most notable and memorable is when a prisoner requests that the Djinn force his lawyer to... I'll say fornicate with himself.

Even after the Djinn decides to make his exit from prison, the movie continues down its own unique trail by having him mixed up with Russian gangsters, and this all gets extremely tiring to me, because I didn't put in Wishmaster 2 to watch the Djinn go to jail or become a mobster, just give me the horror and inventive death scenes.

Eventually, the movie gets back around to Morgana confronting the Djinn with the help of her priest ex-boyfriend, with the final confrontation taking place in another place full of desperate people who are willing to trade their souls to get what they want: a casino. Which is ground the wish-granting Leprechaun already covered a few years earlier, but it makes sense.

I give Sholder kudos for going in directions that most filmmakers handed the helm of a Wishmaster sequel probably wouldn't think of going in, but the problem is that I think Evil Never Dies turned out to be a rather dull and uninteresting movie. As proactive of a heroine as Morgana attempts to be, she's never engaging, and her scenes of researching genies are intercut with the Djinn in off-putting scenarios.

Wishmaster 2 is decent overall, but not a movie I wish to watch with any regularity.



WISHMASTER 3: BEYOND THE GATES OF HELL (2001)

The Wishmaster franchise went Canadian for the third and fourth installments, which were filmed back-to-back with director Chris Angel (the filmmaker behind The Fear: Resurrection, not the Mindfreak) at the helm.

The first of the sequel pair was filmed at and around the University of Manitoba and centers on young college student Diana Collins (Final Destination 2's A.J. Cook), who accidentally awakens the evil Djinn when polishing a fire opal, the object he dwells within, that she discovers inside an ancient artifact housed in the museum she works at.

Andrew Divoff, the actor who played the Djinn in the first two movies, did not return for the third and fourth, being replaced by the quite prolific John Novak. It's really not clear whether Divoff and Novak's Djinns are the same character or if they're just two of the same race. The fire opal would seem to point to Novak's being the same Djinn as Divoff's, but a line of dialogue suggests that all Djinn are trapped within this "Secret Stone of Fire" (it was called the "Stone of the Sacred Fire" in part 2).

The same individual or not, they have the same deadly approach to twisting around the wishes people make.

In his films, Divoff would also portray the Djinn in his human guise of Nathaniel Demarest, an appearance he stole from a corpse in a morgue in the first movie. Novak's Djinn gets his own human identity to move around as, but Novak does not play the character, instead remaining behind the makeup for all of his scenes. The human guise of this Djinn is his first victim, mythology professor Joel Barash, played by Jason "son of Sean" Connery. Connery actually plays the Djinn for much more of the running time than Novak does.

As the Djinn proceeds to wreak havoc on the college campus, causing deaths and reaping souls, he seeks out Diana, as he needs her to make three wishes so he can fulfill the prophecy of the Djinn race being unleashed upon the world. Since she awoke him, she's connected to him, and experiences intense and disturbing sensations every time he kills someone.

Typical of Wishmaster heroines, Diana has had tragedy in her life and is plagued by memories of lost loved ones - in this case, Diana is still suffering from the loss of her parents in a car accident when she was a child. The loss has caused her to become uneasy about getting close to people - she can't bring herself to tell her boyfriend Greg (Tobias Mehler of Disturbing Behavior and the 2002 Carrie TV movie) that she loves him.

Greg ends up playing a very important role in ensuring that Diana survives her ordeal with the Djinn, largely because one of her wishes causes his body to become inhabited by the archangel Michael. Djinns and angels are natural enemies, as the two races fought each other long ago, so the Djinn is not happy to have this heavenly-sword-wielding adversary in his way.

With the angel by her side, Diana must face her lifelong fears to defeat the Djinn and save the world.

Once Michael enters the picture, it essentially becomes an angelic take on The Terminator, but unfortunately not a very interesting one. The movie only runs 92 minutes, but as it goes on it begins to feel likes it's never going to end.

Neither Chris Angel's direction nor the screenplay by Alex Wright (The First 9 1/2 Weeks) are particularly inspired, the movie just sort of blandly goes through the motions. A.J. Cook put intense effort into the role of Diana, but having a strong actress in the lead doesn't elevate the material, which results in a movie that feels generic and overly long.



WISHMASTER: THE PROPHECY FULFILLED (2002)

Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell director Chris Angel only had a weekend of downtime after filming wrapped on that installment of the franchise before he had to dive right into directing the next sequel.

The screenplay for the fourth film was provided by John Benjamin Martin, a writer who specializes in Lifetime-esque TV movies made in Canada, and The Prophecy Fulfilled feels very much like a Wishmaster movie that could have aired on Lifetime, despite the fact that Angel has shown his lead actress topless by the end of the opening titles.

Our heroine is Tara Spencer-Nairn as Lisa, whose boyfriend Sam was recently paralyzed in an accident caused by the failure of the rear braking system on his motorcycle. While Sam drowns his sorrow in alcohol and self-pity, Lisa is working with his longtime friend Steven, a lawyer, to sue the designer of the brake system. Steven has a crush on Lisa, and seeing that her relationship with Sam is falling apart, he openly states that he wants to be an option for her if she decides to move on.

Steven gives Lisa a gift he bought for her off the internet. An antique box. Inside this box, Lisa finds the fire opal that the evil Djinn resides within and accidentally awakens the devious genie.

Entering our world, the Djinn kills Steven and takes over his identity, using his appearance so he can make his way around without drawing attention and trick Lisa into making three wishes, which will fulfill an ancient prophecy and allow him to unleash his condemned race upon the world. John Novak, who took over from Andrew Divoff as the Djinn as of Wishmaster 3, reprises the role, but because he takes the form of Steven, that allows actor Michael Trucco to play the role for much of the running time.

As usual, the Djinn also grants wishes to random people he encounters, twisting the results in deadly ways and stealing the wishers' souls. In the guise of Steven, he also gets Lisa to make a series of wishes. The granting of the first lands Lisa and Sam ten million dollars in a court settlement. The second enables Sam to walk again, although he's in excruciating pain because his body isn't truly healed.

The third wish greatly complicates things. Fed up with Sam, Lisa wishes she could love Steven for who he really is... Since Steven is really the Djinn, it's going to be quite hard for him to make her love him.


Like I said, this a horror version of a Lifetime movie. The Prophecy Fulfilled is packed to the gills with relationship drama, and now even the Djinn is trying to be romantic. Ignoring the demands of his kind to be unleashed, he sets out on an attempt to understand love so he can woo Lisa and legitimately win her heart.

Yes, this is the story we always hoped the Wishmaster franchise would cover, isn't it?

While trying to figure out how to grant the final wish, the Djinn also has to contend with the fact that a stone statue of an angel called The Hunter has taken human form and is tracking him and Lisa down to stop the prophecy from being fulfilled.

Wishmaster 2 wasn't as good as the first Wishmaster. Wishmaster 3 wasn't as good as the second. This steady decline continues on with the fourth entry in the series, which is by far the worst of the bunch. It's easy to see why the franchise has been dormant for more than a decade now, because if the quality had dipped this low and the ideas were this bad already by part 4, Wishmaster does appear to have reached a dead end.

None of these movies are great, for the most part they are extremely cheesy, but there is a fun to them, and a potential. With the right people behind the scenes, an awesome Wishmaster movie could still be made, and I'd gladly check out a part 5.

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