At a time when horror cinema was taking a sharp left turn into knowing irony and metatextual commentary, 1998’s “Wishmaster” is a gloriously gory, throwback to the previous decade of supernatural powers, ancient evil, hellish puzzle-box curses and bucket and buckets of gore.
In 12th century Mesopotamia, an evil Djinn (Andrew Divoff) asks the Sultan to make a final wish, once which will doom mankind but a cunning sorcerer traps the genie is a fire opal for all eternity. Well, at least until a drunken dockworker shatters the statue in which the opal had been safely hidden. Stealing the opal, the dockworker sells it to a jeweller to make a quick buck, with the gem eventually ending up with gemmologist Alexandra “Alex” Amberson (Tammy Lauren). As she inspects the gemstone, she spots something buried deep inside and inadvertently awakens the Djinn who sets out to harvest souls for wishes and bring about the end of days.
It may be a cheap and cheerful throwback but one thing “Wishmaster” is, is fun. It opens with a crazy orgy of flailing intestines, mutated creatures, gouts of blood and a skeleton erupting from its host and giving chase to the other victims. It’s a magnificent array of homages to the likes of Clive Barker, Wes Craven, Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna and Sam Raimi and therein lies the appeal of “Wishmaster”. It has no pretensions of being clever, or elevated; it has no interest in subverting the genre or expectations: this is a bacchanalia of corn syrup-soaked practical effects: a celebration of a decade and more of classic 80’s horror.
Directed by celebrated make-up effects artist Robert Kurtzman, “Wishmaster” is brimming with imagination and grisly inventiveness and it positively revels in the idea of the Djinn dishing out ironic and seditious wish fulfilment as he cuts a gory swathe through the Los Angeles rare objet d’art scene. It’s at its best when its making use of its crew’s practical effects wizardry – which ironically makes the few uses of CGI look ropey and disappointing – and in terms of zany and gruesome kills, it just keeps them coming.
Tammy Lauren is a feisty and likeable ‘final girl’ but the MVP of the movie by far is Andrew Divoff. His Djinn has a darkly playful aspect and a deliciously sleazy drawl whether he’s in his true form or hiding behind a stolen face. He’s a constant delight and one of the unsung greats of horror cinema. Speaking of titans of horror cinema, the film cements its status as a victory lap for the bygone era of 1980s horror with a cavalcade of cameos with the likes of Robert Englund, Ted Raimi, Kane Hodder, Tom Savini, Joseph Pilato and Tony Todd making an appearance. Frequent John Carpenter collaborator George Buck Flower turns up as a homeless bum and “Phantasm” veteran Reggie Bannister plays a pharmacist while Angus Scrimm himself delivers the film’s opening narration.
Giddily gory, horribly hilarious and camp as a row of Crystal Lake cabins, “Wishmaster” is a wildly entertaining throwback to a bygone era that has more than enough energy, wit and still-beating heart to overcome is flaws. Grab the popcorn, open a beer and enjoy.