Digging Into The Warlock Series

I'll admit that when it was originally announced that these films would be getting the Blu Ray treatment via Vestron Video (Blu Ray Review coming soon), I was both a bit apprehensive and excited. Apprehensive because I was never a fan of Warlock to begin with, but excited that Vestron Video would be handling this release because they've been knocking it out of the park lately. And I also took it as an excuse to revisit these because honestly, it's been well over a decade or two since I've seen the first two. And if I'm to be completely honest, I had no idea there was even a third. But I love Bruce Payne as a villain, so I was more than happy to get to dive into this last chapter along with the first 2. So let's dig in.

Warlock (1989)

What I remember the most about this was when the trailers began hitting the theaters during the previews, I remember that on the surface, it looked kind of cool. But even back then, just being something around 13 years old, I remember feeling that I just wasn't excited about it because Steve Miner was directing, and even then, I had recognized that he was not a strong director, and I was not a fan. Even though he'd had his hand in a few other franchises previously having directed Friday the 13th Part 2 & Part 3 as well as the first House, I always felt he was a very stale filmmaker. Sure he's competent, and can certainly put a film together well, but there's just no energy in any of it. But time does tend to change my mind about films so I went into this enthusiastically and hopeful.

Overall, Warlock was a solid good time. Unfortunately I didn't love it, and my feelings about Miner's inability to give any film he directs any kind of life still ring true. Warlock is a competently made film, with some great performances from Julian Sands and Richard E. Grant, but it always felt like it was missing something. Maybe even some tighter editing could have done the job? I'm not sure, but it has enough good things going on to help you forget about the things that don't work. But let's talk about those for a second. For starters, Lori Singer was just awful. If it wasn't for her annoying as hell performance I might have enjoyed it a bit more. It could very well be the bad dialogue she had to deliver, or the direction she took from Miner in how to play the "late 80's valley girl" character, but my word I just didn't like her and any second she was on screen was an endurance test. Rumors are that she was a nightmare to work with, especially since most of her screen-time is under heavy makeup, where she was subjected to long uncomfortable makeup sessions. Though some of the cast and crew were kind in their remarks (on the Blu Ray Special Features) about their experiences working with her, but you get the sense they weren't being completely honest, or being too nice. The bad effects were expected, but I wasn't prepared for just how bad some of them would actually be, especially the flying stuff. Steve Miner has gone on record saying he himself was also unhappy with how the flying effects worked out and I can certainly understand.

There are some good things happening here though, like Richard E. Grant, who was just excellent in the role. I'm used to seeing him as a wiry or annoying villain, but seeing him here play the tough guy lead as the Warlock Hunter, quite effortlessly, really surprised the hell out of me. I also liked the set design in the last act of the film, which takes place in a cemetery. They use a matte painting backdrop of a city skyline and man I love how that looks. You see it, and you know it's not real, but still looks more real than any CGI city background these days. It also adds so much character to the scene. Anthony Hickox did the same thing with the sequel and I just love that look so much.

Overall this film feels too safe, too stale and too plain. It always feels like it's missing "something". What that something is, I couldn't tell you. Perhaps some tighter editing, more style in the camerawork, or maybe a bit more life into the script. It's always just a few steps away from being awesome, but as it stands, it's just good.

Warlock: The Armageddon (1993)

Whatever issues I had with the first film take a complete 180 turn with this insanely fun sequel. Waxwork writer and director Anthony Hickox (Waxwork 1 & 2, Hellraiser III) helms this sequel and gives the franchise a tremendous boost of life and energy. I've always loved Hickox' early work. He's always been a criminally underrated director who gives his films so much energy with his inspired frenetic camerawork, and doesn't get the proper respect or credit he deserves for being one of the more visually talented directors in genre films back in the day.

Whereas the first film took a dead-serious approach, this time around everyone is clearly having a great time, especially Julian Sands as the Warlock. He's taken the role he made famous years before and amps the sinister energy to 11, delivering a bewitchingly fun performance. Hickox, to his credit, also infuses the movie with a much-needed energy sorely missing from the first film. Warlock: The Armageddon comes off more like a dark comic book than a horror film. It carries a self-aware tongue-in-cheek humor that oftentimes strays into camp and corny unintentionally, but never too far where it becomes dumb. Anthony Hickox' gimmicky camerawork only serves to better the film, and it works. There are moments clearly inspired by Evil Dead era Sam Raimi, with creative and sometimes downright brilliant camera setups done in only the slickest way that Hickox can achieve. If you want to see more of his brilliant work behind the camera, I urge you to check out Full Eclipse, another film he directed this very same year, and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, which he directed the year before. And that's another thing about this one. Aside from working again with the gorgeous Paula Marshall, Warlock: The Armageddon looked and felt very much like Hellraiser III in more ways than one. Now whether you enjoyed that entry will probably determine whether you might potentially enjoy this. While I admit that a lot of Hellraiser fans were a bit turned off by the third entry's cheese factor, I personally enjoyed it. He carries over a lot of the same aesthetic into this film, and while some could argue that it comes off as cheesy, I say it spun the franchise on it's head and brought it into the 90's in an unconventionally entertaining way.

One of the strongest elements of this film, aside from Hickox' brilliantly fun shots, is the effects department, this time courtesy of Bob Keen (Hellraiser 2). Compared to the first one, this film is much more gory with a healthy dose of practical effects. Of course, there are also some badly rendered CGI circa 1993, but really, that's to be expected. Whatever the film is lacking in computer generated effects more than makes up for in it's strong use of practical physical effects and Bob Keen and company did a helluva job in that department.

I really loved the casting here. Paula Marshall is always great, and Chris Young (The Great Outdoors) was an interesting choice, but it's really in the supporting cast that gives the film a boost of legitimacy. Led by Lethal Weapon regular Steve Kahan, who's appeared in virtually every single Richard Donner (he is his cousin after all) film, as well as some notable action films of the 80's and 90's, the trio of Druids, including R.G. Armstrong and Charles Hallahan, the trio of old-timers deliver a strong supporting cast that's better than it has any right being. These 3 legends, here playing modern day Druids, act as sort of the backbone to the Warlock mythology. Even though some of the lines they deliver are a bit corny, they sure do it with class.

For my personal taste, Warlock: The Armageddon was a blast from start to finish. It was just the kind of comic book style energy that the series needed to breathe some new life into it. Director Anthony Hickox, here in his prime, delivers some of his best camerawork next to Full Eclipse, infusing the film with an over-the-top sensibility that mostly works, while also making it a much more fun experience.


Warlock III: The End of Innocence (1999)

As I mentioned before, I wasn't even aware that there was a third entry in the franchise, so this came as somewhat of a pleasant surprise for me. Add to that the fact that Bruce Payne was taking over the role of the Warlock made it all the more intriguing to me. Then I discovered it starred Ashley Laurence (Hellraiser 1 & 2). SOLD!

Where the second film took a 180 turn into camp, while also making it more fun, gory and a whole lot of new energy, this last sequel takes yet another 180 turn, only in the complete opposite direction, and what we're left with is a very small film, one that tries to go back to basics. The problem is that they went so far back to basics that it's downright dull.

Warlock III has some decent things going for it, like the casting of Bruce Payne and Ashley Laurence. Payne is always a hoot as the villain, even with his limited screen time here, but Ashley Laurence just keeps getting hotter the older she gets and steals every scene she's in with her beauty. Eric Freiser's (his one and only directing credit) direction is pretty solid to be honest. I found some of his shots and setups to be competent and sometimes inventive, but the film just can't shake it's low-budget aesthetic. But still, even with big limitations, Freiser surprised me on more than a few occasions with some nifty camerawork.

And that's pretty much where the positives end and the negatives begin. Let's start with the location. Most of the film takes place inside a large old house, making the film look and feel more like a ghost or haunted house story rather than about a Warlock who's trying to retrieve.....aw hell. I don't even remember. I was bored. And that's one of the film's biggest issues. It's sloooooow and nothing happens for a good hour. Then when it does pick up the pace in the last act, it's not nearly enough. There are no badass kills, and what surprised me the most is that there is practically zero Warlock magic happening. He instead turns to manipulation to get things done, which is not what you expect from a film called Warlock.

One of the things I found amusing was that whenever his victims are trying to outrun him, he never runs, instead choosing to calmly walk like Michael Myers and Jason, which I found amusing. And the film really suffers from some bad editing and absolutely dreadful music. Released on video in 1999, that late 90's grunge scene is painfully splattered all over this film, from the actresses makeup, to everyone's clothes, to the terrible grunge/rock music. It screams the worst that that era had to offer and makes the film feel painfully dated. Sure, the first one was late 80's, and the second was early 90's, but they don't kick you in the face with it the way this one does. And lastly, I don't know why the subtitle of "The End of Innocence" is even there. It means nothing, and plays no part into the film at all. Plus it just sounds tacky.

While not the worst film or sequel I've ever seen, it's easily the worst in this series. I couldn't even tell you if this Warlock is the same Warlock from the previous two films, because it's never mentioned. In reality, it works more as a haunted house film more than anything, but would be enjoyable just for it's hardcore 90's grunge vibe for sheer sentimental value.

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