As the 1980s gave way to the early 90s, horror was waning amongst audiences. The golden age of the slasher had come and gone. By 1991, audiences were more interested in stylish psychological thrillers in the vein of Sleeping with the Enemy or Cape Fear. And it was this cinematic atmosphere that welcomed Steve Miner’s supernatural horror, Warlock. Though Miner completed filming on Warlock in 1989 earlier, it took two years to get his movie limited theatrical release. This says something about the state of horror considering Miner had a respectable horror resume that included Friday the 13th Part 2 and Part III as well as House. Regardless Warlock found a small audience on home video. Two inferior sequels inevitably followed. But most horror fans have forgotten this story of the son of Satan wreaking havoc in contemporary Boston.
In 17th century Boston, a suspected ‘warlock’, locked away in a tower, awaits a death sentence for is crimes. But Satan himself appears and frees the ‘Warlock’, allowing him to escape to present-day Boston. However, not far behind, a witch-hunter, Redferne, follows the ‘Warlock’ into the future. With the help of a 20th century woman, Redferne rushes against time to stop the ‘Warlock’ from finding the three pieces of a the Grand Grimoire. A book of unholy spells, the ‘Warlock’ hopes to end the world as we know it and pave the way for Satan.
Warlock Has an Interesting Concept With a Very 90s Approach
If ever there was a movie that was a product of its time, Warlock is one of those movies. Despite a synopsis promising the tone of 70’s supernatural horror like The Omen or The Exorcist, Warlock shares more in common with Wishmaster or Graveyard Shift. Lacking much in the way of atmosphere or scares, Miner relies on some mixed slasher shlock. Yet aside from a couple of gross-out scenes – including our ‘Warlock’ biting out someone’s tongue and spitting it into a frying pan – there’s not much here to shock. In this sense, Warlock has a lot in common with other 90s horror movie. With a few exceptions, this was a decade that saw genre pare back on the gore. Moreover, Warlock has that cheaper, washed out look of straight-to video releases from the era. But when Miner overreaches on his action the cheap-looking effects actually add to the movie’s charm.
Yet aside from a couple of gross-out scenes – including our ‘Warlock’ biting out someone’s tongue and spitting it into a frying pan – there’s not much here to shock.
And believe it or not, Warlock has some charm. Think of it as Highlander meets Terminator. In addition to its cheesy effects, screenwriter David Twohy’s (Pitchblack) ‘fish-out-of-water’ story offers some laughs. Not surprisingly, the ‘Warlock’s’ pursuit of missing pages of the Grand Grimoire feels more like a device to keep things moving. Instead, horror fans will be more invested in the clever bits of sorcery lore woven into the movie. Believe it or not, Twohy’s story includes a few neat bits that help make the movie’s excessively long runtime more interesting than it has any right to be. And Warlock’s roadtrip ‘buddy’ feel gives the movie an occasional breezy feel to it. This helps fill the void left by the lack of any genuine scares.
Warlock Conjures Up a Much Better Cast Than The Movie Likely Deserves
If Warlock suffers (or benefits) from cheesy effects and a pretty rote story, the cast rises above the material. First and foremost, Julian Sands deserves the lion’s share of credit for whatever niche Warlock occupies. Sands is effortlessly charismatic in the role and, excluding Richard E Grant, the best thing about this movie. Even in a movie where the resolution never seems in doubt, Sands manages to invest his ‘warlock’ with a mix of menace and dark wit. In a better movie, Sands could have carried a much bigger and better franchise. Joining Sands is the talented and underrated Richard E Grant. As the ‘fish-out-of-water’, Grant delivers both humor and pathos to his role. Like Sands, Grant is a lot better than this movie.
… Julian Sands deserves the lion’s share of credit for whatever niche Warlock occupies.
As the other part of the ‘buddy roadtrip’ equation in Warlock, Lori Singer fares well as the 20th century girl caught up in the supernatural happenings. She delivers the requisite comic relief and does the best with the material with which she was to work. Given that she’s working with two strong performers, it’s probably not surprising that Singer’s work feels less essential to the movie. But her character is necessary to play off of Grant, and Singer adequately fills the role. Though Twohy would eventually move on to develop some impressive screenplays, Warlock doesn’t offer much outside of its interesting treatment of sorcery. Singer, like her castmates, works a pretty generic script.
Warlock a Minor Entry in 90s Horror
Pick your movie and odds are it has its own fanbase. And Warlock certainly has its proponents. But similar to my response to Wishmaster – another 90s horror movie with something of a following – I’m not sure I entirely understand the appeal of Warlock. As far as horror movies go, it pretty much defines generic. By and large it’s pretty forgettable stuff as not much about it has held up well. The effects are cheesy, the story derivative, and the action pretty inconsequential. Consider this a 90s horror movie for collectors and diehards only.