Sold late at night on infomercials hosted by Andrea Barber, the WishMaster slices, dices, and grants wishes that backfire on the wisher. Judge Patrick Naugle sizes it up, and if you call within the next ten minutes he will include a review of The Beast of Yucca Flats absolutely free! Operators are standing by!
Be careful what you wish for.
Fear one thing only in all that there is…
In 1997 a new villain arrived on the scene via the presentation of horror master Wes "I went to Wheaton Bible College" Craven. Sharing the spotlight with Freddy, Jason, and Michael, the Djinn was here to stay. He was evil, demonic, and spouted off sarcastic witticisms that made even the creators of "Laugh-In" squirm. Unlike most straight-to-video fare, Wishmaster actually played in theaters and did fair at the box office. Alas, the same cannot be said about the 1999 sequel Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies. Zooming straight-to-video (surprise, surprise), Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies was tacked on to the flipside of the original Wishmaster DVD. Wishmaster and Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies are presented in a double-feature disc from the folks over at Artisan.
Facts of the Case
Let's start with the original (and superior) Wishmaster…
Legend has it that the Djinn can grant you any wish you desire. The Djinn is a supernatural genie that has powers beyond that of mortal man, an appetite for evil, and the skin complexion of a 8th grader. Yes, Djinn's not that popular with the ladies. But that's okay with this swingin' bachelor. His ultimate goal rests not in getting his rocks on with some old world hotties. No, this guy wants to party like it's 1999, apocalyptic style. If a Djinn is able to grant three wishes to the one who released him, his army of evil will be unleashed upon the earth making things very uncomfortable for the rest of us (you know, fire…brimstone…all that jazz). But not until he's let out of his resting place: a red sapphire.
At a local dock a crate packed with a valuable antique statue is being lifted down to the ground from a shipping vessel. As the crate is moved it's accidentally dropped on top of a local collector's assistant (Sam Raimi's brother, Ted Raimi). The statue is broken open (can you say in-SUR-ance?) and out pops a red jewel that a dockworker steals and sells to a local pawn shop.
The jewel is then taken by Alexandra (Tammy Lauren) to her scientist friend Josh (Tony Crane) to see what it's worth, where it came from, and if it's got a magic, evil Djinn inside it. In typical horror movie fashion, Josh finds a well-rested Djinn inside (played with menacing glee by Andrew Divoff of Air Force One fame). The Djinn escapes, now loose to let local people make wishes in exchange for their mortal souls (with the wishes almost always being much more a curse than blessing).
So, there you have it. An atypical set-up for what is undeniably a typical slasher film (in the best sense of the word). As the film progresses we're treated to a fusion of scenes involving the Djinn granting horrific wishes (in disguise as business man Nathaniel Demarest) and Alexandra trying to stop his reign of terror before the Djinn and his frat buds let loose the world's nastiest kegger.
Yes, what we have here is the "R-rated" version of Aladdin without Robin Williams.
A few years later someone decided that well enough shouldn't be left alone, so they made Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies. Or, as I would have titled it, Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies…Apparently, It Just Goes Straight To Video.
Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies picks up a while after the first Wishmaster left off. To save you new viewers from discovering the end of the original, I will bypass the beginning by just saying that the Djinn is once again is up to his old tricks, this time he is pitted against a new hero named Morgana (Holly Fields, no relation to Kim). Morgana (runner up for worst birth name on the planet, right behind "Poindexter") is haunted by dreams of the Djinn as she races to discover who this evil creature is and what he wants. As usual, the Djinn is moving and grooving to the tune of granting wishes in exchange for the souls of hapless victims. Morgana enlists the help of a local priest Gregory (Paul Johansson, "Melrose Place") who she used to have the hots for. Unfortunately for her, he has forsaken her for the gentle love of an all-knowing God. Morgana thinks that she might be seeing visions of the devil. Gregory thinks she's been hitting the bottle too much. Soon they both learn the truth.
Together they must fight the Djinn and win back their souls (oh, and stop that whole "hell on earth" thing the Djinn is always yammerin' on about).
Who'd have thought that they would ever make a horror film based up the legend of a genie? Then again, I never thought I'd live to see the day we'd be privy to celluloid classics based on leprechauns or elves, but I was wrong on both counts.
The original Wishmaster is executive produced by Wes Craven, which gave it some clout to make an actual theatrical run instead of becoming immediate video fodder for midnight movie lovers. My initial reaction while driving to see Wishmaster years ago was "this can't be any worse than The English Patient." Of course, I was undeniably correct on that assumption. Not only was Wishmaster better, it was actually able to stand on its own two feet. Though this could be categorized in the "slasher" field, the deaths and horror have nary a trace of teenager idiocy or mindless campfire sex. Instead adults roam this landscape, accompanied by some very familiar faces popping up in cameo appearances (including Kane "Jason" Hodder, Robert "Freddy" Englund, and Tony "Candyman" Todd). The script may not be airtight, but the story moves at a brisk pace and keeps you on the edge of your seat.
The best feature of Wishmaster is its stunning visual effects. Wishmaster is directed by Robert Kurtzman, co-founder of the effects group KNB EFX. Because of his vast experience with horror film effects, including Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors and Scream, Kurtzman was able to bring startlingly good effects to a film with a limited budget. The makeup for the Djinn character is creepy and evil, like some devilish creature from an R-rated version of Star Wars. Though there are scenes that show the limitations of the budget, the majority of the effects are top notch. Note how the opening scenes contain gruesome deaths that are creative, imaginative, and realistic. I can't remember the last time I saw a skeleton break out of its human shell and run around killing people. I applaud Kurtzman and his group for such imaginative ingenuity, yet would fear meeting them even in a well-lit room.
Andrew Divoff is given special mention for becoming a new face in the genre, even if this will probably be the only movie of this series that runs theatrically. Divoff contains an otherworldly presence, his voice a deep, booming rasp (which he accomplishes by eating jellybeans…just some of the fun facts you'll learn only here at DVD Verdict). He always has his head cocked down and his eyes up, staring at the viewer with a deceptive grin. Subtle touches makes this a winning performance. Tammy Lauren as the heroine is tough and professional, rising only slightly above the typical material. As a bonus, Chris Lemmon (son of Jack Lemmon) has a supporting role that is eerily like watching his father step out from a 1955 timewarp.
Then we get to Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies and it all tumbles downhill…
Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies is dreck in the best use of the word. Whereas the original Wishmaster had a fun idea and snazzy execution behind it, Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies is just rehash material on an even tighter budget. Without a name like Craven behind it, Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies didn't have much of a fighting chance to begin with. No matter, for even without a high profile name this film would have surely sank like the Titanic at the box office. [Editor's Note: I think Pat means "Titanic" as in the ship, not as in the multi-trillion dollar grossing movie that did quite well at the box office, thank you.]
The problems that lies with Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies are in the script and effects and acting and…err, I guess that's the whole film, ain't it?
The story is convoluted, the characters boring, and even the Djinn is less than thrilling this time around (with new makeup that doesn't add anything good to the proceedings). The basic structure here expounds upon the original and just does a few minor twists. The Morgana character is extremely underplayed by Holly Fields. Why is it that in all these horror films it's almost ALWAYS a woman who is fighting the bad guy? The one good thing I can say about Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies is that it has a scene where a man is pulled through a jail cell via his wish. Make sure you're not sitting down with a plate of tortellini before you start watching this.
On most occasions I can see why a sequel is warranted to many horror movies. A Nightmare On Elm Street had some dissatisfying sequels, but at least there was room for expansion on the idea of dreams and nightmares. Friday The 13th might not have needed sequels, but at least with those the budgets kept getting bigger and bigger (because, folks, let's face it…if you're going to watch crap, make sure it's expensive crap). With Wishmaster, no sequel was really needed. The end of the original wrapped things up nice and tight. Too bad Hollywood didn't notice that instead of making this film.
Both Wishmaster and Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies are presented in anamorphic widescreen and look excellent. For small budget horror flicks, the transfers are really superb. In the original Wishmaster there was no grain spotted, no digital artifacting, only the slightest edge enhancement. Colors were bold (red being the strongest and most dominant) and blacks were solid. For Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies, the same can be mostly said, with a few spots of soft muting showing up. Overall, both transfers are well done and high above passing.
Audio for both films is also excellent. Both Wishmaster and Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies sport fine Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mixes. The original tends to utilize the rear speakers more while Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies is a bit weaker on the surround front. Effects and music are mixed well with out drowning out dialogue. The opening sequence on the first film is especially impressive with for your sound system. A well done mix all around by Artisan.
For extras Artisan has neatly packed Wishmaster with some neat stuff, but Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies is lacking.
The original Wishmaster contains a half- hour documentary featuring interviews with director Robert Kurtzman, actor Andrew Divoff and special effects supervisor Tom Rainone. Aside of seeing behind-the-scenes footage of effects and monsters, the most interesting thing in this documentary is the effects supervisor Tom Rainone. As I watched Mr. Rainone, I was struck by the fact that we are actually watching a breathing, living person who is perpetually stuck in time. Rainone sports the most obnoxious mushroom cloud hairstyle that mixes the '70s shag with a loony looking bob cut. He wears the most God-awful Hawaiian shirt (fully open so we can see his wispy chest hair). He speaks while smoking a Cuban cigar, wears mafia style rings, and the faint sound of clinking ice cubes can be heard just below the camera (undoubtedly a scotch and coke). This, my friends, is what happens when comic book nerds come into lots of money. I could only stop laughing after the milk had sprayed out my nose.
Next up is a commentary track by director Kurtzman, second unit director Greg Nicotero, and screenwriter Peter Atkins. The track is interesting for genre fans who want to know how certain effects were done or why an actor was cast. Kurtzman is very knowledgeable in the art of filmmaking and has a lot of pride for his work on Wishmaster (as well he should). Overall a fun listen once but nothing that will be revisited much (unlike zany fun commentaries like Army of Darkness or Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn).
A few trailers are included for both films, Wishmaster including both domestic and international trailers that are full frame and Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies being anamorphic widescreen. The domestic Wishmaster trailer is more a teaser than a trailer with the international trailer showing more scenes from the film. Also included are some production notes on both sides as well as cast and crew biographies.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Aside of the above mentioned troubles with Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies, this is really a well done disc. Though I was not a fan of the second film, it can't hurt to have it on the same disc as the original. On a related issue, I am a real fan of taking movies with a sequel and making them into double feature discs. Fox has been doing this (The Fly and The Fly II, Revenge Of The Nerds and Revenge Of The Nerd's II: Nerd's In Paradise), as well as Artisan (The Substitute movies). I say we clamor for the studios to keep these double feature discs coming!
I have high praise for the original Wishmaster. Though far from the perfect horror film, it has spunk, creativity and a different twist on the typical horror film. If you haven't seen it yet, it's definitely worth your time at least as a rental. Wishmaster is packed with some nice extras that will make for a fun night of gory goodness. As for Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies, the good news is it's on the flipside of the original so you'll always have the first Wishmaster to remind you how crappy this sequel is. For the price of around $20.00-$25.00, this is not a bad buy at all for your horror geeks out there (myself included).
Wishmaster is free to go due to the fact that it's such a goofy and fun horror film. Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies is found guilty of shameful recycling.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track (Wishmaster only)
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