by Marc Kandel
A supernatural adventure that keeps its hack n’ slash roots, but ensconces them in a clever setting where the gore is window dressing amid an engaging plot with characters making believable, intelligent choices, emotionally anchored by the talent of the actors involved.The Plot: A 1690’s witch (Julian Sands) flees his captors via spell to the 1980’s, attempting to undo creation while pursued by Giles Redferne (Richard Grant), a Puritan witch-hunter caught in the time-shifting spell and an 80’s woman (Lori Singer) first victimized by the witch and then impressed into service by the Puritan, who needs her to guide him through this odd, confusing modern world in order to save it.
"This dude makes Lord Voldemort tuck his dick between his legs."
Warlock works because it creates (or at least modifies) an intriguing mythology and sticks to its rules by providing the protagonists wards against the evil magic wielded against them, but barely keeps them ahead of the sheer viciousness of their adaptable foe.
This dynamic is more interesting than watching an inexorable stalker rise up over and over and over again in a war of attrition, or viewing cruelty for cruelty’s sake. The warlock is not unstoppable or invulnerable; he is a man of flesh and blood possessed of terrible power, but a man nonetheless, allowing the line between hunter and hunted to be constantly redrawn as the advantage shifts between the adversaries, each scrambling to gain the upper hand throughout the entire film.
There also exists a compelling “hero out of time” arc as Redferne adjusts to being thrown into a different battlefield, providing an excellent method of character study and a few lighter moments as Redferne struggles to comprehend how much has changed since leaving his proper time. As the hunter, Redfern is free to give pause in his quest where we can better appreciate his circumstances in a way we never could with Kyle Reece in The Terminator, a time travel cousin to Warlock, which maintained a breakneck pace where we never really saw Reece take in the civilized world (in the novelization of Terminator, there is a wonderful moment where Reece, brought up on rats and gruel, tastes pizza for the first time- it is so well told I can’t help but think of it every time I tear into a slice- but that film rightly moves at a much faster pace to keep the stakes and tension palpable). Warlock gives us a compelling glimpse at watching a 17th century man marvel at the 1980’s, but never at the cost of the film’s pacing.
Richard Grant and Julian Sands have rather uneven resumes, but whatever films they’ve appeared in be they the Good (Withnail & I, Impromptu), The Bad (The Little Vampire, Warlock: Armageddon), the Awesome (Hudson Hawk, Arachnophobia) and the Ugly (Spice World, Boxing Helena), they’ve always brought their A-game to work, tearing into material with crackling energy and sharp choices.
The two are no less impressive here, painting adversaries with terrible history between them, a grudge match throughout time not unlike Highlander, but with stronger flavors of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane, though Grant plays Redferne as a far more personable, emotionally vulnerable warrior than Howard’s justice-starved, stoic fanatic; that Redferne has known both romance and loss brings an empathy and humanity Howard did not imbue in Kane, preferring to concentrate on Kane’s present perils rather than establish back story.
Grant utilizes his considerable gift of humor, bringing astonishment, disgust, and not a little fear to Redferne’s perception of his new surroundings (his Rain Man-esque fit in an airport when he realizes he must get on a contraption that is supposed to fly- not only an incomprehensible action, but one smacking of witchcraft, is hilarious, but at the same time, completely believable). Grant never plays Redferne as a primitive buffoon, simply a man out of time with plausible reactions that fly in the face of his belief systems. Ironically, the warlock spends much less time adjusting to the modern world than Redferne, who is mistrustful of modern technology and appalled at modern customs (“Only whores and witches paint their faces”, he mutters at Kassandra, as she casually adjusts her makeup in a car mirror).But when the hunter takes over all that matters is the moment, the opportunity, and the drive to vanquish evil. “Now, brute... One last time will we play the game out!” Redferne swears to his foe- and you bet your ass we believe him.
Julian Sands’ warlock appears delicate and fey juxtaposed against the grizzled Redferne, yet is effectively brutal and clinically cruel, preferring to slow Redferne by harming those around him than through direct confrontation. At the same time, he expresses genuine curiosity and sense of amusement in his situation- always taking a moment to marvel at the wonders of the new civilization to which he has catapulted himself- even if it’s a pause before committing a spectacularly vicious atrocity in pursuit of his goals. Sands sells the character completely- this is a creature with no soul, completely corrupt, self-serving, merciless and malevolent.
Lori Singer’s Kassandra is an uneven ride, playing somewhat self aware amid the schlocky elements in the picture. She’s more good than bad, but then again she’s also asked at one point to play an 80 year old woman that can still do a pretty decent 50-yard dash- so I’m inclined to cut some slack- as the picture progresses, she seems to have more confidence in the material, particularly in her time-crossed interplay with Grant that amounts to a charming, complicated relationship between the two.
I’m not one for torture/snuff porn (Turistas, Hostel, Saw) or watching one-note characters slowly but surely get picked off by the relentless killer with a knife (do you really need the laundry list here?) in my horror choices (ironically director Steve Miner is responsible for at least 3 movies of this type, two of them being Friday the 13th sequels). My tastes run to more operatic standoffs between good and evil, as frankly I find it a far more imaginative, cathartic way to deal with the more mundane horrors of the real world with its terrorists, its greenhouse gases, its Vitamin-D sucking work cubicles and circling-the-drain checking accounts (ok, my circling the drain checking account- maybe you guys are doing a spot better in these tough times). I need a little hope and even the suggestion of the presence of something greater to light the way, even if it’s a quick-thinking protagonist with a sharpened weather-vane.Warlock is not the undiscovered Citizen Kane of horror. But that doesn’t make it the Paul Masson Champagne Commercial of horror either; this is refreshing entertainment, much scarier, smarter and humorous than one might expect.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4949&reviewer=358
originally posted: 10/28/08 05:12:06