Wishmaster was the first directorial effort from Robert Kurtzman (the “K” in KNB) and features a script by Peter Atkins (writer of Hellraiser II, III, and IV) and is produced by Wes Craven, for good measure. There’s so much genre talent in this film that it almost becomes a game of picking out horror icons both behind and in front of the camera. Genre stars Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund, Kane “Jason Voorhees” Hodder and Tony “Candyman” Todd all make appearances and are all dispatched by the title character.
An antique statue being delivered to a wealthy collector named Raymond Beaumont (Englund) but is destroyed in an accident that crushes and kills Beaumont’s assistant. A ruby that was inside the statue is found by a dock worker who pawns it. The jewel is examined by an appraiser named Alexandra, our heroine, who inspects the jewel in her lab and inadvertently wakes the creature inside, an evil genie—a Djinn—who has been imprisoned in the jewel for centuries.
It doesn’t take long for the Djinn to start causing trouble once it wakes, and the imaginative kill sequences form the most enjoyable parts of the movie. Of course, the wishes aren’t straightforward and are twisted in cruel and inventive ways. The Djinn asks someone if he wishes not to see the horror the Djinn is committing, the man agrees and then his eyes disappear from his head. Some of them stretch it a bit, by the end some of these deaths definitely aren’t wishes, but for the most part they’re smartly done and even witty, and definitely worth the price of admission.
The Djinn’s ultimate goal is to get three wishes from Alexandra. If the person who set the Djinn free makes three wishes, then the Djinn’s brethren will return to take over the Earth. So the heroine/monster dynamic is refreshingly mental instead of physical. This is a game of wits rather than a simple game of cat and mouse. The only way to defeat the Djinn is by outsmarting it, and when the film is at its best it plays to the strong dynamic.
Wishmaster is a movie that lends itself to imaginative kill sequences and is fun on a campy level while having a sort of classical charm. The movie has so much potential and even though it falls short, there’s plenty here to leave the viewer entertained. It’s just a shame that it couldn’t all come together in a more cohesive manner. Even as it gets cheesy—and it does, fairly quickly, it’s hard not to have fun with the whole affair.
Andrew Divoff gives a solid performance as the Djinn, but the performance feels uneven—and its much more an issue with the script or direction than with Divoff himself. The Djinn will be eloquent in the ways Peter Atkins is known for when it comes to writing monsters, and then the next moment the Djinn will say something like “The shit just hit the fan.” Which is tough to take seriously from anyone, let alone a monster with a frightening, guttural voice under all that make up who’s supposed to be something we’re afraid of. It’s almost like the Djinn starts off with echoes of Pinhead and Freddy and balances them both at the beginning, but loses the eloquence and regality of Pinhead by the end and starts more like the Freddy of goofball entries like Freddy’s Dead. What saves the monster and its actor from becoming too campy is the Djinn taking a human form and assuming the identity of Nathaniel Demerest, an enigmatic aristocrat. This allows him to switch between the sinister, leering monster and a more elegant and charming villain who can (and does) talk people into wishing for just about anything.
For a movie directed by a makeup artist, there is a surprising amount of CGI. And not much of it holds up. In fact, it was jarring in 1997 and it’s even more jarring now. But the design of the Djinn itself and the other practical FX and creatures in the movie are incredible, so there’s enough of a visual aesthetic to warrant a look.
Wishmaster has an enormous amount of talent involved, so it’s simply a little puzzling that the result would be more B-Movie than A-Movie. It’s inconsistent in its tone, but with a little polishing it could have been one of the greats. As it stands, it’s pure B-Movie fun. Not a movie to take too seriously, but a movie that definitely could have been if things had gone in a different direction. Still, the Djinn is a memorable horror monster and both it as well as the movie as a whole has fun with itself.
WICKED RATING: 5.5/10
Director(s): Robert Kurtzman
Writer(s): Peter Atkins
Stars: Tammy Lauren, Andrew Divoff, Chris Lemmon
Studio/ Production Co: Pierre David, Live Entertainment
Budget: $5,000,000 (estimated)
Sub-Genre: Fantasy, Horror