Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Movie Appraisal: Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)

For the second day in a row I was primed and ready to review Jacob's Ladder, which just so happens to be my favorite horror film of all time. I was about to go and watch it again and write a review when suddenly I have this crazy desire to watch this movie, Cast a Deadly Spell. If you've never heard of it before, I don't blame you. I hadn't heard of it before a few months ago for the first time.

The premise is interesting. It's pretty much a 1940's detective story with magic. Yeah, it's a weird combination, I'll say that much.  It's more detective story than anything else though. I find it hard to call it a horror story too. Until the end the horror end of the movie is played down pretty hard.

So, the story opens up in Los Angeles in 1948. "Everybody used magic." the opening title tells me. Is something wrong with the grammar there or what? I know what it's trying to say, but I don't think it's saying it right. Wouldn't it be "Everybody uses magic." or "Magic is a tool for everyday use." or something like that? The past tense really confused me there.

Then the movie gets going. We meet a detective named Howard Philips Lovecraft, but usually goes by Phil. Really, movie? That's what you're going with here? You're going to use the name of an author who was a known racist and misanthrope? Okay then. All right. Let's see where this goes then. Oh, and just to put this out here too, Phil's former chief detective (or something like that) has the name of Bradbury. I wonder if his first name is Ray.

Anyway the story starts off with a dame like every one of these detective stories starts out (or so the opening monologue tells us). I don't really see the dame in this case... but all right... No, seriously, where's the dame? The only dame I see in the beginning is Phil's landlady... and she isn't causing any trouble... and it can't be the girl who Phil meets later because she doesn't start any trouble... nor does the "love interest" introduced later on. So, Phil's voice-over monologue is a freaking liar.

Phil goes about his private detecting ways and early on we are forced to see that he doesn't use magic like everybody else. Okay... so this comes into play in the story eventually, right? We learn why he doesn't use magic and that lack of using magic like everybody else saves him in the end, right? Right? No, I'm sorry to say that none of that ever comes into play in this movie at all, and that's disappointing. It feels like there were a lot of good ideas but none of them were used well at all. The only thing that Phil not using magic is meant to show is his integrity, but it's a silly notion. Magic must be a relatively new thing in this universe, but using it would help him solve crimes and put those bad guys away for good... plus, he wouldn't get into half of the terrible situations he does get in to. Use your head, Phil.

Anyway, Phil soon meets up with a man named Amos Hackshaw, who's played by David Warner. I've never heard of the name David Warner before, but the actor is so familiar I want to yell at the screen who he is even though I can't really remember. Anyway, this guy is very obviously not a good guy. I can tell this right off. He seems a little odd and well... anybody who wants the Necronomicon can't be a good guy... plus,  the actor always played bad guys from what I can remember, and since I can't remember anything, I'm going to go with my gut on this one.

There are some weird other scenes earlier on... most of which are just strange. There's a little guy named Tugwell, who is my favorite character by far, who goes and does murder. He seems to be a genuinely terrifying guy who only stands about four feet tall. I like this guy. I like his spirit. I want him to be the hero. (He isn't the hero. He's just a lackey for one of the villains.)

Anyway, the story goes on and I keep having flashbacks of The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon. This detective story seems to have a ton of elements of those two movies... and you know what? This movie is worse than any of them... it's probably worse than most 1940's era detective movies. I kind of wish this movie were in black-and-white. It feels like it should be. There's not reason why it isn't and it makes me confused. For a movie that so obviously wants to be a throwback to better detective movies, this movie isn't trying very hard.

And I talk about the detective elements instead of the horror ones, because the horror ones are stupid. Throughout this film, little things seem out of place because of the "magic" world gimmick, which is all good and fine, but the horror elements are lacking. Every time a horror gimmick or creature is introduced this movie turns from a serious detective film to a slapstick horror comedy, like Evil Dead 2, and that just doesn't fit. It doesn't do the comedy as well as Evil Dead 2, and thus it's comedy is stupid and makes me want to punch the screen until something breaks. Thankfully the horror elements are used sparingly, but this is the main gimmick of the film. How can the main gimmick be used sparingly in a film that really needs the gimmick to stand out?

Well, I guess you're starting to get my impression of the film. It's not good. It's actually pretty terrible. The acting isn't bad (mostly), but that's about the only good thing I can say about this movie for the most part. The scenery is weirdly washed out and doesn't look real. Again it would all look better in black-and-white. The monsters are  really fake looking and used with so much stupid humor that the scenes they appear in just make you want to hold your head in your hands until it goes away.

The plot eventually makes itself a bit interesting when a virgin sacrifice is required to summon the Old Gods, including Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth. The ending of this scene, which is the best scene in the film, can be scene from a mile away... with the sixteen year old girl not being a virgin any longer.

So, let me say what this movie has in it: statutory rape played for laughs, a gargoyle getting kicked in the gonads, an angry landlord taking a shotgun to some gremlins, a serious conversation between to old friends, a very small man being drowned in a bathtub full of bubbly water, a zombie breaking a broad's arm, zombies building houses, the last of the unicorn hunters, a serious detective story, Cthulhu rising from beneath the ground, eating a dude, and then going back down, the Necronomicon, a demon rising from a pot of soup, and a great scene with a layer named Thadeus Pilgrim.

Ugh... I don't know what else to say... oh, yeah... when was it established the sixteen year old girl virgin was the last of the unicorn hunters? When Phil drove past her for the first time he seemed to think it was all very normal. I guess it wasn't Phil, was it? Why didn't you say something at the time? What about all the other virgins out there? Why did she have to be the virgin of choice? Couldn't it have been a male virgin too? Or is that just not allowed? I never understood that in movies. Why is it always a female virgin? Is it because males seem to fantasize about female virgins and male virgins are usually icky people who shouldn't be spoken of? Is that it? It must be and it's silly and stupid and these stupid movie characters should really get these virgin sacrifices to make sense... and if this girls father really wanted her to be a virgin for life, maybe he should have made certain she didn't hit on everything with a penis that moved in her general direction. And statutory rape played for laughs? Really, movie? What is wrong with you? And by a police officer no less... I don't understand... This movie is just the opposite of classy... it's base and seriously...? Kidding around about a police officer having sex with a sixteen year old girl?

As you can tell I'm confused and angry. This movie is a million times worse than Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, and that's a thing I've never thought I'd say (even though that movie was actually pretty good). I wish I'd have my ninety-six minutes back. I wish I had just reviewed Jacob's Ladder.

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