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Archive for September 29th, 2019

Screen capture from 1997’s horror film “Wishmaster” reviewed this week by Jamie Uhler as part of continuing Horror Fest 2019.

by Sam Juliano

     The Halloween season has officially launched as we are a day away from the beginning of October, but summer weather is simply not letting up in the metropolitan area, with at least two days in the coming week promising 90 degrees.  This past week J.D. Lafrance published a splendid review on Allison Ander’s Grace of My Heart and this coming week James Clark will be posting his own latest comprehensive essay.  I would like to thank readers for responding enthusiastically to the first review in my annual Caldecott Medal Contender series (Manhattan by Jennifer Thermes).  The page views and comments were most impressive.

Non-Fiction Picture Book Bonanza at Books of Wonder in Manhattan

A fascinating panel presentation was staged at Books of Wonder yesterday afternoon. Lucille, Sammy IV, Jeremy and I attended and again got to chat with some of the industry’s most celebrated luminaries, friends who spoke about their new highly praised works. Barry Wittenstein and multiple Caldecott winner Jerry Pinkney (A Place to Land); Bryan Collier (Thurgood); John Parra (Little Libraries, Big Heroes); Gary Golio (Smile).

Jamie Uhler’s fabulous Horror Fest series continues this week with a brilliant capsule review on 1997’s Wishmaster, which Uhler likens to glorious trash:

Wishmaster (R. Kurtzman… 1997)
A camp classic that had recently reentered my sights by a truly hilarious We Hate Movie podcast on it, that as I listened, slowly prompted me to the realization that I’d never fully seen it. It’s a rather glorious piece of hilarious trash, delivered as a loving homage of sorts to the more famous (and better) films of its creators—producer Wes Craven offers the dream state horror riffing of Nightmare on Elm Street complete with Robert Englund in a juicy role, while screenwriter Peter Atkins adds illusions to his work in the Hellraiser franchise. This is a nice way of saying the Djinn/titular Wishmaster is something of Freddy Kruger meets Pinhead as others have noted for decades, but where the film borrows, it also finds its greatest entertainment. The Hellraiser and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises are gory, often hilarious enterprises and here, Wishmaster seems to exist to lurch from inventive gore kill to inventive gore kill. In other words, the stuff that Horror hounds scour bins in search of. 
It’s a tale originating in ancient Persia, where our film opens. It’s mass chaos, with people being massacred and disemboweled in spectacular practical effect manner from special effects wizard Howard Berger (with the help of a crew of dozens from the KNB EFX Group). The best one—a skeleton rips itself from its fleshy home and once out, murders another—leads us into the Kings chambers where we learn the Djinn has tricked the leader into a Monkey’s Paw like premise where wishes lead to death, destruction and hell on earth. From here we get additional background via a series of title cards read from—here’s another iconic Horror homage, Angus Scrimm, popular Tall Man from the Phantasm series providing voice-over—takes us to modern day America (additional scenes later add even more backstory legend, which while nearly tiring are quick enough and no doubt what sustains the franchise across its several sequels). A jewel, now entrapping the Djinn, has traveled with a sculpture for purchase by wealthy art buyer Raymond Beaumont (played with clear glee by Robert Englund). The jewel is freed when a drunken mishap drops the sculpture during shipment on the docks setting in motion the eventual freeing of the Wishmaster in what appears to be Southern California. Here he begins taking souls by quickly tricking unsuspecting victims into making (often trite and purely hypothetical) wishes that nearly instantly lead to their deaths and giving himself additional power. Soon he’s taken human form (Andrew Divoff) as an arrogant playboy deadset to get Alexandra’s (Tammy Lauren) soul as legend dictates since she’d first glimpsed him within the jewel. To me it’s this game of cat-and-mouse that provides the movie’s most hilarious, non-gore laughs where the Djinn is consistently portrayed as a suave lothario when our very eyes plainly see him as a poor man’s Ray Liotta, complete with heavy pockmarked face. Eventually Alexandra is able to utilize her third wish to again enslave the Djinn into his jewel prison, but not before he creates a climax that thoroughly trashes Beaumont’s posh place and sees dozens murdered in ever escalatingly original ways. This sequence, it should be obvious by now, needed rewinding several times, and had the film barely heard over all four watching laughing so loudly. 
I had the pleasure of watching this piece of highly entertaining trash like I used to do these things in the old days. With two old friends joining me on my last night in town after spending the week with my father for our second annual British Car week(end), an event we decided to pursue shortly after my mother passed and my Dad was forlorn at the thought of not using a vintage 1966 MGB for the chief purpose of its purchaselong retirement jaunts with his lifelong spouse. We howled multiple times in the exact environment I cite these types of films with: beer and pizza flicks. High trash recommend.   –Jamie Uhler

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