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A Los Angeles waitress joins a 1690s witch hunter on the trail of a warlock in the 1980s.
Clever and original, this horror film directed by Steve Miner (Forever Young) stars Julian Sands as a 17th century warlock who escapes the gallows and is transported--along with the witch hunter who brought him to trial (Richard E. Grant)--300 years into the future. Running loose in contemporary Los Angeles, Sands's supernatural monster sets about reuniting the scattered portions of a Devil's Book that will reveal the true name of God and thus destroy mankind. In a great twist, the last bit of the book is in a very interesting place: the grave of Grant's character, who has enlisted the aid of a woman (Lori Singer) in a hurried effort to stop imminent disaster. Genuinely involving, Warlock is aided immeasurably by sharp performances from the equally eccentric Grant (Withnail and I) and Sands (Naked Lunch). Miner invents his way through a kind of simultaneously new and old horror tale, and the results are taut, fun, and surprising. The DVD release features Spanish and French subtitles, cast and crew information, and 2.0 Dolby surround sound. --Tom Keogh
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While not overtly tongue-in-cheek it still has a humour that shines. It has dated effects, sure, but they actually are pretty good for the time it came out. It's more fun than scary but if you watch it in the right sort of spirit it is very enjoyable.
One thing that always strikes me is the attention to detail and effort that was put into this movie. Someone really did their homework on witch lore as well as period speech. One of my favorite parts is where Redferne pumps the handle of the sink as if it were a pump. That is a very small, quick detail that passes quickly but one that some directors would miss. Also, when the Warlock crashes through the window into the present-day home his feet are dirty. Well, he just came from a dirty dungeon so of course they would be dirty. Another small detail that s easily overlooked.
I don't know the history of the movie but this was not a slap-dash effort. Time and care went into it. The performances are great, too. Serious but with just the right amount of cheekiness to it. Julian Sands is great. I always love him. He has a great prescence (incidentally, I think he would have made a superb Lucius Malfoy or Elrond). And the other actors really give it their all.
Definitely recommended as an entertaining movie for a rainy day.
The film begins pretty standard enough for a westerner with a gang of armed men riding into town, hooping and a hollerin' with vengeful intent, and quite soon the town of Warlock is without a deputy, which seems to be not an uncommon thing (check out the names on the wall in the jail). Fed up with living in terror, the townspeople decide on hiring a marshal/gunslinger named Clay Blaisedell (Fonda) to clean up the place (s'funny that the men in town outnumber the gang five to one, but still are unable to muster the courage to fight for themselves). His services aren't cheap, and I don't just mean just in the monetary sense. Along with his pay, he also gains exclusive rights to the gambling franchise within the town and his word is law, basically giving him the right to do pretty much whatever he wants, including killing, if it comes down to that...following Clay is his partner Tom Morgan (Quinn), who seems to handle the business of running the faro parlor while Clay is dealing with the `criminal' element. Widmark plays Johnny Gannon, once a part of the rebellious cowboys terrorizing the town, but disillusionment settled in after a particularly nasty business we never see, but is related to us later as Johnny unburdens his conscience. Anyway, after leaving the gang, Johnny becomes a social pariah, accepting the position of deputy (perhaps in a redemptive effort), creating a third faction within Warlock, that of the actual law (the other two being the cowboys outlaws and the hired gun of Clay). Eventually all sides have their various confrontations and all subplots get resolved, but not in the way some might expect...
Reading about this film from the DVD case one would get the impression this is your standard `townspeople hire an outsider to clean up the town' western story, but it goes a lot further than that. There's a good deal of time and discussion spent on `law and order', and how a frontier town might go about getting in on it being civilized despite itself (some of the debate focuses on the virtues of hiring of Clay, as the fear is violence begets violence, especially given his reputation). Thing is, when they hired Clay to be their marshal, they were essentially going outside the law, and possibly setting themselves up in a position of giving a virtual unknown control of the town. The characters of Clay and Tom know their role, and lay it out for the people of Warlock early, pretty much telling them while they're happy that Clay has arrived, once the trouble has been dealt with they will no longer want his presence, and then he will move on to the next town in need. As far as the `homoerotic' subtext between the characters of Clay and Tom it was there, but I wouldn't categorize in any physical sense, more like a co-dependant relationship that gets a lot weird as it's brought out into the light (although Tom's platonic love gets a little blurry, especially when the jealousy creeps in). I thought all the actors did well, and Fonda's always a treat to watch, but there was something lacking in the actually writing. The script was certainly lively, avoiding the cliché and staying within the realm of reality, elevating the film above the hundreds of run-of-the-mill westerns out at the time, but some of the characters seemed a little light, especially those of the women. As far as Widmark, I really enjoyed him in Pickup on South Street (1953) but his character here did little for me, despite Widmark's efforts...it just felt watery and lacking substance. And then there's Anthony Quinn's character of Tom. I thought it a unique, albeit morally ambiguous, character, one slightly miscast with Quinn, but he manages to pull it off despite himself. One of the more interesting characters to me wasn't even a primary but a supporting character named Curley Burne, played by DeForest `He's dead, Jim' Kelley, who actually had a fairly thriving film career going all the way back into the late 1940's. His role is small, but he's got some of the better lines, and makes the most of them. I wouldn't have thought he could pull off a menacing character, but he does, and pretty well. Overall I thought director Dmytryk did well in this sort of epic that isn't an epic (it certainly had enough characters for the standard epic). The going may seem slow after the initial sequences, but this is a professional effort as the foundation is laid before us, and the subsequent build-up is palatable. The story may begin to feel convoluted as more characters are introduced and relationships initially unclear, but the murkiness fades for those with the patience to follow through.
The widescreen (2.35:1) anamorphic picture in this DVD looks very decent, but there did seem a point near the beginning where the colors felt overly saturated (it doesn't last long). The Dolby Digital stereo audio came through very clearly. As far as special features goes, there's a original theatrical trailer for this film, along with ones for The Bravados (1958), Broken Arrow (1950), Broken Lance (1954), Forty Guns (1957), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), and a short, curious Movietone News piece whose only relevance appears to be a two second shot of Fonda at some Hollywood function.