Sometimes a movie doesn’t really need to be anything more that what it is. You, for instance, are perfectly content being a fish out of water tale about a 17th century witch hunter who follows a powerful warlock into 1980s L.A. Rather than attempt a gritty updating of the traditions of witch hunting, or to inject some kind of social commentary about outcasts and persecution, you just allow the hunter and the warlock to do their thing, albeit in a more modern time.
In fact, a lot of time could be spent parsing out the reasons why you needed to be set in the modern times at all. Marketing, I would guess. 1980s cynicism wouldn’t allow for kids to think a movie about 1600s witchcraft was cool.
But to think on such things is the miss the whole point. Whatever your original intentions as a film were, time has helped to turn you into one of the most entertaining B-movies I have seen in quite some time. You are obviously crafted with care, written with real intent, and honestly made. There is no winking in your acting, shooting, or story, and this all combines into a kind of slow-cooked stew of pure fun.
A lot of this fun comes from the fact that you were obviously made by a real writer and director, people who play fair with story and narrative. Your adherence to the old lore and magic of the witch creates a movie that is anchored in novelty and the macabre, the strange, and allows for a lot of leeway in terms of what we as an audience are willing to expect. Credulity is aided by the fact that you create a set of rules regarding the witch and the means by which he can be ensnared, and you stick to them, which is fantastic. One of the greatest pitfalls a movie can fall into is that of fluid rules or situational powers. The audience can be surprised, of course, but it should never feel cheated, and in that way you are flawless.
There is a weird kind of tonal disparity in you, though, but that might just be a function of how you have aged. Often times some of your characters and situations come off as comical, even though there are some objectively terrifying things happening in your narrative. This accentuates the comedy, and oddly enough makes you all the better for it. Whether this comedy is intentional or not is irrelevant, because it is there, and it is wonderful.
Your cast is game when tackling these situations and roles. Richard E. Grant as the witch hunter Redferne displays just the right amount of incredulity at the wonders of the future without allowing it to slow him down or turn him into a fool. He somehow manages to make the urgency and dire nature of the situation felt, even as he runs around in a caveman-esque fur vest throughout the proceedings. His foil and ally, Kassandra, as played by Lori Singer, is the perfect embodiment of 1980s female empowerment – ridiculous clothes, “cool” lingo, and depthless sarcasm.
But it is Julian Sands as the warlock that truly makes you worth watching. In a movie that mixes goofiness with terror, he brings all the menace. His eyes, smile, hair, and even his voice all make the skin crawl, giving you the feeling that this is truly a man who would flay a child and boil his fat. He never makes a move or speaks a word that isn’t laced with some kind of unsettling undercurrent. His malevolence is so pure that when juxtaposed against the (again, possibly intentional) comedic tone of everything else, it becomes a kind of dark comedy by association. It truly is on a whole other level.
And that is you, Warlock. I have no idea what you were meant to be at time of release, but the aging process has turned you into a comedic, surprising, over the top B-movie treat. I would have no shame showing you around to my group of friends, and I know you won’t mind if we have some drinks to make our time with you just that much more fun.
With fond mockery, and sincere enjoyment,
Brian J. Roan