Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Warlock

Our interest lies in stopping those who would see all good falter. It lies in stopping the powers of misrule from coming of age. It lies in finding that damned book, and thwarting a vile beast of a man who shall not rest until God himself is thrown down, and all of creation becomes Satan’s black hell besmeared farting hole!

Jarv’s Rating: 3 Changs out of 4. I may be overrating this a touch, but for the most part it’s good fun and very funny in places. 

This is a film that comes with some heady recommendations. No less noble Changian brothers than, er, everyone that’s seen it had been talking about it for a while. Being a perpetual slacker (moi?), I’d only seen the sequel for some inexplicable reason. I do remember enjoying the sequel, mostly for Julian Sands’ astonishingly gay Warlock and the Picasso moment, but I’d never been tempted to dust down the original. Mindful of the ringing endorsements from all and sundry, I bumped this up the Lovefilm list and put it in. 

First impressions? Not that great to be honest. Still, I consoled myself by looking again at the cast (Julian Sands, Richard E. Grant and Lori Singer feature prominently) and again at the director (House’s Steve Miner was on the helm) and decided to just battle through the medieval/ puritan crap. What followed was a surprise, both in how tame it is, and on occasion how funny.  Warlock isn’t actually a horror film, you see. Honestly, I know that sounds completely insane given the subject matter, but as House wasn’t really a horror film, neither is Warlock.

"I want the finest wines available to humanity, I want them here, and I want them now"

The film opens in 17th Century Massachusetts. Julian Sands has his thumbs tied to his toes (don’t ask) and Richard E. Grant is menacing him. Unfortunately for the erstwhile witch-burners, Satan steps in for one of his own and  rescues him in a really shady Pre-CGI special effect (this is a recurring problem/ source of comedy in the film). Flash forward to the future, and the Warlock turns up in 20th Century LA. He’s dazed and cut and a bit confused what with having just crashed through the window of Lori Singer’s house. Anyhoo, she wants to throw him out, but her room-mate is more compassionate and takes him in overnight. Next thing you know, the Warlock has chewed out gay roomie’s tongue and buggered off. In the meantime, Richard E. Grant’s Redferne has come to the future to capture the nefarious spell chucker. What follows is a race between the various parties as they all compete to get back Satan’s Grimoire before the Warlock can instigate Armageddon.

David Blane has nothing on Sands, and is, in fact, the biggest douche in the universe

This is a lot of fun, actually. Sands plays the part with a lot of relish, although he does tend to be on the camp side, and Grant is a one man mission to bring grimness into a thoroughly silly film. His accent may be all over the shop (is he Scottish? Irish? Whatever it is, it isn’t American) but he chews a fair amount of scenery, particularly in the final graveyard sequence. Singer is a tad annoying, and clearly the weak link of the three, but she’s lumbered having to play an old woman for a lot of the film (don’t ask). Still, she’s perky and the character is entirely essential to the nutty storyline.

Warlock is, and this is a weird thing to say, quite well written. David Twohy (of Riddick infamy) penned this in his pre-Pitch Black incarnation, and for the most part he did a good job balancing comedy and horror. Sands, for example, upon waking up in the modern day hasn’t a clue what the bloody hell he’s meant to be doing. So he tracks down a medium to get an audience with Satan to find out what the bloody hell is going on. This is a nice touch. What’s even better is the foreshadowing, that I won’t spoil, which sets up the eventual method to defeat the Warlock subtly- it’s blink and you’d miss it stuff. Clever. The dialogue is insanely hammy with each character getting their share of cheesy lines- Grant in particular is overloaded with dialogue so ripe it’s almost Stilton-esque. Nevertheless, this is part of the charm of this film, and it all works well.

Grant's conquest looked a lot less pleasant after the lighter fluid wore off.

There are particular little scenes that just crack me up- Grant trying to smuggle the weathervane on to the plane, Sands rolling around while singer bangs nails into his footprints, the possession scene, and so forth. All good clean fun. Miner bought a great sense of fun to House, and it is nice to see him transplant it to another film. He’s had an interesting career actually, if you take out Halloween H20, he’s alternated between comedy and horror- he followed House with Soul Man for example. He’s also responsible for Lake Placid, but I’m sorry to report that he shat all over his copybook recently with the dismal Day of the Dead remake in 2008. He’s the very definition of a journeyman, and has made more than enough interesting films for me to be at least mildly curious when he’s got a new one in the works. Warlock is one of his better efforts, being amusing and enjoyable for the most part, but what an interesting career.

The special effects here, actually, are complete and utter shit. In particular the execrable flying effect (which is used several times). It’s awful and aggravating, because the makeup effects (in particular the demon transformation and Singer’s ageing) are handled with some deftness. Singer has to go through various stages, and the make up holds up a lot better than her acting. Score? Can’t remember it, sorry.

There's one word for singer here: Chirpy. Even when she's ageing at the rate of two decades a day she's chirpy. Annoying cow.

Overall, this is a good film. It’s not anywhere near as viscerally unpleasant as it could have been- and for the most part is fairly gentle. The fun to be had here is from watching Grant and Sands go to town on Twohy’s script and although it is flawed it’s still an enjoyable romp for the most part. I’ve still got a feeling that I prefer the nuttier sequel for a few reasons, but I’ll have to rewatch it.

Until next time,



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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

21 responses to “Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Warlock”

  1. Bartleby says :

    Warlock isnt a horror film, you are right. It’s more of a dark fantasy/comedy, and it’s actually great schlock. The script is better than it has any right to be, and that scene on the Menonite farm where Grant has harpooned Sands as if he were the white wale is epicly stupid and awesome.

    This is way better than the sequel, and that’s down to character, for me. I found Singer cute, though, so that helped, and Grant is chewing scenery like a pro. Sands is too, but sometimes he’s surprisingly subtle in places–Im thinking that scene on the swingset where he’s drawing info from the kid.

    • Jarv says :

      That was just plain creepy.

      Actually, that was the nastiest bit of the film.

      I love the harpoon scene. He’s charging along holding the weathervane like a javelin. So, so dumb. Also that they can only get one toe and thumb thing on, so Sands is hopping along being chased by them, and they still can’t catch him.

      I’m sure part two is hugely dumb. Some nonsense about druids, as I remember.

      • Bartleby says :

        the problem with part 2 is that its dumber, but more serious about itself, and that’s because Twohy isnt back as writer.

        The first is clear about its humor. The second is too sincere. I found myself rolling my eyes more than chuckling along.

        Jarv, have you ever seen this one:

      • Jarv says :

        No. Never even heard of it.

        Have you seen 13hrs?

      • Bartleby says :

        you reviewed that right? It’s sitting at home, but I haven’t tackled it yet.

        I’ve got a bunch of stuff to get through for this Fantasia Fest coverage. Some right cracking stuff actually, along with some dross. Tonight is Phase 7 and The Unjust to get through.

        Completely surprising movie coming on Thursday with Stellan Skarsgaard. I think you will dig it.

      • Jarv says :

        No, I only watched it last night. I’m toying with reviewing it.

        It desperately wants to be in the same league as Dog Soldiers/ Ginger Snaps, but fucks itself with idiotic twist and terrible makeup. Also a lot of the actors (Hollyoaks chick with the big hooters and Malfoy excepted) aren’t great.

  2. Continentalop says :

    I second Bartleby’s recommendation for Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage). Damn good and moody horror film.

    Bart, you ever see the documentary Blood of the Beat by Georges Franju?

  3. Continentalop says :

    Haven’t seen Warlock in years but I remember it being pretty damn good and fun. I loved the old wives’ tales and folklore methods used against witches and warlocks, reminded me a little bit of the Kolchak episode where he met a modern day witch.

    • Spud McSpud says :

      Ah, KOLCHAK!! That series was fuckin’ BRILLIANT. And to be fair, the Stuart Towsned, while not holding a candle to the original, was quite good in its own way – it feels like a precursor to SUPERNATURAL in many ways. But I did love me some Kolchak. A great, under-rated series…

  4. ThereWolf says :

    ‘Warlock’ is ace. Love it. Insanely good fun and the actors are having a great time with the script.

    I haven’t seen the sequel, mainly coz I didn’t want to ruin my memory of the above.

    Good stuff, Jarv.

    • Jarv says :

      Cheers Wolf. It is a lot of fun this one.

      The sequel is basically the same film with knobs on. More Sands, and some ludicrous sub-plot about magic Druids.

  5. Spud McSpud says :

    Ah, I loved WARLOCK. I was lucky enough to see this on a big screen back in ’89 (what an awesome summer for movies THAT was) and enjoyed it so much I watched it twice more.

    There is a lot to recommend, and you’ve nailed them all, Jarv: the wonderful dark fantasy/comedy feel that HOUSE had works perfectly here, sillier ideas like the nails-in-footprints sit well alongside the darker aspects like the possession scene. Sands knows when to pull back and let the story tell itself, and when he can just camp it up and go after that scenery like the scene-stealing luvvie he is. Grant brings the grimness, which is a great counterpoint to Lori Singer’s VERY chirpy Kassandra, who isn’t taking any of it seriously until it happens to her, and they both do a good job of making a plainly ridiculous story feel almost believable. The story is tight, every scene has a purpose, and you’re right about one thing Jarv – the foreshadowing to how the warlock is eventually defeated is BRILLIANTLY done. You’re not beaten over the head with it, it’s not obvious, it’s entirely necessary to the plot AND the characters – and comes across as a character just being really smart with what to do at the end. And the shot of that sign at the end… Great, great stuff 😀

    I loved WARLOCK, and though I own it, I haven’t yet watched the sequel. I feel a cheesy schlocky double-bill coming on. And then the third movie, with Bruce Payne as the warlock – who in the scene stealing stakes makes Julian Sands look like a master of restraint. I can’t entirely hate Payne – he was relishing the villainy in PASSENGER 57, and he’s just a joy to watch in PYRATES (a very under-rated early 90s Kevin Bacon oddity), but by God did he stink up the joint in HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME.

    Nice to see you get round to this, Jarv, and I’m pleased you enjoyed it. Quality schlock with writing this good is very rare these days…

    • Jarv says :

      I have to see Warlock 3.

      Can’t wait. Oh and Endgame is an atrocity, worst of the series.

      • Spud McSpud says :

        Worse than THE SOURCE?? Are you SURE??!?

        I wanted to rip my own eyeballs out after THE SOURCE. It felt like somebody mistakenly made the HIGHLANDER cartoon into a movie and shoehorned Duncan McLeod in there. Absolutely abysmal stuff…

      • Jarv says :

        Yes. It’s fucking diabolically bad.

        Highlander goes:

        Highlander>>>>>>>>>>>ABYSSAL GAP>>>>>>>>>The Quickening>The Source>>>>>>BIG GAP>The Sorcerer>GAP THE SIZE OF A RIZLA>Endgame.

  6. just pillow talk says :

    I know I’ve seen this, but can’t remember much from it.

    As it so happens, Warlock and Warlock 3 are on instant viewing for netflix.

  7. DocPazuzu says :

    Ah, Warlock FTW!!!! I loves me some Warlock. Grant can do no wrong. Yes, I know you fastidious fucks will wave Spiceworld The Movie in front of me, but if you had read With Nails (as I have) you would have withered in shame. Richard E. Grant needs to be enshrined somewhere, and if not here, then where?

    Julian Sands couldn’t act his way out of a wet paper bag while playing Edward Scissorhands.

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