Studio: Vestron Video (via Lionsgate)
Release Date: March 28th, 2017
When Lionsgate announced it would resurrect the old, beloved Vestron Video label, fans immediately began to wonder which titles would earn the distinct honor of arriving on the latest cult boutique later. One might even call it a (ahem) wish-list of obvious, big name titles that graced video store shelves throughout the 80s and 90s, some of which have yet to even make it to DVD. To say the Vestron legacy has a deep roster is an understatement, so the announcement understandably sent horror fans into a bit of frenzy, and, thus far, Lionsgate has accommodated with a nice mix of cult favorites in need of an upgrade (Chopping Mall & The Gate come to mind), deeper cuts (like Lair of the White Worm and Blood Diner), and even some unexpected choices like CHUD II and Parents.
But maybe even more unexpected than those was Lionsgate’s announcement that they would bring the entire Wishmaster franchise to Blu-ray for the first time. Not only was Wishmaster released five years after Vestron folded, but it’s also fucking Wishmaster: ironically enough, I cannot imagine many were exactly hoping for it. I, on the other hand, was delighted: at this point, a company releasing this entire saga on Blu-ray is the exact type of nonsense I can get behind, if only because I do have a weird affection for this particular franchise (well, the first two entries anyway, but do you realize how irritating it would have been to not have a complete set?). It’s not the most rational of loves, but, then again, what is when we’re talking about dubious horror franchises?
Click here for my recently posted review of the original Wishmaster, a movie that doesn’t match its potential but isn’t without its charms nonetheless. Easily the best of this quartet, it’s buoyed by the spirited desire to deliver a love letter to horror fans in the form of notable cameos and KNB going absolutely wild with the rest of the budget. In an era where the bigger horror icons were mostly on hiatus, Wishmaster arrived to fill the void about as admirably as it could, and I still kind of love it to pieces.
Understandably, Lionsgate has bestowed the most lavish treatment on the first, most well-regarded film. Two separate commentaries feature Kurtzman, who is joined by screenwriter Peter Atkins, Andrew Divoff, and Tammy Lauren. Over an hour’s worth of newly produced special features accompany these tracks, many of which boast recollections from the cast and crew. Each of the five features has a separate focus: one focuses on the conception and production, while another is centered on the screenplay. Cinematographer Jacques Haitkin’s interview obviously focuses on filming Wishmaster, and Divoff and Lauren drop in to discuss their experience as actors. Finally, Ted Raimi, Robert Englund, and Kane Hodder enthusiastically recall their cameos, particularly how cool it was not to be saddled under a ton of makeup. Englund is especially outgoing, which is no surprise—this is a guy who makes Lake Placid sequels seem like exciting prospects.
About another hour of vintage material is also retained from the DVD, including a 25-minute making-of featurette. Trailers, TV spots, radio spots, EPKs, storyboards, and ten minutes of behind-the-scenes footage provide the most thorough glimpse into the production of Wishmaster that you can imagine. The first film is the centerpiece of the collection, and it’s treated as such.
Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999)
You could be forgiven for assuming Wishmaster began life as a direct-to-video effort since it generally has that vibe (some might say stink) to it. However, it actually debuted in theaters and proved just popular enough on video to have a second life and inspire three sequels, all of which did forego the big screen. The first of these, Evil Never Dies, is clearly the best, at least in rational terms. Helmed by veteran schlock master Jack Sholder (no stranger to part 2s, obviously), it doesn’t boast its predecessor’s impressive roster of familiar names or faces, nor can it claim whatever novelty the original had. It does, however, function as a perfectly entertaining sequel that makes the best out of the franchise premise—which is to say it really allows Andrew Divoff to rip up shit as the newly reawakened Djinn.
What’s more, Divoff is completely up for some absolute scenery-chewing. Honestly, the circumstances surrounding his return—a troubled girl frees the Wishmaster’s opal stone during a botched museum robbery—feel incidental. If anything, this one is forever remembered as the one where the Djinn is willingly incarcerated and spends half the movie fucking with prisoners. There’s no shortage of opportunities for him to grant his twisted wishes, which become more cornball by the minute—I mean, one prisoner wishes his lawyer would go “fuck himself” and the Djinn makes that literally happen. Wishmaster 2 takes its goofy premise and runs with it by staging head-swaps and martial arts beatdowns, all while Divoff looks on in perpetual bemusement. His Cheshire cat smile from the original becomes even broader and more knowingly sinister here, a reflection of just how much fun Wishmaster 2 is having.
I do wish there were some more practical gore gags (one where a prisoner squeezes himself to death by walking through the jail bars is great), but, otherwise, Evil Never Dies is a more than worthwhile follow-up. After all, it’s not every day you come across a movie where a heroine tries to save the world by ditching her Goth girl look. On the other hand, the fact that it involves an unholy monster bankrupting a casino and colluding with Russians to destroy the world is a little bit too familiar these days.
Like the first film, Wishmaster 2 is housed on its own disc, though its list of supplements isn’t nearly as impressive. In fact, it’s the most sparse of all the discs here, as it only boasts a commentary from Sholder, a trailer, and a stills gallery.
Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell (2001)
There are two distinct eras for Wishmaster, separated by a clear dividing line in Divoff’s exit from the series. Once he left, it was never quite the same, perhaps because—as silly as his performances may have been—he somehow tied it all together. He was an infectious presence oozing with sleazebag charm—he just looked like a real deal asshole. On the other hand, his replacement in Wishmaster 3 (Jason Connery, son of Sean) is a smug, douchebag professor boasting all the menace of a guy desperately trying to attain tenure.
That’s right: like Ghoulies before it, Wishmaster shipped off to college for its third entry, which proves to be its most lackluster to boot. We’re firmly in DTV territory here, complete with chintzy effects, uninspired direction, witless characters, tepid performances, Canadian locations, and a general feeling of déjà vu. It’s more or less like the first two, only set on a college campus, where undergrad student Diana Collins (A.J. Cook) unwittingly unleashes the Djinn. More gory carnage trails in his wake, though most of the death scenes feel a bit lazy (one girl wishes for a place to hide, so the Djinn shoves her into a rat cage—it’s like he’s not even trying anymore) or lack an inventive payoff (“blow me,” one guy says before the Djinn literally blows him onto some spikes).
If this premise was already running out of steam by the end of the first film, it’s practically surviving on fumes here. Even its most notable twist—Diana wishing for the archangel Michael to help her battle the Djinn—isn’t nearly as cool as it could be. In fact, it just makes Tobias Mehler’s performance feel even more wooden thanks to a tacky dub job that indicates his character has been possessed. (It doesn’t help that he’s Diana’s boyfriend, so she spends half the movie pining over his dumbass when the fate of the entire universe is at stake.) Granted, Wishmaster has always been pretty silly, but this one is unbearably cloying and unimaginative. Easily the second-best movie where AJ Cook is haunted by a deadly car accident, Wishmaster 3 is best summarized by a scene where a girl pukes her own guts out.
In an understandable move, Lionsgate has Wishmaster 3 sharing a disc with the final entry, as both are light on supplements. A commentary with director Chris Angel, John Novak, Louisette Geiss, and Jason Connery is the main highlight, while a trailer and vintage making-of featurette fill out the rest. Essentially, the old DVD has been transferred to Blu-ray, with the feature itself obviously getting a high-def upgrade—and that’s honestly all that’s necessary for Wishmaster 3.
Wishmaster: The Prophecy Fulfilled (2002)
Considering the premise and its general silliness, it’s no wonder that Wishmaster would eventually dispense all pretense and plunge headlong into abject bullshit. This was especially true following Wishmaster 3, a bland entry that proved this franchise could never, ever be taken seriously, no matter how hard it tried. And while I’m not sure the final entry is exactly self-aware (it was shot in conjunction with the previous film, so much of the creative team is the same), it at least seems to give fewer fucks. The mandate here seems to be simple enough: since Wishmaster 4 can’t possibly be good, it should at least be outrageous as hell.
And on this count, it delivers, starting with its central conceit: lovebirds Lisa (Tara Spencer-Nairn) and Sam (Jason Thompson) have hit a rough patch in their relationship following a motorcycle accident that left the latter paralyzed. Terminally bummed out because he can no longer fuck, Sam grows a 90s grunge-cut to indicate extreme sadness and practically pushes Lisa into the arms of their lawyer Steven (Michael Trucco). Unfortunately, Steven’s gift of an opal stone goes haywire when Lisa frees the Djinn, who promptly tears the lawyer’s face off and assumes his identity. Shenanigans ensue, including a scene where a guy wishes to be a pimple on a stripper’s ass, so the Wishmaster makes that happen (though you can’t see it—I guess budget constraints robbed us of an incredible shot of a man’s face superimposed on this woman’s butt).
If The Prophecy Fulfilled sounds like the absolute dumbest Wishmaster, rest assured that it is. However, it’s also somehow the cleverest. See, nobody would ever accuse the Djinn of being the smartest horror icon: here’s a guy who needs someone to make three wishes so he can rule the world, and somehow he always thinks revealing his plan to the “waker” will work. But what this film supposes is that maybe the Djinn can catch more flies with honey, so he cozies up to Lisa, seemingly granting her every wish without incident. Not only does he land her a $10 million settlement with the motorcycle company, but Sam also miraculously walks again—not that it stops him from being a total asshole anyway.
But just when it looks like the Djinn has finally accomplished his goal, Lisa’s muttered-under-her-breath final wish is to love Steven “as he truly is.” This is a problem considering he’s currently a demonic creature wearing Steven’s face, so the wish can’t be granted until Lisa herself can come to love him, so this makes for quite the paradox. Suddenly, Wishmaster becomes less about the Djinn tormenting his waker and more about his efforts to protect and woo her—what the hell? To complicate matters even further, her third wish unlocks a previously unknown clause in the whole world domination deal: apparently, an emissary of Ahura Mazda himself can be dispatched to kill whoever awakens the Djinn before that wish can be officially granted.
So rest assured, you’re in real Bizarro world here, as this “good guy” bounty hunter ruthlessly tracks Lisa so he can decapitate her. When he and the Djinn have a full-on Highlander showdown, you’re not really sure who you’re supposed to be cheering for. On the one hand, the bounty hunter can stave off the apocalypse; on the other, he’s kind of an asshole about it, much like everyone else. Trucco himself faintly echoes Divoff’s smarmy turn as the Djinn and tries to mask it with a sickening Nice Guy façade, while Thompson is a total dick throughout the entire film for no goddamn reason. Even when his legs start to function again, he’s ditching Lisa for the strip club and insisting she never really loved him.
That’s also very much in keeping with the very hormonal Wishmaster 4, by the way. This is a movie that opens with Lisa and Sam screwing away so wildly that they break their bed, and 100% of their relationship issues stem from his inability to get it up unless he’s surfing porn on the internet. There are multiple trips to the strip club, and the Djinn grants one victim the wish of “killer sex,” which literally drives her up the wall. We can debate all day about whether or not this is the absolute worst entry (it isn’t), but one thing is abundantly clear: this is without a doubt the horniest Wishmaster movie.
Wishmaster 4 more or less receives the same treatment as the other sequels in terms of supplements. There are two commentaries: one with Angel, Trucco, and Thompson, and another featuring the director alongside John Novak, who plays the Djinn’s demonic form in the last two movies). Vintage featurette “Wishmasterpiece Theater” carried over from the DVD, and is exactly what it sounds like: a behind-the-scenes look that also parodies Masterpiece Theater. Somehow, the supplements are even cornier than the movie, though I must say this is more inspired than anything in Part 3. Sadly, “The Wishmaster Dating Guide” from the original DVD didn’t make the cut, nor did the storyboards on that disc.
Despite those (very) minor oversights, the Wishmaster Collection is just about everything fans of this franchise could have hoped for. As someone who never imagined they’d land on any type of special release (I assumed they’d one day be unceremoniously dumped onto Blu-ray), it’s nice to see that Lionsgate has truly committed to this Vestron label—hell, they even commissioned new, classy artwork for this release and everything. Not only that, but it’s currently listed at reasonable prices: where some of the single disc Vestron releases often cost close to $30, this one is only a bit more expensive at most outlets and features four movies. Yes, I realize half of those movies include Wishmaster 3 and 4, but they’re practically free at that price point.
Whether or not this leads to some renewed interest remains to be seen. I can’t imagine anyone in Hollywood is exactly clamoring to pitch a Wishmaster reboot, though stranger things have happened recently. Interestingly enough, Englund himself has recently gone to bat for the franchise, insisting that it “deserved more respect” and is ripe for further entries. He didn’t exactly express interest in returning himself, but wouldn’t Englund returning to this franchise instead of the more obvious one be the most Wishmaster thing imaginable? comments powered by Disqus Ratings: