Warlock Collection [Vestron Video]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2017-07-23 08:10

Lionsgate’s revival of the Vestron label has been quite a pleasant surprise so far, especially for those of us clamoring for the more…well, let’s call them unexpected titles. Sure, stuff like The Gate was a no-brainer for this line, but what about the entire Wishmaster franchise receiving the deluxe treatment on Blu-ray? I doubt any of us thought something like that would be in the pipeline, at least not so soon—this label hasn’t even celebrated its first birthday yet. To that end, Lionsgate continues to surprise with the release of a Collector’s Edition set for Warlock, a fairly obscure title with even lesser-known direct-to-video follow-ups. You’d never know that, though, given this impressive release that not only restores the first film to its original aspect ratio but also piles on loads of newly-produced and vintage supplements. As someone who can only vaguely recall having seen these movies once or twice, I could never have imagined being left with such a thorough knowledge of them—well, of the first two, anyway, but at least it’s nice to have Warlock 3 around, anyway.

Warlock (1989)

The movie:

A somewhat remarkably ambitious film, Warlock arrived at the tail end of the 80s splatter spree, though director Steve Miner had little interest in recalling those gore-soaked glory days spent on the set of the early Friday the 13th movies. Instead, he channeled the decade’s Grand Guignol effects impulses into a bizarre high fantasy/horror hybrid that spans time and space. It opens in colonial Boston, where a warlock (Julian Sands) is put on trial for sorcery before he’s bailed out by Satan himself, who arrives as a tornadic cloud that whisks him away 300 years into the future. Specifically, he lands in Los Angeles and immediately begins to terrorize poor Kassandra (Lori Singer), who just happens to live at a place housing the remnants of a book the warlock requires to undo creation. Luckily, she’s also been sent a protector in the form of Redferne (Richard E. Grant), a witch-hunter and (naturally) the warlock’s nemesis.

When you look at it that way, Warlock feels kind of like a horror-tinged version of The Terminator, an observation that in no way should lead you to believe this is anywhere nearly as good as The Terminator. It’s certainly fine, if not plagued by an overstuffed script, an inconsistent tone, and an altogether meager budget that can’t quite keep up with how epic this tale is supposed to be. The entire fate of the world is on the line, yet it’s this little road movie that sees Redferne and The Warlock chasing each other in pursuit of the unholy book in question. Like, the entire world’s fate is in the hands of some Valley Girl, an out-of-place witch-hunter, and, eventually, a Mennonite farmer.

But this isn’t an altogether terrible thing, as it allows Miner to keep Warlock grounded within a horror context. Even though he largely avoids gore outbursts, he nonetheless focuses on intimately horrifying ordeals, like Kassandra being cursed to age 20 years per day or a young boy being skinned alive (off-screen) by the warlock. Fantasy elements do rear their head during Redferne’s clashes with his foe since the warlock is capable of flight and other supernatural abilities, but this is by-and-large more of a fantasy-tinged horror film rather than the opposite. I find this to be refreshing in light of contemporary Hollywood’s tendency to turn these things into action movies with horror window dressing, so Warlock at least has that going for it.

It also boasts a charismatic performance from Sands as the titular warlock. With a crowded field of horror villains during this period, it’s no wonder this one didn’t quite get over and is subsequently never in that conversation, but he’s fun enough. Sort of a Eurotrash action movie baddie by way of chatty horror fiends (think Freddy, Chucky, etc.), he’s eminently unlikable and magnetic all at once. You’d love to see him get punched in the face, yet you enjoy watching him harvest eyeballs from victims and whatnot, too. This warlock contains multitudes.

So, too, does the movie: it’s a little bit high fantasy, a little bit fish-out-of-water buddy comedy with Grant and Singer, and a little bit of an action movie, to boot. As such, the tone is kind of all over the place, and it rarely carries the gravity befitting a potential apocalypse. It perhaps arrives there only during a conclusion that sees the three principals showing down in a graveyard as an unholy storm swirls about, just ready to usher in the end of all creation. Of course, even this climax invites you to gasp in awe as a dude is immolated, his flaming skull eventually stomped to mush amidst a cemetery of rotting cadavers. I probably don’t even need to tell you that this is Warlock at its most rad.

Indeed, the rest of it doesn’t quite keep up: the banter between Singer and Grant is often chintzy and lame, and the stretch where she’s caked in awful old-age make-up is hilarious for all the wrong reasons. Warlock is almost most certainly remembered as late-80s nonsense, and rightfully so: despite its apocalyptic implications, it’s a terminally silly affair that perhaps pointed towards the 90s glut of similar fantasy horror films like Army of Darkness, The Prophecy, The Crow, Nightbreed, and, yes, even Wishmaster. If nothing else, Warlock can boast being ahead of the curve.

The disc:

This Warlock release can also boast something quite rare: an appearance by Steve Miner, who has yet to show up for any of the releases for the Friday the 13th movies that will likely define his legacy. Not only does he appear in an on-screen interview here, but he also provides a feature-length commentary. Miner seems quite fond of the film, though he does admit he’d likely do things a bit differently in hindsight. He briefly takes viewers through the film’s conception and production, providing some anecdotes along the way. One details a deleted scene involving Mary Woronov’s cameo, which originally called for the warlock to pluck the “eyes of Satan” right from her breasts (well, so long as they weren’t “her tits,” per Miner). Needless to say, this looked too silly, resulting in the version of the scene in the final cut.

This anecdote is repeated a handful of times throughout the disc, particularly during the interviews with effects artists Carl Fullerton and Neal Martz. Looking back, these two have wildly different recollections of the production, with the latter looking on it a bit more fondly and amicably. Fullerton, on the other hand, hints at some strife involving the producers and the budget, and doesn’t seem to care too much for the film itself. In fact, he admits he’s never seen the damn thing and didn’t know it ever spawned sequels since he figured the original film would be dumped straight to video and forgotten.

Sands also appears in a newly recorded interview that has him reminiscing on his acting career before focusing on Warlock. He, too, is quite pleased to be associated with both this film and the sequel, which he was quite enthusiastic about because it gave him an opportunity to work with Anthony Hickox, the unsung director behind the Waxwork films. Given his non-participation in Warlock 3, he’s obviously much less fond of that one, and even reveals that he was offered a chance to return but chose to decline, citing issues with the script. Finally, he also claims he’s been approached for franchise revivals and insists there’s life left in the Warlock brand. Stranger things have happened, I guess.

The final newly-commissioned extra is an audio track featuring Jerry Goldsmith’s isolated score supplemented by an audio interview with author Jeff Bond. Filling out the rest of the disc is over an hour of vintage material, including multiple interviews with the cast and crew, with a heavy emphasis on behind-the-scenes footage and effects discussion. TV spots, a still gallery, and trailer for both the film’s theatrical and video release are also included, capping off a ridiculously exhaustive release for a title most would have just been happy to see on a bare bones Blu-ray.

Warlock: The Armageddon (1993)

The movie:

It’s not too hard to see why Sands is so enthusiastic about this first sequel because it totally rules. A more apt title would be Warlock: The Mulligan, as this follow-up completely tosses out everything from its predecessor, save for Sands as the title character. Essentially a reboot with the same general idea, this one transplants The Warlock from a pagan-era conflict with druids to 20th century New York, where he resumes his eternal quest to usher Satan into the world, a feat he can only accomplish by tracking down gemstones during a six-day lunar eclipse cycle (or some such nonsense).

The Warlock’s gruesome rebirth scene (as in he’s literally reborn as a bloody, inhuman fetus through a woman that’s wearing one of these gemstones) signals that this sequel is much more splatter-minded than the previous film. Hickox brings his signature brand of slick effects work and gore to Warlock 2, making it a trashier but more entertaining successor, especially whenever The Warlock is rampaging across the country, guided by a map made out of his victims’ flesh. Sands is even more cocksure this time around, infusing The Warlock with even more of a wry, sleazy personality as he coaxes these scattered gems from various owners, using his wit and wordplay before unleashing a horrific, sometimes ironic fate that plays off of the deals he makes. A scene where he promises an art dealer to provide the finest work he’ll ever own in exchange for his gem ends with the poor guy actually being turned into a sculpture.

If that sounds like Wishmaster before Wishmaster even existed, you are correct; also, if you assume this accounts for my fondness for Warlock 2, you are also correct. Simply put, this thing is way too fun and gory to dismiss, as The Warlock turns one victim inside out, scalps another, and even strands one helpless soul in another dimension during a carnival sequence that feels straight out of Waxwork. While the 80s were long gone by this point, this film is certainly guided by the splattery mentality that defined that decade, as Hickox piles on the latex and Karo syrup, effectively slashing his way to the finish line in a race against this insane, slightly nonsensical script.

Thankfully, it proves to at least be fucking deranged whenever The Warlock isn’t involved. With the apocalypse imminent, it turns out that the Earth’s only hope is a sect of septuagenarian druids in California. Long shunned in town for their bizarre beliefs, they do themselves no favor when they insist their kids must be killed and resurrected as warriors, leading to goofball training sessions and awkward teenage courtships being dropped right into this apocalyptic gore showcase. Like its predecessor, this one is obviously all over the map and winds up feeling silly as hell. Sure, the fate of the world is on the line, but how can you take it seriously when the climactic showdown features one of the most unintentionally hilarious resolutions imaginable.

Consider the epic conclusions to other apocalyptic scenarios, like Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith obliterating an alien mothership, Bruce Willis nuking an asteroid, Tony Stark flinging a missile into space, etc. Now toss that out immediately because Warlock 2 boldly assumes the endtimes can be prevented with a bright set of headlights. Who knew Satan was susceptible to a killer truck rig? Only the geniuses behind Warlock 2, clearly.

The disc:

Honestly, Warlock 2 alone is worth the price of admission for this entire collection; the fact that it’s essentially a supplement itself (it’s housed on a second disc alongside the third film) speaks to what a bargain this set is (it’s currently listed for $24 on Amazon, which is cheaper than most standalone Vestron titles). Thankfully, it's not completely devoid of its own bonus features, as an audio commentary with Hickox appears alongside a vintage making-of featurette with the cast and crew. Some extended interviews scraped from this featurette’s cutting-room floor also appear, allowing viewers to hear more from Sands, Hickox, and actress Paula Marshall. A trailer, some TV spots, and a still gallery are also included. Even if Warlock 2 didn’t receive the royal treatment like the first film, this edition does it more justice than the previous (and ancient) DVD release.

Warlock 3: The End of Innocence (1999)

The movie:

Sands’s hesitance to return for this sequel is also quite understandable. Released six years after the previous film, The End of Innocence is a long way removed from whatever glory days this franchise may have had. It shows, too. Not only does it lose its star villain, but it also feels like a super low-rent Kevin Tenney movie. Essentially another reboot that ignores the previous entries, it focuses on Kris Miller (Ashley Laurence), a college student who mysteriously inherits a house from a family she never knew. Naturally, she and her friends want to scope out the place, only to uncover a sordid history involving a 17th century warlock’s reign of terror that may be connected to Kris’s bizarre visions of a young girl in the woods. Before they can piece everything together, a strange visitor (Bruce Payne) arrives posing as an architect interested in the house’s history; in reality, he’s an ancient warlock who’s come to claim Kris’s soul and slaughter all of her friends.

Much of the emphasis is on that slaughtering. The Warlock—who is fine here but not nearly the presence he was with Sands in the role—is more like Freddy Krueger than ever before, as he’s capable of twisting his victims’ greatest dreams or fears into horrific torture devices. He apparently still has a thing for artwork, as one girl is turned into a ceramic piece and shattered to pieces. Likewise, Kris’s boyfriend is haunted by the fear of becoming his father, so The Warlock literally turns him into the old man, twisting and contorting his face into something awful. Similar tortures await Kris’s other friends, who have to “give” her over to The Warlock in order for him to sacrifice her—or some such nonsense.

Like the previous films, this one has a lot of silliness to untangle, albeit with an obviously smaller budget and scope. Where its predecessors spanned time, space, and even an entire country, this one is hemmed up in an old house for a majority of its runtime, thus putting the fate of the universe in the hands of a bunch of dispshit college students. On the surface, it’s your typical assortment—a decent enough boyfriend, a nice guy who secretly pines over Kris, a total asshole--but they also boast a Wiccan and a couple of S&M enthusiasts just to keep things interesting. When combined with Laurence, the latter’s presence only further invites comparisons to Hellraiser, though Warlock 3 can only reasonably be compared to that franchise’s DTV series, meaning your mileage very much will very.

Personally, it’s fine if not completely unremarkable. Laurence is always welcome, and she proves to be a decent enough foil to The Warlock. The various subplots surrounding Kris are quite predictable, especially when an awkward flashback makes it obvious she’s a descendant of the clan that battled with The Warlock centuries ago, thus explaining his particular interest in her. Director Eric Frieser admirably coaxes some cool images during their final confrontation, which finds Kris unable to escape the house despite her best efforts. For a film that mostly thrives on latex-and-gore viscera, there’s an unsettling existential horror vibe here, one that insists upon an uneasy sense of eternal recurrence.

Don’t take that to mean Warlock 3 suddenly morphs into some genuinely unsung sequel, but it is just about the best you can hope for from such an arbitrary follow-up. Those who lived through this era will distinctly recall its late-90s DTV flavor, from its chintzy effects to the Hot Topic Goth-inspired fashions. Also, I must remind you that there’s a fucking Wiccan, as if its late-90s credentials were still shaky. While I doubt we’ll ever see a wave of nostalgia for this time period, Warlock 3 at least exists as proof that these years can and have been preserved in cinematic time capsules—not that anyone should be in a hurry to open them, of course.

The disc:

Even though Lionsgate didn’t commission any brand-new supplements for Warlock 3, there’s over an hour’s worth of vintage material in addition to the usual promo items (a video sales ad and a still gallery in this case). Some out-of-context behind the scenes footage provides a glimpse at filming, while a series of sit-down interviews with the cast-and-crew illuminate the characters’ motivations and the various techniques that go into the day-to-day production. You might not expect Warlock 3 to provide such great insight, but there are some decent observations here that reveal just what it’s like to be on set on a daily basis and the camaraderie that develops even on a project like this. At the very least, everyone seemed to have a good time making the film, which is also something to keep in mind: we might scoff at these things now, but it’s evident that a lot of care and thought went into making Warlock 3 the best movie it could possibly be. Whether they succeeded is debatable, to put it mildly.

What isn’t debatable is just how thorough and well-done this collection is. With the exception of some newer supplements for the sequels, I’m not really sure what more any Warlock fan could want. I’m kind of astounded all three of these films has even made it to Blu-ray, much less as part of a complete set boasting several hours of bonus features. Such a release bodes well for the future of the Vestron label to continue as a haven for these more obscure titles, which is my oblique way of saying I really hope to see 976-Evil II on Blu-ray soon.
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