Horror, more than other genres, is uniquely suited to the screen because spectacle is appropriate (take that, drama!) and its inclusion doesn't necessarily have to make logical sense (take that, science fiction!). Wishmaster is the best kind of movie nightmare in that it shows you things that can only exist in movies, and its basic premise more or less justifies it as a showcase for lavish and bizarre special effects.
An opening text scroll, narrated by the venerable Angus Scrimm, explains that the djinn were created during the dawn of the universe, God created light and earth and fire, and the light gave birth to angels, the earth gave birth to man, and the fire gave birth to the djinn. The djinn are trapped in the void outside of physical existence, but they can be summoned into the world to grant wishes, and if one man makes three wishes, the veil will be torn asunder, and legions of the djinn will be free to enslave the world. "Fear one thing in all that is," the voiceover says, "fear the djinn."
Cut to the year 1127. A djinn is imprisoned inside a jewel by a sorcerer, and the jewel sits undisturbed inside a statue of the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda, until 1997 when the statue is damaged in transit and the jewel is retrieved and pawned by a longshoreman. It eventually makes its way to an auction house, where the djinn is accidentally released by an appraiser.
The djinn begins his quest to free his kind, leaving behind a trail of carnage. The problem for the djinn, apparently, is that he can't just fulfill desires. He always has to add an ironic, violent twist which, if it doesn't actually kill the wisher, at least ensures that there won't be another wish. The Wishmaster series slogs on for three more movies, and I assume that the djinn never really picks up on the fact that he's going about it all wrong.
It doesn't matter. I could poke holes in the plot all day, but it's quite an enjoyable movie if you just turn off your brain and let the special effects wash over you. It's full of weird ideas, and I am reminded of my primary lament about the Nightmare on Elm Street series: NoES involves a killer who can invade his victims' dreams, which should be an excuse for all kinds of crazy, nonsensical imagery, but instead we get misty alleys and red-lit bedrooms. By the time the filmmakers actually started getting weird with Freddy Kreuger, the series had devolved into self-parody. Wishmaster came out in 1997, so it's got a fantastic mix of practical effects and credible CGI. Statues come alive. A skeleton tears itself free from its skin and begins attacking people, Jason and the Argonauts-style. A lady turns to ice and explodes.
The other thing Wishmaster has going for it is that it's a blatant love-letter to horror movies: the cast is full of genre stalwarts (Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, Ted Raimi, George "Buck" Flower, Reggie Bannister, the aforementioned Angus Scrimm...), and characters named after horror writers (Beaumont, Derleth, Merritt, Leiber...). A movie that pays homage to its roots like that can usually squeeze a little undeserved love from diehards like me, and it has. As I said, this is an imperfect movie, but if you already have a Netflix account, then your price of admission is 90 minutes, and that ain't bad. Shove it--like I did--into the early hours of Sunday morning when you're too awake to fall back asleep but it's too early to wake your spouse, and it almost feels like a good way to spend your time.
Here's the trailer.
1Wishes I'd like to try:
- I wish for you to lose the ability to grant any more wishes.
- I wish for you to forget, every time you grant a wish, that you've granted any previous wishes.
- I wish for all of the wishes you grant including this one to have no consequence(s) for the wisher other than the ones he or she intended, and for any infraction of this condition, including the unwished-for incursion of djinn into this world, to result in the retraction of the wish and nullification of the unintended consequence(s).
- I wish for every wish I make to be a retroactive augmentation of this first one, so that I never reach a third wish, and that no matter what I'd never end up turned into a donkey like those boys in Pinnocchio.
- I wish for the total extinction of the djinn race.
- I wish for you to be transported to the center of a black hole.
- I wish I could grant my own wishes.
- I wish this were a better movie.