I truly like and enjoy the original Warlock from director Steve Miner. While the low budget restricted its overall production quality, the good script and high caliber acting talents of Julian Sands and Richard E. Grant really made it something worthwhile. It’s one of those films which showed a lot of potential, and that with a larger budget and stronger production values, it really could’ve been amazing. The rights for the film eventually ended up at Trimark Pictures which came to specialize in some decent genre and B-movie successes, mostly direct-to-video releases, but were ultimately absorbed by Artisan Entertainment and subsequently Lionsgate Films. With the rights to the first film, Trimark decided to make a sequel with those better production values. Warlock: The Armageddon brings the Warlock back from oblivion, but this sequel would’ve been better off staying in oblivion. The golden-maned Julian Sands portrays the Warlock far more devilishly in this one with a darker charm, but has no worthy or even respectable adversary this time around. Sands essentially carries the entire movie, and any scene without him is rather uninteresting. His charisma and charm on screen is so electric that you simply crave more of it when he leaves the screen. The plot doesn’t offer anything all that engaging or particularly special.
The Warlock is brought back to recover a collection of gems that, together, can destroy all of creation (yes, again) by bringing his father, Satan, into our world. Meanwhile, in some rural town two teenagers are chosen by some most unimpressive Druids to be trained and fight the Warlock. Chris Young and Paula Marshall, respectively, portray these two youths, Kenny and Samantha, who aren’t too fond of their parents having to kill them first before being imbued with these new special powers. As the Warlock dispatches of several non-formidable obstacles to obtain these gems, these two teenagers in love try to come to grips with what they have been tasked with, and fear for the evil that is coming for them.
I can’t wrap my head around how we go from the amazing character of Redferne, portrayed by the exceptional Richard E. Grant, to a couple of teenagers who frankly care more about what they’re gonna do on Saturday night than being the saviors of all creation. These two amateurs are expected to go up against the unholy spawn of Satan and prevail? I can only suspend my disbelief so much before a premise becomes laughable. Truly, I was more involved in the Warlock and his quest to destroy humanity than caring about this rural pair of teens in love being forced into a situation they want nothing to do with. There is hardly anything endearing or engaging about their half of the movie. Honestly, I wanted this film to have nothing to do with them. It’s rather sad when you come to actually wanting the villain to destroy all of existence. At least we would have been spared more sequels. Of course, Sands was not brought back for Warlock III: The End of Innocence, which was a non-sequel casting Bruce Payne in the title role.
This sequel is much gorier than the original, but the story and characters are far weaker. It’s not a question of bad acting, it’s a question of a bad script. Whereas the original film was written by the exceptionally talented David Twohy, the screenwriters of this sequel, Kevin Rock & Sam Bernard, have nothing of special note in either of their filmographies, and nothing at all written since the late 1990s. Director Anthony Hickox had just finished Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, and I feel this film is worse than that uneven sequel. Hickox directed some decent horror films like Waxwork & Waxwork II, but after Warlock: The Armageddon, he never directed, wrote, acted in, or produced another recognizable film. At best, he’s proven to be a B-grade director not capable of producing anything without a hefty helping of cheese and over the top sensibilities. Ultimately, looking over the credits of this film, the only notable talent involved is Julian Sands. From the screenwriters to the director of photography to the music composer, there’s nobody of note here. Charles Hallahan (The Thing) and Zach Galligan (Gremlins, Waxwork) do have roles here, but they’re essentially nothing more than inconsequential supporting roles.
On a technical level, the movie is well made with competent cinematography giving everything a fine polish and sheen. It looks a little more cinematic than the first movie, but it certainly has its limitations. Some sets are clearly more restrictive in size and style than what their real world counterparts would be such as the fashion show venue. Also, one action scene takes place in a small American southwest town which looks like the back lot for some low budget western, aside from the parking meters. The Warlock literally has a showdown with a couple of guys with shotguns dressed in bad western attire. It’s another unsatisfying thing attributed to both the screenplay and the low budget. They can’t afford to place the climax of the film in an interesting setting, so, it all happens in a forest-like environment where there are no production values to show off. While earlier sequences were mainly on sets that did the best with the budget they had, the climax just makes it look cheaper with uninventive ideas of setting or action. Of course, Anthony Hickox had the climax of Hellraiser III take place on the late night streets of Los Angeles, and showed a lot of explosions and action, but it ultimately amounted to pointless drivel that dumbed down that franchise to an achingly low level, despite the production values. I can’t say that more money would’ve fixed the creative or artistic problems with the film. It was a rather bland story to begin with, and the climax gets to the point where I’d rather prefer seeing the Warlock triumph.
I can say that the visual and makeup effects are entirely superior to the previous film, and that’s bizarre since this film’s budget was $4 million less than the first film. Perhaps, it’s simply a benefit of the evolution of digital effects replacing optical composites in the four year gap between films that gives this sequel a higher quality in that area. The powers of the Warlock are exponentially more extensive and destructive here than in the first movie, but it doesn’t matter much when the story loses the heart and the charm that the first had with Redferne. You can read my earlier review of that film for a more in-depth insight into what really gave Steve Miner’s film so much promise.
Again, Warlock: The Armageddon is really cheesy and pathetically weak in nearly every facet with Sands being the only exception. This sequel is okay if you want to see more of Julian Sands’ purely evil, sadistic, and wonderfully devilish performance, but that is all that is worth seeing in this film. The original Warlock wasn’t any major blockbuster success, and so, Trimark probably didn’t feel as if all that much effort needed to be put forth for a sequel. Again, Trimark was never known for very high quality films, but there are a few that I still heavily enjoy. However, this is not one of them. If the first movie was filmed as well as this one, and had this much gore – it would’ve kicked some real ass. Unfortunately, what really is the most important aspect with both is good story and character. This film lacks both whereas the original Warlock really had it in good amounts. It was well written with some character depth and a consistently enjoyable premise. This sequel was dumb on arrival with only Julian Sands bringing anything truly entertaining to the project. See it if you want, but you’re not missing much otherwise. At best, it’s cheesy early 90s horror schlock. I would better recommend watching the original Warlock, or if you really want some bad ass demonic vanquishing, try Constantine. This was a franchise that hardly ever got going anywhere, and with this sequel, it’s easy to see why it was not a success.
Warlock is a film I have always enjoyed, but have also always felt a little let down by. It’s a fantasy horror feature that had a great deal of potential with some fantastic performances and a good story behind it, but a low budget really hindered its potential. Directed by Steve Miner (Friday The 13th, Parts 2 & 3), Warlock was produced by the struggling New World Pictures in the late 1980s. It didn’t gain a release in the US until 1991 due to New World’s filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy soon after the movie was completed. Trimark Pictures gained the rights to the series which have since been absorbed by Lionsgate. Sequels were produced (one with Julian Sands, one with Bruce Payne), and while they had more impressive production values, they both were generally inferior on a screenplay level to the original. Unfortunately, a proper widescreen DVD release has still not been made available by anyone who’s held the rights. However, I have discovered an excellent quality widescreen presentation via FearNet OnDemand. Seeing it only on VHS all these years, I am astounded by its quality, and that is going to factor into my revised review here. Still, I have to hope that this transfer will become available in a new home video release in the high-definition digital era.
The film starts out in Boston, 1691 where Giles Redferne (Richard E. Grant) – a witch hunter – has captured the Warlock (Julian Sands), and is soon to be executed in a most ‘Salem witch trial’ sort of way. Although, the Warlock escapes in a time warp via the forces of Hell. He is transported to the year 1988 (the present) to locate the three parts of the Devil’s Bible which will give him the true name of God, and the power to destroy all of creation. However, Redferne (Richard E. Grant) is able to follow him to the future, only one day too late. The Warlock has a head start on him, and has already placed an extreme aging spell on Kassandra (Lori Singer), the young woman whose home the Warlock crash landed into. So, now it’s up to Redferne to track down his archenemy before he destroys all of creation.
This is an impressively effective supernatural thriller. That is due to several talented individuals putting a lot of skill and time into this. It is a steadily paced picture filled with a good balance of suspense, action, light humor, dramatic moments, and horror elements. Gore only minimally factors into the film. It is the atmosphere and the deliciously evil, sinister performance of Julian Sands that helps land it near the realm of horror. He truly turns the film into gold above its budgetary shortcomings. He is the perfect evil disguised as a man – as the trailer states – “with the face of an angel, and the charm of the Devil.” He is frightening with an amazingly chilling screen presence that pulls you in fully. He can set a foreboding tone without saying a word.
Meanwhile Richard E. Grant delivers a fine performance bringing the pure-hearted, moral charm of the out-of-time and out-of-place Redferne to the surface. Grant makes Redferne a very likeable character as he has a warm heart of gold without becoming sappy. He maybe a bit naive because of him being a stranger in an even stranger land, but he remains dedicated to his purpose and oath to bring an end to the Warlock for all time. Redferne could’ve come off as a rather campy hero, but beyond all the old word speech, the value of Grant’s performance shines through to present an honest, grounded protagonist. Redferne is given a depth and history to give him his avenging motivations for hunting the Warlock to the ends of the world and time. Grant inhabits those qualities with weight and conviction. Redferne is also a worthy adversary as he is knowledgeable and experienced in hunting the Warlock, and is more than capable of not only combating him, but ridding the world of him. Most importantly, Redferne has heart – which is something you don’t usually see in this sort of genre picture. It’s a perfect contrast of good and evil where the performances of Grant and Sands are concerned. One is a passionate man of virtue, and the other is an icy cold villain. When the two occasionally share a scene, it is juicy, meaty content that fuels the momentum of the film. Their final confrontation in the climax is very strong, and allows the characters to feed off of one another, fleshing out their sordid history. It is a powerful and nicely crafted climax indeed.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing special or greatly important about Lori Singer’s character, but in the least, Kassandra is a decently enjoyable guide through the late 20th century for our kind-hearted hero from the 17th century. She does build a nice chemistry with Grant which gives way to some charming humor at appropriate moments.
The few visual and makeup effects present in the film were decent for the time it was made and the budget it was allotted. Still, some of the optical visual effects are severely dated by today’s standards. They may even seem obsolete by the groundbreaking standards of the day (i.e. The Abyss, Predator, A Nightmare On Elm Street 4). This really only applies to the optical composites of the Warlock flying. Although, I doubt the low budget effects will hinder your enjoyment of the film greatly. I have witnessed films, released before and after this one, with tremendously lower quality effects. I did find a nostalgic appreciation for the animated magical fire the Warlock wields. On the practical side, the old age make-up used on Lori Singer while she is hexed by the Warlock was far from being a crowning achievement, but it’s never been a serious detractor for me over all these years.
Steve Miner does as good of a job as ever here despite the film not being high on scares or blood – unlike his work on the first two Friday The 13th sequels. However, Warlock is a worthwhile supernatural thriller, and Miner should be proud of what he was able to create here. He handles the story with respect and care. He provides suspense and tension where need be, and is able to ramp the intensity up at the right moments. The screenwriter for this film was David Twohy (The Fugitive, Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick), and he definitely wrote a fine script that shows a rough, early version of his now well-known style. If Twohy wanted to direct a remake, or a worthy sequel – I’d definitely be privy to seeing it. With a more generous budget and little studio interference, he can churn out a really good film.
Looking at the credits of this film, there are a some notable names that would become horror veterans themselves. Two I noticed were David R. Ellis (director of Final Destination 2 & 4) as stunt coordinator and second unit director, and special make-up effects artist Tom Woodruff, Jr. of Stan Winston Studios and later Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. (who have become responsible for the creature effects on all the Alien sequels). It’s always interesting to see that such amazing talents worked on a film such as this early on. It gives good context on where they’ve been, and how they’ve advanced their craft over the years.
The cinematography is fairly good. There’s a nice choice of angles and movement, and in select scenes, very moody lighting that enhances the Warlock’s dramatic presence. These elements come together quite well with the visual effects to create a darkly fantastical atmosphere. I don’t know how well it all would work for a modern audience, but since I grew up through this era, I can appreciate it with a nostalgic context.
The one last thing to praise is the late Jerry Goldsmith’s score. I have loved his work for years from his scores for the Star Trek franchise to an endless MASSIVE list of feature films. His score for Warlock had haunting, mysterious elements, and an epic feeling at the film’s climax. This musical master always delivered something memorable and wonderfully cinematic, no matter what the film or genre. It’s a sad thing he is no longer with us. I just hope that his legacy will be carried on by new generations of musical masters.
In the end, it really is the budget that holds down the greatness of this film. It had some solid talent in front of and behind the camera along with a well written screenplay. Not to mention, the title role was perfectly cast with an actor that envelopes the screen, and inhabits every scene with vile charm. Warlock simply did not have the money to boost its production values to a level comparable to the talent involved. It generally does not look cheap, but the dated and low quality visual and make-up effects damage it. But where there are films that falter despite great visual effects and production values, this one soars to respectable heights despite lower grade effects and budgetary limitations. This is due to the quality of talent injected into it, and the solid foundation laid down with David Twohy’s script. It’s full of charm, suspense, mystery, intrigue, and subtle terror. I thank the now defunct Trimark Pictures for picking up this film from the then defunct New World Pictures. I just wish Lionsgate would do something special for this old gem because it honestly deserves it.