Moments before he’s set to be burned alive on a pyre of kitties, an evil warlock (Julian Sands) uses the dark arts to transport himself from 1691 Boston to 1991 downtown LA, in order to escape the flames and track down the Satanic bible, which he hopes to use to bring about Armageddon.

Fortunately, ‘Warlockfinder General’ Giles Redferne (Richard E Grant) is hot on his heels. They crash into the life of sassy chick Kassandra (Lori Singer) who is subsequently cursed to age 20 years a day until the warlock is apprehended – meaning Singer must endure not very convincing ageing make-up effects for a while and complain about how she has aged without all the partying that comes with it.

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DT Twohy’s screenplay unravels with ever-darker glee, as he meshes elements of Highlander, The Terminator and Witchfinder General to over-theatrical, gloriously trashy and comically violent effect. The plethora of imaginative ideas spun out into an intriguing mythology often sits at odds with the execution. Entertainingly so though, and more often than not, this is the main appeal of the film.

It’s interesting to see how Twohy mingles medieval superstition with more contemporary ‘old wives tales’ and practices. Case in point, when Redferne and Kassandra track the warlock to a Mennonite farm house and team up with the ageing patriarch to thwart him, armed with a weathervane and pennies in their mouths to protect themselves from his evil. A number of genuinely disturbing moments, such as the creepy scene where Sands talks to a young boy in a lonely, dust-blown playground, laughing maniacally when the child asks where his broomstick is, before skinning him (off-screen) and drinking his fat as a flying potion, are diluted by all the hip Eighties sass and ropey special effects.

While immensely trashy, Warlock also takes itself very seriously, which is probably its saving grace. The conviction of Grant and Sands in their roles as hunter and hunted respectively, lends the film a gloriously old-fashioned vibe, and some of the seemingly improvised period dialogue ("Look you, let's tarry not!" and the marvellous description of the warlock as “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!”) must be heard to be believed.

A number of striking ideas pepper the schlock, such as a scene where Singer chases Sands, hammering nails into his footprints to slow him down, or the tell-tale signs of the warlock's presence – curdling milk, frantic animals, flames burning blue and bread failing to rise - are all exploited to sinister effect. A number of chase and fight sequences are rendered excessively campy due to dated SFX – obvious wire work and blue-screen emoting – however everything is held together by Steve Miner’s workmanlike direction and the overzealous conviction of the main players.

The moody opening scenes set in 1690s Massachusetts are expertly realised and the final showdown in the ancient gothic graveyard (complete with glittering Eighties cityscape matt-background) is the icing on the deliriously trashy cake. Had more subtlety been administered throughout the script this could have been a genuinely unsettling and formidably creepy affair. As it is though, it’s a wonderfully exuberant schlock-fest with some imaginative flair and a few great ideas, that can’t fail to raise a wry smile.

Reviewed on: 20 Apr 2011
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An evil warlock facing a death sentence, flees from the 17th to the 20th Century with a witch-finder in hot pursuit.
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