Horror was in a weird place in the early 1990s. Most of the big franchises of the ’80s had more or less run their course, and in their place were a handful of new “icons” that would be turned into franchises whether it was warranted or not: the Child’s Play movies continued to be a growing concern, as did Candyman and Hellraiser and Leprechaun. One attempt to launch a new franchise that never quite took was 1991’s Warlock, which inspired two sequels of varying quality before calling it quits. All three films are now gathered together on Blu-ray for the first time as part of the Warlock Collection, the latest in the Vestron Video Collector’s Series from Lionsgate.
The original Warlock is genuinely something special—maybe not a new classic, but certainly a really good version of what it is. It’s a film with an impressive pedigree: directed by horror journeyman by Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Parts 2 and 3, House, Lake Placid), written by David Twohy (Arrival, Pitch Black, Riddick), and with three strong performances at its center from Lori Singer, Richard E. Grant and, most famously, Julian Sands as the titular Warlock. He’s sent hundreds of years into the future to avoid execution for witchcraft in 1691, arriving in present-day (at the time, the late 20th century) Los Angeles to retrieve a Satanic book called the Grand Grimoire. Pursuing the Warlock through time is Giles Redferne (Grant), a witch hunter with a grudge who enlists Kassandra (Singer) to help him and to reverse the curse the Warlock has placed on her, which ages her 20 years every day.
While the old-school optical effects are a lot of fun and Miner directs with his usual no-frills energy, what makes Warlock stand out is its characters—specifically the relationship between spunky Kassandra and Giles, a fish out of water who has to learn about the world in 1990 just as quickly as he can pursue the Warlock. Grant provides the heart of the film, committing to the role in a way that belies its status as a low-budget horror movie: he takes his character and the story in which he’s involved so seriously that it’s impossible for the audience not to buy in, no matter how silly things may get (and Warlock does get pretty silly at times). Then there’s Julian Sands as the Warlock, with his perfect cheekbones and trademark ponytail and cool English demeanor. It is Sands, ultimately, that makes Warlock stand out against its genre contemporaries. Like many horror films that would launch similar franchises, his bad guy is iconic enough to carry over into subsequent films (though in Sands’ case, it’s only one). Horror fans remember the movie less for its character work or visual effects than for the visual of Sands stalking and flying around in head-to-toe black.
Despite the fact that the first film didn’t earn back its budget at the box office (after being shelved for two years as New World Pictures fell on tough times), Sands’ Warlock stood out enough to warrant his return for a sequel, Warlock: The Armageddon, in 1993. He’s the only major player to return—no Miner, no Twohy, no other cast members—in a story that has nothing to do with the events of the previous movie. This time around, the Warlock is reborn to find six stones in six days so that Satan may return to Earth. His plans are interrupted by a young couple (Chris Young and Paula Marshall) descended from Druids who are both killed and resurrected as Druid warriors. It’s just what it sounds like.
Directing duties for Warlock: The Armageddon fell to Anthony Hickox, who brings to the movie what he also brings to his other horror movies like Waxwork and Hellraiser III: a sense of fun and some gnarly practical gore effects. The stuff that really works in Warlock: The Armageddon works because of Sands’ return as the title character and because of Hickox, who goes bigger with the effects (but also sillier) and gives the movie a lot of energy. Unfortunately, it’s not quite enough to combat a screenplay (credited to Kevin Rock) that’s all bogged down in nonsense mythology and characters for whom it’s difficult to care. Even with a romance at its center and two appealing actors in the roles, the second Warlock falls prey to a trap that the first movie managed to avoid: it’s dumb. Yes, it achieves the status of “dumb fun” at times, but mostly it just falls flat. There’s too much plot, too much exposition, too much Druid nonsense. Keeping it simpler would have made for a better film.
But as if to prove that the Warlock franchise really is a case of diminishing returns, along came the direct-to-video Warlock III: The End of Innocence in 1999. Not even Julian Sands returns this time around, instead replaced by Bruce Payne, who fits the bill as far as being blonde and British is concerned, but lacks Sands’ charm and devilish sense of enjoyment in what he does. No slight to Payne, who has been very good in other genre films, but here he feels like so much of the rest of the movie: a pale imitation of what has come before.
In The End of Innocence, the Warlock escapes from some pipes in the form of liquid goo (that’s right) and then comes after a group of friends staying the weekend in a house that’s just been inherited by Kris (Ashley Laurence), who, as luck should have it, descends from witches. The Warlock plans to use her to create a new race of evil, because Warlocks gotta do what Warlocks do.
Perhaps the greatest indication that the franchise had run its course was the slashing of the budget as the series went on; while the first Warlock had a reported budget of $15 million, the third entry cost about $2 million. That’s still a healthy budget by the standards of today’s indie horror, but one can feel the filmmakers having to cut way back on everything from the effects to the scope of the film. The first was a chase film that spanned a number of locations; in this one, it’s a bunch of friends spending the weekend in a single house. The friends all have a single defining characteristic: one’s a druggie, one has dad issues, one’s a would-be witch, one’s into S&M, one’s the girl from Hellraiser. This approach to characterization owes more than a little to the later Nightmare on Elm Street films, in which the characters had basically one trait that would define how they were killed off. The same goes here, only in the case of Warlock III, the characters are mostly unlikable in addition to being thinly sketched. Only Ashley Laurence makes it out okay, giving a good performance that goes beyond coasting on her status as horror royalty jumping from one franchise to another.
The Vestron Video Collector’s Series set of the Warlock Collection presents three movies across two Blu-ray discs, presented in the original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio for the first film and 1.78:1 for the two sequels, with all three in 1080p HD. The transfers are good but never great; they’re bright and clean but overly soft in parts II and III, though never to a degree that ruins the experience. Having all three Warlock movies available on Blu-ray and collected in a single place is a weird sort of milestone for us horror fans, so it’s not going to be me who looks a gift horse in the mouth.
The original Warlock, housed alone on the first disc, contains the majority of the extras. There’s both a commentary and an on-camera interview with Steve Miner, who doesn’t always talk about his work, making his participation here something of a “get.” Also interviewed is author Jeff Bond, who appears on the alternate isolated score track, as well as Julian Sands and makeup effects creators Neal Martz and Carl Fullerton. There’s also a still gallery, nearly 20 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, a trailer, spots for television and the video release, and a couple of archival featurettes that talk to the cast and crew, with a special emphasis on the makeup and visual effects technicians.
Warlock: The Armageddon, which shares space on the second disc with its follow-up, contains a commentary with director Anthony Hickox, five minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, archival interviews, and a making-of featurette, plus a trailer, TV spots, and a still gallery. Finally, there’s Warlock III, which contains the most anemic offering of bonus content: the requisite trailer and still gallery, a short promo for the movie’s video sales, and nearly an hour’s worth of archival behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. This is stuff included only for the most devoted Warlock III fans.
I still think the original Warlock really works for what it is, so it’s nice to see it get the special edition Blu-ray treatment with so many informative and interesting supplements (though some deleted scenes containing the material seen in the trailer but not the finished film might have been nice). If you consider the second two films to be really nice bonus features, you’ll get more than your money’s worth. There’s stuff to like in both of the sequels—some neat effects, Ashley Laurence, and even more Julian Sands—but it’s a case where a horror film might have been better off left alone.
Warlock Movie Score: 3.5/5
Warlock: The Armageddon Movie Score: 2.5/5
Warlock III: The End of Innocence Movie Score: 2/5
Warlock Collection Disc Score: 3.5/5