As I said in my latest Chills and Thrills, Wishmaster surprised me with how much it drew me in. Now it isn’t up there with the greats for sure, but it is a nice low budget horror flick you can enjoy.
At the start of Wishmaster, we meet the Djinn who is terrorizing a local kingdom in Persia. It is revealed by a sorcerer that if a third wish is granted, it will open the doorway between worlds, allowing the race of evil Djinn to walk on Earth. The Djinn is trapped by the sorcerer within a fire opal, where it stays dormant for thousands of years. In present day, an antique seller is supervising the unloading of a box which contains an ancient statue, when it is dropped by the crane operator. The statue is broken, revealing the fire opal, which a dockworker proceeds to steal and pawn. It ends up in the hands of Alexandria, who works as an appraiser at Regal Auctioneers. She becomes unwittingly linked with the Djinn, who ends up escaping his imprisonment to wreak havoc on the world. His link to Alexandria burdens her with torturous visions of his evil deeds, which she tries to escape from. But he pursues her, so he can force her to grant the 3 wishes to complete his mission.
Now this film was produced by the horror legend, Wes Craven – and was panned at the time of its release. Having his name attached to Wishmaster probably wasn’t beneficial to the film, as it set up high expectations after the success of the Scream movie. But I would argue that it is an underappreciated horror gem, that unfortunately got overshadowed in the late nineties’ revival of horror. Considering Wes Craven is only the producer who had no involvement on Wishmaster’s story or direction, it is odd that it is treated as a Wes Craven product. This is why audiences should really ignore the names of those who present films, as apart from giving brand recognition, it has little to do with the finished product.
Wishmaster features a genie as an evil entity which is a new and refreshing take, that gives us a less common horror experience. Now the Djinn is not just able to cast his havoc whenever he wishes, he needs people to actually wish for something before he can do anything. But like all wishes, unless you word it very specifically, you will be shocked with what you get. This often leads to terrors, violence and death. No one believes in the Djinn so when he tempts them with promises, it seems like a harmless gesture that they end up paying the ultimate price for. This I think they managed to do in clever ways and unlike the later films in the Wishmaster franchise, they keep true to this rule throughout.
Now you will see a lot of nods to other horror films, featuring actors from other franchises such as Tony Todd (from Candyman) and Robert Englund (from A Nightmare on Elm Street). However, they are the side characters in this story, Wishmaster excels on the performances from Tammy Lauren and Andrew Divoff. Divoff offers such a devilishly delightful performance as the evil Djinn, that I almost wanted the Djinn to succeed. But as I mentioned in my monthly wrap-up, I wished that he had used his human appearance for a bit longer, as the Djinn went to great lengths to attain it. Also, I may be in the minority, but I found his human form to be a lot more sinister. That perhaps is because even though we get the great makeup effects of the Djinn, Divoff isn’t able to fully emote in it.
Lauren kinda reminds me of Linda Hamilton in the Terminator films. Just like Sarah Connor, no one believes her and it is only up to her to stop the Djinn’s evil plans. It was a nice change, she did not run screaming from the Djinn, but stood up to him as well as she could. She wasn’t some helpless victim, she took any actionable steps to stop the madness. But unfortunately, there was only one way to defeat the Djinn in Wishmaster. No one, including a mythology expert or the police could stop the final showdown from happening.
Onto the main event which is the special effects. The effects are accomplished to good effect, providing us with some disturbing and terrifying imagery. You get a taste of this when they are in the past, as the kingdom is full of disturbing monsters or humans transformed into grotesque forms. This is probably due to the director Robert Kurtzman, whose majority of work is in makeup and special effects in a large portion of horror fans’ favourites, such as Predator, From Dusk Till Dawn and the more recent The Haunting of Hill House. You get an abundance of body horror in Wishmaster and it really shines in this film.
Perhaps I am a bit of an old-fashioned movie viewer, but I like the older special effects that do not rely on CGI as strongly. It comes across as more realistic, as even with perfect CGI there is just something unnatural about it to the human eye. Obviously this wasn’t a purposeful choice, as CGI hadn’t been fully fleshed out in 1997, but I think it’s a testament to the older way of doing things. It is just a shame that the rest of the Wishmaster franchise is not worth watching, as both the director and writer of the original are not involved in the production, and it suffers for it.
The ending for me was perfect for this film. It was the ultimate ending to the cat and mouse game that they had been playing from the start. It didn’t involve some magical new power, ability or knowledge that Alexandria obtained out of thin air, which is a massive pet peeve for me. But just using her wits and knowledge to escape his evil clutches and save the world from damnation.
Wishmaster is a fun body horror film that has an old world charm about it. But I definitely don’t think it would have been as enjoyable if it wasn’t for the mesmerizing performance of Andrew Divoff, who excels in his portrayal of a sinister genie. Yes, the dialogue is cheesy at times, but I think that it excelled by not taking itself too seriously and having a bit of fun.
Wishmaster is currently streaming on Netflix. You can also find its 3 sequels available to buy or rent on Amazon Prime Video.