Deep Dive: The WARLOCK Trilogy
This whole idea of a Deep Dive column intrigued me from day one. While considering my options for a column of this magnitude, I realized I've never watched a single frame of the Warlock trilogy. That was surprising, as I watched so much 90's horror as a film school dropout, I may have legally qualified as a full-blown horror deviant. I know more about the Wishmaster series than I do about the Warlock franchise. And frankly, I don’t even know that much about the Wishmaster series. Seems wrong. So I strapped on my Speedo, blond ponytail and sparkly earring and took a Deep Dive into the Warlock trilogy.
Note: For those who haven't watched the trilogy, this piece is spoiler heavy.
The first thing worth mentioning about Warlock is that it’s got a pedigree that’s majestic as balls. It's written by young screenwriter D.T. Twohy, hot off of Critters 2, later known as David Twohy who wrote the entire Riddick trilogy. It's directed by Steve Miner, who helmed Friday the 13th parts 2 and 3, House, and Halloween H20. (He also directed Private Valentine: Blond & Dangerous, starring Jessica Simpson, for those Miner completists out there). In short, we've got a writer/director duo that knows how to make a movie. And oh boy, do they make a goddamn movie.
The action starts with the Warlock (Julian Sands) about to be executed by a bunch of Puritans back in olden times. He's locked in thumbscrews on a medieval set that looks like it was swiped from Highlander on wrap day. But before his execution can happen, Satan turns the Warlock into a teeny-tiny tornado and whisks him to 1989. (I am not making any of this up.)
Enter Kassandra (Lori Singer, light years beyond dancing her ass off in Footloose), our female protagonist, who is inexplicably a diabetic. She's with a guy named Chaz (!?), a chill dude who favors light blue terry-cloth bathrobes. Within minutes of his introduction, Chaz gets his fingers chopped off and his tongue chewed out by the Warlock in a strangely homoerotic scene.
At this point it's worth noting that Julian Sands isn't all that intimidating as the Warlock. Ignoring the previously mentioned finger chopping and tongue chewing, his primary forms of intimidation are mad-dog stares and parting beaded curtains in a way that's semi-menacing. Sure, he sometimes does fiery stuff with his hands, but not even Julian Sands' ponytail and earring can make the cruddy special effects happen. And contrary to my expectations, he's not in the movie all that much. Anyway, it turns out the Warlock is on a quest to retrieve the three pieces of the Grand Grimoire, an ancient tome considered the 'Bible of Black Magic' that will reveal the true name of God, which will 'reset creation' or something. The Warlock's attempts are thwarted by a fur-clad, whip-cracking witch hunter Redferne (Richard E. Grant, Spiceworld), who teams up with Kassandra in an attempt to stop the Warlock.
The Warlock has stolen some eyeballs to see things (didn't really understand that) and Redferne and Kassandra get the Amish involved in their quest (didn't really understand that either). Eventually Kassandra tracks the Warlock to a train, where she does some crazy voodoo hammer and nail stuff to the impressions he left in the sand, which makes him hurt a lot. The Warlock manages to abscond via train car, but not before Kassandra smashes his arm with a hammer a bunch of times. Oh shit! I forgot to mention that Kassandra gets cursed, so she ages 20 years a day or something, and her hair is completed dye-fried from scene to scene. There really is a fuckton going on in this movie. And it's all legit amazing.
Worth mentioning, for most of the movie Redferne is carrying around this enormous steel compass/weathervane that he intends to use as a weapon against the Warlock. (Enjoy the brief moment of 90s levity as he attempts to take it on an airplane.) But when his final confrontation actually occurs, Redferne just throws a reckless series of haymaker punches, which I didn't realize was an effective defense against a Warlock, but all right. The Warlock cheats by using come silly-ass fire magic, but Kassandra and Redferne mash his face into burny consecrated dirt. Warlock's also hate salt, by the way, so Kassandra puts the final nail in the coffin by injecting the Warlock's neck with salt water (Oh! That's why she's a diabetic! Foreshadowing the syringes!) In an admittedly fantastic death scene, the Warlock's veins bulge, a few random fireworks explode on his face, and he lights on fire. Pretty great.
Then the movie turns all bummer cause Redferne is actually dead and buried, he's been a sort of time-travelling ghost all this time, and he briefly considers making out with Lori Singer, but then he turns into a teeny-tiny tornado and breezes back to his grave before they can throw any tongue. Super depressing.
WARLOCK II: THE ARMAGEDDON
While the original Warlock was released globally in 1989, due to financial issues with New World Pictures, it wasn’t released in the U.S. until 1991. Trimark bought the U.S. distribution rights (that’s right, I said Trimark, bitches! Doesn’t that make you want to have a slumber party?) and dumped it into a couple hundred theaters in January of 1991. It made $9 million in the U.S. on a $15 million budget, which somehow warranted a sequel.
Getting cocky after a perceived success, Trimark released Warlock II: The Armageddon into 1300 theaters in 1993, which makes sense, since it’s even more batshit crazy fun than the original. Seriously, we’ve got some Trimark VHS gold on our hands. Stick with me here, cause we’re going down the rabbit hole.
While the talent associated with Warlock is tangible, Warlock II’s pedigree is decidedly dubious. It’s directed by Anthony Hickox (Waxwork, Hellraiser III….okay) and written by Kevin Rock (1994’s Fantastic Four, Howling VI: The Freaks….not so okay). But hey, let’s all reserve judgment until we wade through this maze of madness.
Once again, the action starts in olden times, as a bunch of bearded dudes use a handful of gem stones to conduct a ritual on a white-eyed possessed lady. A posse of torch-bearers roll into the action, there are a series of arrows to the throat, and the stones are stolen. Sudden smash cut to a high school stage play in present day (1993?) where we’re introduced to our protagonist, Kenny (Chris Young, renowned for playing a cadre of various wimps in 90's cinema), a comic book/chess nerd who is jonesing hard for classmate Samantha. And for the record, I will no longer mention the Kenny/Samantha romantic subplot, because it is boring as fuck, and if I force myself to write about it in detail, I will fall asleep.
After the extremely awkward drama club scene, we move onto a couple of pretty ladies getting ready for a party. Oops, looks like one of the ladies has one of the sacred stones from the prologue, wearing it as a necklace. As she’s gazing out the window, a lunar eclipse happens, and she inexplicably gets blown back onto a table of broken glass (not cool) before, I guess, the lunar eclipse rapes and impregnates her? (Even less cool.) Within moments a slug creature the size of a toaster oven bursts from, I think, her vagina. Sort of inconclusive there.
After the slug creature takes out a Pomeranian (more on that later), it suddenly cracks open all juicy-like, and a full-sized Julian Sands emerges from the slug, buck naked, hanging dong, and fairly slimy. Ditching his trademark ponytail for an admittedly pretty cute pageboy cut, the Warlock is ready to rock 1993, you sons of bitches. At first the Warlock is initially affectionate towards the ‘mom’ who birthed him as a toaster slug, but then he suddenly turns on her, lights her on fire, then cuts her stomach skin off to use as a magic tummy gem stone map. (I’m not making any of this up.)
Real quick, let’s get back to that boring-as-fuck chess nerd, Kenny, whose dad is acting all mysterious. Turns out his Dad is one of a triad of druids in town destined to prevent the Warlock from causing Armageddon. Apparently during the six days between the current lunar eclipse and the upcoming solar eclipse, God is benched, and Lucifer and his Warlocks can just go balls out, throwing around Armageddons all willy-nilly.
Druid Dad informs Kenny that his wuss of a son is, in fact, a ‘druid warrior’, and if you think a training montage involving godawful special effects and a floating baseball isn’t going to happen now, you would be highly mistaken. Druid Dad has to shoot him with a shotgun and bring him back to life with glittery syrup before he can hit druid warrior status, but that’s a story for another day. Later on, Kenny the mouth-breathing chess-loving druid warrior learns how to flip manhole covers to stop bad guys, which is super cool. I mean, what a warrior.
Meanwhile, the Warlock is cruising around the movie, killing various people to collect the stones. There is a lot of loving attention paid to the kill scenes, and most of them are pretty sweet, especially for 1993. Let’s take a brief moment to discuss my favorite Warlock II kill scenes, in order:
While trying to recover a stone from a carnival, the Warlock is recognized by a midget carny psychic. He picks her up and chucks her into a super-spiky iron maiden. Don’t know why a carnival has an actual metal-spiked iron maiden laying around, seems like sort of a liability, but whatever. It’s hilarious.
After the slug creature slithers out of that previously mentioned vag, it’s approached by the woman’s adorable Pomeranian. After the dog gives a few affectionate licks, the slug creature grabs it with a slimy tail, crunches its neck, then slams it around it a bunch. I am a dog lover, but I have to say, this scene is also hilarious.
The Warlock picks up a hitchhiking prostie, then rips all of her hair off her head in one enormous land grab. After booting her out of his whip, he rubs her bloody scalp all over his tummy skin gem stone map in order to reinvigorate its powers of cartography or something. (Seriously, what the fuck?)
The Warlock crashes a fashion show in an attempt to retrieve one of the stones from a snooty fashion designer who has decided to convert it into a stupid-looking earring. Upfront as always, the Warlock tells her that he is, in fact, a warlock, and suddenly, inexplicably aroused, she demands proof of his power before giving up the stone. He takes her onto the roof and shows her how to fly, but mere seconds before they start a duet of ‘A Whole New World’, he drops her through the skylight, her glass-riddled body smashes onto the runway of the fashion show, and any America’s Next Top Model in the immediate vicinity is sprayed with a geyser of blood. It’s a pretty subversive commentary on classism and how it relates to—eh, never mind, it was just fucking rad.
Not technically a kill scene, but while pursuing a molestery-looking carny through a bunch of funhouse mirrors, the Warlock lures him into a mirror that traps the carny in a vaguely creepy netherworld full of hanging corpses and...elevated trains? So elevated trains are a thing in hell? Never taught that in Sunday School, and seriously questioning my teachers right now.
I apologize for the digression. Maybe I dove a little too deep there. Let’s move on.
In sort of a dick move, the Warlock blows up Druid Dad’s bookstore, sending Kenny flying through the air like a chess nerd, impaling him on a steel pipe. After being healed by Druid Dad, Kenny has to find another druid warrior to combine forces to fight the Warlock. Kenny’s druid powers can’t even light a goddamn barbecue, and only another druid warrior….ah, shit.. yeah…I forgot. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to mention his girlfriend Samantha again (yawn), but yeah, spoiler alert, she’s the other druid warrior. I’m not even going to mention the slo-mo make-out sesh with autumn leaves falling all around them. I am not going to do that.
Samantha absconds with the final stone and burns off on a motorbike (was it ever established that she can even ride?) while the Warlock flies off in 1990s green-screen pursuit. A brief battle ensues between Samantha and the Warlock until the Warlock uses some truck magic to strap Samantha to the hood of a truck with various engine hoses. Way stoked that he has all the stones and the solar eclipse is finally going down, the Warlock shakes the stones like a handful of craps dice before giving them an expert toss and screaming, ‘Welcome my lord!’ Kenny briefly shows up to save the day, but the Warlock uses botany magic to promptly vine-strap him to a tree like a druid chess nerd mental patient.
The Warlock completes his ritual with the stones over an altar, and a big glowy Satan emerges. Whoa, this seems big time, right? We’ve got the Warlock, we’ve got Lucifer himself, this is definitely heading south to Armageddonville. But then out of nowhere Samantha uses her druid powers to turn on the truck’s headlights, and both bad guys are vanquished. So wait, light worked this whole time? I thought it was all haymaker punches and head butts. Whatever, okay, I’ll go with it.
Suddenly it’s morning and the Warlock is still alive, now flaunting a dagger made with steel from the holy grail (?). Kenny and the Warlock engage in a mental dagger fight until a truck-hose-strapped Samantha is able to get her shit together enough to help out. Combining her weak sauce druid powers with Kenny’s, they drive the dagger into the Warlock’s collar bone, he spurts black blood out of his mouth and melts down to a skeleton in the most awesome way imaginable.
Warlock II: The Armageddon doesn’t end with an Armageddon. Disappointing? Perhaps. But it does end with a skeletal hand reaching up from the dirt to grab the last stone. That’s something. After pulling in a disappointing $4 million at the box office, Trimark decided, well, hell, it’s the 90s, let’s put this franchise on a straight-to-video train and see if it leaves the station.
WARLOCK III: THE END OF INNOCENCE
1999 was the year DVD truly started to encroach on our country’s collective VHS rental territory. I remember that ridiculous DVD rental rack all up in my face with its surplus copies of Stepmom and Patch Adams. I wanted to circle the wagons around the VHS horror section and burn the whole DVD rack to the ground. At the same time, straight-to-video VHS rentals were booming, especially in the horror genre. With Blockbuster setting aside shelf space for these low-budget treasures (the result of collusion with distributors to take out smaller video rental businesses, but that’s a whole ‘nother story), 1999 was the year you could release a movie straight-to-video loud and proud.
In Warlock III: The End of Innocence (not to be confused with the Don Henley song, which is regrettably not featured on the soundtrack), we get a casting reboot with Brit journeyman actor Bruce Payne replacing the sultry but ineffective Julian Sands as the Warlock, who was likely too busy getting a Brazilian blowout to be bothered with another sequel. And again the movie insists on beginning in olden times; 1673 to be precise. A mother and little daughter named Kris are fleeing…something?...through the woods, and the daughter disappears. Prologue over. Vague, but all right. I guess I can handle a few flashbacks.
We jump to present day Somerville College and our female protagonist, a college student also named Kris (hey, kids, it’s Kristy Cotton from the Hellraiser series!) living in what looks like a cement-walled bomb shelter commissioned from the US government and converted into dorms, Kris spends most of her time wearing a beret and enduring obnoxious jump scares from her boyfriend, Michael. A quick, semi-stylish scan of the rooms reveals our cast of characters. We start with a melancholy dude playing acoustic guitar all alone in his room, then we move on to a topless woman slapping around a naked tattooed guy strapped to a chair, and then—whoa, hold on, let’s pump the brakes here…this is a college dorm?...why is there decidedly experienced BDSM taking place? Between characters who appear deep into their 30s? Wow, okay. Finally, we have a lonely self-absorbed Wiccan-type, playing with a tarot deck all by her lonesome and being all emo and shit. Yep, this is our Warlock kill fodder. Place your bets, people.
Kris gets one of those inevitable cold calls from a random historian, informing her that a house that’s been in her family for generations is about to be demolished, and she’s invited to remove any belongings from the residence. As Kris makes the drive, we cut to a plumber visiting the old house to fix some frozen pipes. When nobody answers the front door, he decides the best alternative is to climb a ladder and break in through a third story window (I read online this is a very common practice amongst suburban plumbers). But then the window blows out a bunch of glass, he flies off the ladder, and thump!, first kill scene. Was this innocent plumber’s death unnecessarily shoehorned into the narrative to keep the ‘action’ going? Not my place to speculate.
We cruise back to 1673 for another flashback, and I have to be straight up, the movie starts to lose me here. The Warlock has the little daughter Kris in a kidnapper sleeper hold, the mom is freaking out, but then the girl gets turned into a doll? I think. Is little daughter Kris supposed to be college girl hottie Kris? I did the math using 1673 as a base year, it didn’t really work out. Is she the doll now? Man, I was so lost. I don’t really want to talk about flashbacks anymore.
In the present day of 1999, Kris shows up at her ancestral estate and is faced with an interior set that looks like it was discarded from Dark Shadows back in 1970. Warlock III claims to be shot ‘on location’ in Ireland, but unless the ‘location’ was a set designed and painted by an Irish high school drama club, I’m not quite buying it.
Kris’ first night is filled with weird mirror stuff and loud banging noises. Fed up with all the creepiness, she attempts to flee out the front door, but, jump scare!, it’s just her stupid boyfriend Michael again. He bursts into the vestibule, bringing the entire dorm herd with him to ‘support her and study’ (presumably for the AARP entrance exam). If you think a house cleaning montage involving a CD being plugged into a boombox, culinary supplies being unboxed, and characters blowing dust off stuff isn’t going to happen now, you would be highly mistaken. This strangely inspiring montage is wrapped up with the middle-aged dormmates sitting on the stairs, casually sipping beers like the cast of Friends. Then uh-oh, Mr. Butterfield the Historian shows up and freaks everybody out telling a bunch of stories about the previous owner, who was way into ritual sacrifice. It’s mildly foreboding, but I can tell you this: Mr. Butterfield can’t tell a story for shit.
We’re into the second act before the Warlock finally shows up in the present day, and even then, he merely adopts a prayer pose and watches some ladies sleep. Not even as menacing as boyfriend Michael’s jump scares. And then…ah, yeah, dammit, another flashback. Really wanted to skip these, but I guess I’m pot committed at this point. So we’re back in 1673, mom swipes her doll daughter, books it out of the Warlock’s Hostel 4 kill chamber, and then bricks him into the underground room using boulders and some hand-smeared mortar she apparently MacGuyvered on the fly.
Back to present day (thank Christ), with the Warlock showing up on the doorstep of the mansion, posing as an architect in a full-on George Costanza move. With a storm raging outside, Kris invites the Warlock architect to stay the night, despite Mr. Butterfield the Historian throwing some serious shade. The Warlock manages to corner Mr. Butterfield and demand some ‘letters’ (I swear this is the first I’ve heard of this ‘letters’ plot point) before using some bow tie magic to choke out the Historian. But after a mere few seconds of bow tie choking, the Warlock simply tears Mr. Butterfield’s throat out with his bare hand, Road House-style. Feels like he could have led with the throat ripping. Maybe wasted some bow tie magic there.
What follows is a do-si-do of silly Satanic seduction as the Warlock tries to turn the secluded dormmates against each other. He manufactures crushes and conflicts, tries to collect items from all the dormmates for a ritual, and turns melancholy acoustic guitar guy, Jerry, into his own personal Renfield. Yeah, there’s an unintentionally funny scene with boyfriend Michael getting it on with Kris, squeezing her boobies like he’s working the day shift at Orange Julius, only to reveal that he’s the Warlock! And it’s all a dream! But other than that, the middle act is boring as hell. Mr. Butterfield getting his throat ripped out was pretty dope, what have you done for me lately, Warlock III?
Things start getting good once the emo tarot card girl decides she’s not buying the Warlock’s whole ‘menacing but boring architect’ façade and starts to warn the others. As revenge, the Warlock uses magic to freeze her into a cruelly unattractive pose before shattering her with an Eiffel Tower replica. Might have been a bowling trophy. Unimportant. Meanwhile, the two BDSM dormmates head to the basement to have a pervy sex party with some of the dungeon torture equipment, but the Warlock walks in on them like an angry father. After confessing to Kris that he needs her blood for his ritual, the Warlock shows her his fiery torture room with her BDSM friends hanging from pectoral hooks like a Satanic Sun Dance ceremony. It’s bad ass.
Kris finds a hammer and tries to escape by busting through one of the faux-stone walls, while the Warlock tosses acoustic guitar Jerry off a flight of stairs just for being nice. It’s not a good move for his character arc, really. After a brief Enya montage of Kris sprinting away down the wooded driveway, the Warlock traps her with some gate magic. She tries going after the Warlock with her trusty hammer, but come on. Boyfriend Michael pops up for an impromptu rescue attempt, only to lose a hand and get lit on fire. (Moral of the Warlock series: Don’t try to save your girlfriend from the Warlock. Just let it go.)
The Warlock takes Kris back to his kill room along with acoustic guitar Jerry. He cuts an altar-strapped Kris with his shiny knife and licks the blade, saying, ‘You’ll return as the bride of Lucifer himself. And Kris…he’ll never let you down.’ Bringing up Kris’s daddy issues doesn’t seem necessary at this point, but as he brings the knife down for the final sacrifice, she pulls out some well-timed Green Beret shit and is cut loose! What follows is perhaps the most anti-climactic torch fight in the history of cinema. Let’s not get into it.
Kris squeezes through that lazy rock-and-mortar job from 1673 to grab…the doll? Is this a big deal suddenly? I have no idea. She uses the doll to chest-shove the Warlock into a big vat of mud, then smashes him in the head with a log (didn’t see a firewood stockpile in the Warlock kill room, but hey, we’re at the climax here). The Warlock is understandably pissed, what with the mud and log smack and everything, screaming ‘You don’t have the power!’ Kris tries to get all stabby with one of the Warlock’s shiny knives, but it’s just not happening, and he proclaims, ‘You think you can defeat me with my own weapons?’ and then out of nowhere, and I mean nowhere, she cuts open the doll to reveal a tiny dagger, bellows, ‘No, mine!’, defiant as hell, and kills the Warlock with it. Stabs and kills him, just like that. Easy-peasy. He does briefly turn into a glow-in-the-dark goat man, which is pretty cool, but still…there was an anti-Warlock knife hidden in the guts of this stupid doll the whole goddamn time? Boy, I need a flowchart to keep track of all this bullshit. The Warlock mythology runs deep, you guys. So very deep.
Sadly, there’s not much more to discuss. And I’m exhausted. I’ve been haunted by Warlock dreams all week, ponytails and late-century green screen dancing through my head like visions of sugar plums. Just as Kris trudges down the trail at the end of Warlock III, leaving the mansion behind, I must trudge down a trail of my own, and leave this wonderful franchise behind. As Julian Sands’s sage Warlock once stated: ‘Tout, tout, through and about, your callow life in dismay. Rentum, Osculum, Tormentum, a decade twice over a day.’ Words to live by, my friends. Whatever the hell they mean, words to live by.