Wishmaster

Wes Craven may be a fine horror director, but that doesn’t mean he has good taste in the movies he “presents.” Craven’s name is splattered all over the ads for Wishmaster, which he executive-produced while shooting Scream 2. I hope his supervisory chores on Wishmaster didn’t distract him too much from directing his own movie. Evidently they didn’t, because Craven’s touch is nowhere to be found in this tired cheesefest.

The movie is your typical mystical slasher flick in the tradition of Hellraiser — unsurprisingly, screenwriter Peter Atkins worked on three of the Hellraiser sequels. An evil djinn (genie), released from an ancient gem, goes around telling people to wish for anything they want. Predictably, their wishes backfire horribly. A guy wishes for a million dollars; cut to his mother signing a million-dollar insurance policy before boarding a plane; cut to the plane blowing up. And so on. Snore. If played as satire, this could work, but it isn’t and it doesn’t. And the be-careful-what-you-wish-for premise has been done to death and beyond in better horror stories, from “The Monkey’s Paw” to Pet Sematary.

Wishmaster was directed by Robert Kurtzman, better known (to horror nerds like me) as one-third of the special-effects make-up team Kurtzman, Nicotero, and Berger. These guys, who started out on FX master Tom Savini’s crew, have done imaginative work for movies ranging from Jason Goes to Hell to Reservoir Dogs, and some of their creations here are impressively twisted. But just as Spawn — directed by a former CGI whiz — was a demo tape for CGI, so Wishmaster is a portfolio of latex monsters and gory corpses. Generally speaking, tech guys shouldn’t be allowed behind a camera, because as directors they focus on their specialty and let the rest of the movie go to hell; if Kurtzman were a hair stylist, the movie would be called Wigmaster.

The heroine, the improbably named Alexandra Amberson (Tammy Lauren), is some sort of antiques expert; she also coaches girls’ basketball (huh?) and feels guilty about her parents’ death in a fire. Hearing this, I sighed and sank into my seat. People in horror films are always haunted by guilt or past traumas; it’s in the rulebook. The way Wishmaster supplies this information is wonderful: “Oh, by the way, her folks got crisped and she never got over it. And now — girls playing basketball.” Anyway, Alexandra is stalked by the Wishmaster (Andrew Divoff), who wants her to make three wishes. “I wish I could act” apparently never occurs to her.

Die-hard genre fans may be tempted to endure Wishmaster to see the cameos by horror stars. The film features Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), Kane Hodder (Jason in the last few Friday the 13ths), Tony Todd (Candyman), Reggie Bannister and the voice of Angus Scrimm (both from the Phantasm series). But if, like me, you’re such a shameless horror geek that you actually know who Reggie Bannister is, you’ll know he’s thrown away here, as is everyone else. It’s good that Dimension Films (a branch of Miramax) is committed to horror films, and I like the idea of Wes Craven supporting the work of new directors. But if you put Wes Craven’s name on a dog turd, that doesn’t make it a croissant. Wishmaster is a lazy slap in the face to horror fans, who expect and deserve better from the man who directed Scream and the studio that released it.

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