Sunday, January 1, 2017

Cast a Deadly Spell

   A movie nerd like me couldn't think of a better way to usher in the new year, than by watching an little-known movie like this that turns out to be a total treat. Cast a Deadly Spell has too good of a pedigree to stay in obscurity forever. To date I know of no official DVD release, to say nothing of a Blu Ray, but apparently you can stream it on Amazon. It stars Fred Ward (Tremors), Julianne Moore, Clancy Brown, and David freakin' Warner. The icing on the cake? It's produced by Gale Anne Hurd and directed by Martin Campbell. Hot damn.

   The movie is set in the Los Angeles of an alternate and fantastical 1948. See, everyone uses magic in this alternate timeline. It's become commonplace. Our hero is one private eye by the name of Harry Phillip Lovecraft, played by Fred Ward- and he's the one guy who doesn't use magic. At all. No runes, charms, spells, nothing at all. He gets hired by a creepy rich guy to retrieve a book that someone stole from him... the Necronomicon! You see how great this is already? This is fantastic. Nobody banks on ideas like this anymore. This is a movie that's a treat for fans of 40's detective noir cinema, and fans of classic horror literature.

    But what really makes this movie fun, is all the little touches. Remember, magic is commonplace in this world, and the movie never lets us forget that. A baggage handler at the train station levitates a slew of suitcases across the screen, a bartender pours a martini into a floating glass, a man lights his cigarette with fire from his hand, and this is just a few examples. Cast a Deadly Spell feels like a detective story set in the Harry Potter world. The blend of witchcraft, magic and classic noir aesthetics make the movie incredibly unique.

   Vampires, wolfmen, zombies, gargoyles, gremlins and more- Cast a Deadly Spell makes sure you get your money's worth of craziness and practical effects. I was pleasantly surprised at how competent and visually exciting the special effects were. In 1991, this could've easily gone to theaters. It feels a lot like Highway to Hell or Dead Heat, but it's retro setting sets it apart all the same. Fred Ward seems completely at home in the role of Lovecraft, and he's a real delight to watch. The whole movie is fairly tongue in cheek, and Ward plays to that effectively. Clancy Brown and Julianne Moore seem to be in on the gag, hamming their parts up as much as possible and it's a lot of fun.

   The movie just feels like a zany paperback novel from the 50's you'd unearth in a dusty used bookstore. The deadpan sense of humor in the movie makes it all the sweeter. Lovecraft is rarely phased by anything, and he'll be damned if he lets a little magic get under his skin. The plot eventually leans more towards it's fantasy/horror roots as it barrels towards the climax, and it's a wise choice. Playing things downward, more towards the noir roots, would've felt underwhelming against everything that came before it. Overall, there's a lot to love in this movie, and not any drawbacks I can think of offhand.

   If you got 90 minutes to waste, and you feel like having fun- Cast a Deadly Spell is definitely one to check out. It's colorful, fast paced, energetic, and full of cinematic and literary references that any nerd could appreciate. Fully recommended!

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