Last year, I had the pleasure of sitting down for an in-depth interview with Robert Kurtzman, a horror legend in his own right with decades of SFX and filmmaking experience to his credit. Co-founder of KNB and current head honcho at Robert Kurtzman’s Creature Corps, where he still does FX for projects big and small, it was a true honor to speak to Kurtzman so comprehensively about his career as a make-up FX artist and director. And while many would likely have a fanboy reaction when the conversation turned towards EVIL DEAD 2, BUBBA HO-TEP, or SCREAM, I personally was most excited to talk about a film that is one of my personal favorites in the genre: WISHMASTER.
That’s right, I love WISHMASTER, and I don’t have to tell you why. I don’t have to tell you anything. But not only was WISHMASTER a seminal film during my formative years as a true-blue horror fan, but it’s one I’ve always considered to be criminally underrated. The SFX is incredible. The kills are awesome. It rides the line between fun, freaky, and frightening so very, very well. And yet WISHMASTER has been treated like the black sheep of the horror world, for reasons I’ll never fully comprehend.
So to hear that Vestron Video was not only bringing WISHMASTER to Blu-ray, but the full, 4-film franchise to the high definition format was music to my ears. In fact, it was a bit of a surprise, as I had always assumed that WISHMASTER would eventually make it to Blu-ray, and maybe with EVIL NEVER DIES as a two-pack, but never in a million years would I have assumed that the direct-to-video WISHMASTER: BEYOND THE GATES OF HELL and WISHMASTER: THE PROPHECY FULFILLED would make the cut. Yet here we are, and if you’re a WISHMASTER fanatic, Christmas has come 9 months early.
In many ways, WISHMASTER as a franchise almost feels indicative of horror franchises in general: the first one is a cult classic that’s beloved by many, the second one is a low-budget follow-up with several great concepts but is restricted by its own low-rent nature, the third one loses the franchise star and goes for even cheaper thrills, and the fourth one is barely a reflection of the franchise as it delves into bizarre fantasy territory and ends with a soft-rock credits track. However, part of the charm of the WISHMASTER franchise is that even as the budgets decline from film to film, the franchise itself has never waned on insanity, eventually embracing the camp factors in a big, bold way. WISHMASTER has always been a high-concept, supernaturally-leaning horror franchise, but by the time THE PROPHECY FULFILLED rolls around, you’ve got death-by-orgasm, full-on sword fighting scenes, and the Djinn getting stumped by the concept of love as if he’s a computer in a bad ‘70s sci-fi flick. Absurd? Sure. Hilarious? Yes. Enjoyable? YOU BET IT IS.
Even if you’re a bit shakier with the later WISHMASTER sequels, the first two, headlined by Andrew Divoff in a performance that is undeniably superb, should still be strong enough to get fans to pick up this box set. After all, the new HD transfers plus the quality of the films should be enough to satisfy horror nerds, and knowing that Vestron Video gave HD transfers for the other WISHMASTER films is reassuring. But if you’ve never seen a WISHMASTER film, and I know there’s some of you out there, and you’re concerned about being disappointed by this set after dropping down the dollars to pick it up, let me put your mind at ease and tell you that Vestron has gone above and beyond to give you the definitive WISHMASTER box set.
First off, WISHMASTER has never looked better, and while the source material for some of the optically-enhanced scenes doesn’t quite leap off the screen, the practical FX moments are gore-geous. You’ll absolutely appreciate the level of artistry in the FX in a way that you absolutely did not before; in fact, during several sequences, I wonder aloud if this was an alternate cut of the film as some gore moments lasted longer and looked better than I remembered. Beyond that, the film holds up terrifically, with the all-star roster of horror icons all getting their chance to shine, including Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, Ted Raimi, Ricco Ross, George “Buck” Flower, Reggie Bannister, and Joseph Pilato. And the disc for WISHMASTER is shockingly stacked: there’s two audio commentaries (one with Kurtzman and screenwriter Peter Atkins, the other with Kurtzman, Divoff, and star Tammy Lauren), an isolated score, six featurettes, behind-the-scenes footage, trailers and more.
Onto WISHMASTER: EVIL NEVER DIES, the film looks absolutely wonderful, and even with the obvious downgrade of production value, it’s still a lot of fun. It’s certainly a weirder follow-up with inspired ideas throughout, especially the fact that half the movie is basically a prison film with an evil genie. Sadly, the film’s biggest name is the returning Divoff, with recognizable character actors such as Robert LaSardo, Bokeem Woodbine, and Tiny Lister making the grade, and the FX (handled by future SHARKNADO filmmaker Anthony Ferrante) are strong but pale in comparison to those from the original. That said, Divoff’s performance alone is worth a watch, and the audio commentary from writer/director Jack Sholder (of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 fame) is a fun listen as well.
The third disc has both BEYOND THE GATES OF HELL and THE PROPHECY FULFILLED and a surprising amount of special features to go with them. Perhaps the biggest shock of this set is that not only did Vestron gives these films an upgrade to 1080p, but they both look absolutely phenomenal. Even with shoestring budgets, these films look sharp and clear, and that certainly goes a long way in keeping things weird and fun. For the third outing, Divoff steps out of the Djinn role for John Novak and Jason Connery (son of Sean and future director of his own horror EXPENDABLES, THE DEVIL’S TOMB), and directorial duties go to Chris Angel, who does a pretty stand-up job based on the material (bizarre worldbuilding is the name of the game here) and the obstacles of microbudget filmmaking.
Lastly, THE PROPHECY FULFILLED also looks as best as it can, even though the real charm of this flick is how supremely weird it is. Basically rewriting the mythology from scratch, THE PROPHECY FULFILLED is a surprisingly good time if you’re willing to roll with it, and even the special features on the disc know that this is not necessarily A-grade WISHMASTER, as evident by the tongue-in-cheek featurette “Wishmasterpiece Theater” (a highly recommended watch). In fact, one wouldn’t be surprised if the producers were partly hoping people would think it’s as much a PROPHECY film as it is a WISHMASTER film, but nevertheless, there’s still more affection had for this penny-pinching sequel than most quadrilogies offer, with two different commentaries, trailers, and the aforementioned featurette.
Basically, the odds were very much in Vestron’s favor with this set: if you love WISHMASTER, you’ll love this set, and if you haven’t seen any of the films, there’s no better place to start than here, in picture-perfect high definition. It’s a great set for horror Blu-ray collectors with the numerous special features for all four flicks, and Vestron continues to prove that they’re still strong enough to go to bat with boutique big hitters like Scream Factory and Arrow Video. And if you’re one of the people who doesn’t like WISHMASTER, I don’t understand you and I’m not going to try. At the end of the day, Vestron had to try really hard to either disappoint or genuinely impress this WISHMASTER worshipper, and they definitely landed on the latter, so if you’re looking for the best presentation of this fright franchise available, your wish is Vestron Video’s command.