DIRECTED BY: Jack Sholder
FEATURING: Andrew Divoff, Holly Fields, Chris Weber
PLOT: In a direct-to-video sequel (the first of three) an ancient evil genie (djinn) breaks free of his prison again, tries to conquer Earth with his rule-bound goal of unleashing all djinn onto humanity again, and gets shut down by a panicked, but barely resourceful, female protagonist again.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a color-by-numbers horror flick intended to thrill, but not challenge, lite-beer-chugging mall rats. It is so shrink-wrapped and pre-fabbed that if it were a microwavable meal the ingredients would begin with “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.” Someday, the imaginative horror factory that is the enterprise may demand our attention on the List. But it is not this day, and this is certainly not the movie.
COMMENTS: The whole Wishmaster franchise is the kind of premise that a first-year creative writing student at community college would pounce on with joy, and an experienced fantasy writer would know not to touch with a ten-foot-pole. An evil genie (djinn—gesundheit!) is unleashed on the world with the power to grant humans wishes, but subject to his own malicious interpretations of the wording. Besides a few exceptions (he can’t destroy himself, or re-arrange the fabric of space-time), he has unlimited powers. Think of the potential! And that’s exactly the problem with these kinds of premises: no matter what you do to actualize that potential, it will never live up to what you COULD have done. It’s like having God as a character in your story: whatever the payoff, God ends up being a wimpy letdown, unless you play it for laughs with a lampshade upon this very limitation. Moral of the story: don’t bite off more than you can chew, i.e., by adding God, or nearly God-like, antagonists.
But since when did more ambition than capability ever slow franchise originator Wes Craven down? So, djinn are a race of evil angels starting from the dawn of creation, and the boss djinn, when freed, has the goal of unleashing all his kind to rule humanity. The catch is, to do so he has to grant three wishes for the unlucky human who releases him from his bottle/lamp/(or in this case) ruby red gem. Numerous legalistic restrictions apply, because God may have been reckless in creating these things, but he had some good lawyers to back Him up. It says right here in the D&D manual that the djinn may take the soul of any human he grants a wish to (more play-toys for his dungeon), and he may interpret the wish in whatever outlandishly gruesome way he pleases, no taksey-backsies. As you might guess, careless mumbling around an evil djinn never leads to a happy outcome, and the people in the Wishmaster universe make a (short) career out of saying the stupidest possible things and instantly getting punished for it. “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!”—poof!—that sort of thing.
In Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies, the djinn has the additional requirement of having to collect 1000 souls before he gets to the unleashing-djinn-hell business, because the expansion pack needs the most difficult missions. He is freed by a botched burglary in a museum that houses ancient artifacts of evil with minimal security. One of those thieves, Morgana, lives to regret the evening, but the djinn takes human form to confess to the robbery himself, meekly accepting imprisonment in a mortal jail to better find desperate humans who want a wish granted. One inmate, for instance, wishes his sham lawyer would “go f— himself,” and the punchline scene is 110% as stupid as you just imagined. Meanwhile Morgana (who’s so goth she farts bats) researches djinns on 1990s AOL dial-up, enlists the aid of her priest boyfriend (just nod your head here), and goes off to have a battle of wits and special effects with the djinn. After wasting far too much time in jail, the djinn finally escapes and heads for a place where people really wish hard: a casino. One hundred chips on a hard eight, you say? No problem! Morgana catches up to him, and after more bad CGI and the creative application of magical fantasy rules, brings the film to its end.
Robert Englund, present in the first film, is not included here. Wes Craven, who only executive-produced the original, never had his name attached to a Wishmaster film again. So we’re denied even those threadbare comforts, left to deal with a series of videos which found their way to filling the bargain bins at rapidly-closing Blockbuster stores, to employment as stabilizers for the wobbly table legs, and sometimes even to being watched. Don’t get me wrong, the Wishmaster series does OK at being a so-so horror franchise. If your previous conception of genies comes from Robin Williams and Barbara Eden, it’s just the solvent to wipe that sappy grin off your face. And if you thought #2 tanked, it’s still Citizen Kane compared to the dumpster-diving sequels yet to come. If you want cheap thrills which pair well with your favorite box wine and a date who is just a little bit below your league, the Wishmaster series is your Big Mac. Your heat-lamped, tepid, wilted Big Mac.
The Wishmaster series has escaped the attention of both the Nostalgia Critic and Stoned Gremlin Productions—go figure—but this Rasputin-looking dude is all over the series.
Vestron Video released all four Wishmaster films in a Blu-ray set in 2017.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“… fairly middling fare with a couple of bright spots, including some of the fun special effects, notably the spider walking Djinn in the opening sequence. Unfortunately for the franchise, this first sequel was just the first substantial step downward in quality.”–Jeffrey Kauffman, Blu-ray.com (Blu-ray set)
(This movie was nominated for review by “Andrew,” who wished for us to cover it because “There are so many odd turns of phrase, abandoned subplots, slightly off-kilter performances, and so much weird, silent grinning that makes it weirder than the sum of its parts.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)