Warlock Collection: Collector's Series 3 Film Set [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (27th August 2018).
The Film

There are few things more damning to a horror sequel than recasting the main villain – assuming he’s recognizable and not hidden under a mask. Most of the genre’s upper echelon – Jason, Leatherface, Michael Myers – can be played by any capable stuntman. Poor Freddy will always be Robert Englund, so good luck future filmmaker who tackles that property! Although the “Warlock” series is low on the horror totem pole, Julian Sands brought a sinister regality to the eponymous part, playing the Son of Satan so cool and collected he could convey terror with a mere glance. Most horror fans love the first film, understandably so, but for my money the series peaked with “Warlock: The Armageddon” (1993). In the mid-90's I was obsessed with Anthony Hickox’s loose sequel, renting the VHS tape more times than I can count. Even the release of that weak SNES game in 1995, which pulled from elements of the sequel and had players collecting runes and casting spells, excited me to no end. I was fully primed and ready for another installment… and it didn’t come until 1999. And Julian Sands was no longer the lead, replaced by a strip of wallpaper named Bruce Payne.

“Warlock” (1989) kicks off this loosely connected series with a “Terminator”-esque fish-out-of-water tale as the titular witch (Julian Sands) finds himself captured at the hands of Giles Redferne (Richard E. Grant), a witch hunter. The Warlock is confined to a tower room and held in bondage, but his power is strong and he soon summons a portal that transports him to present day Los Angeles. Giles manages to hitch a ride via the portal and the hunt is on once more. The Warlock lands in the living room of Kassandra (Lori Singer), who tends to this unexpected guest assuming he may just be a lost drunk. The next morning, Kassandra heads to work, leaving her roommate Chas (Kevin O’Brien) alone with the Warlock – he becomes the first of many victims. The Warlock visits a local medium, Channeler (Mary Woronov), who proves to be a fraud… until the Warlock uses his own evil powers to conjure an actual demon through her. He is instructed to bring together three pieces of Satan’s bible, The Grand Grimoire, which will reveal the true name of God; speak it backward and all of creation can be undone. The medium rips out her eyes for the Warlock to use as a compass.

Giles, meanwhile, finally arrives on the scene and meets up with Kassandra, but the Warlock joins the party, too. The police apprehend Giles after a skirmish, but Kassandra gets the worst of it, being dealt an old age spell by the witch. For every day that passes she grows two decades older. Giles constructs a compass with which they can track the Warlock, who is quickly making his way across the country to retrieve the books. His speed is hastened by a newly acquired ability to fly, achieved by killing an unbaptized child and drinking his boiled skin. Giles and Kassandra track the Warlock to a farmhouse barn where a Mennonite offers assistance in catching the witch. Their plan fails, leaving Giles and Kassandra to face the Warlock on hallowed ground as the books of The Grand Grimoire are brought together near a cemetery in Boston.

This is an instance where the first film in a series is not necessarily the best, and although director Steve Miner does a solid job of keeping his film moving and interesting the story doesn’t quite gel in some areas. Kassandra is a terrible character, for starters. Her involvement serves little purpose to the plot, with a lame aging spell her sole motivation to continue pursuing the Warlock. Also, Lori Singer was reportedly a pain in the ass when it came time to don prosthetics for her aged look, forcing the make-up team to use older techniques that clearly didn’t translate well on screen. She looks terrible, and she’s old in most of the movie. Her story is of little interest; the real draw is the cat-and-mouse game between Giles and the Warlock. This movie reminds me of “Masters of the Universe” (1987) or “Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time” (1991), sending old-world characters into a modern day metropolis and wringing amusement out of anachronisms and misunderstanding. David Twohy’s script manages to avoid picking plenty of low-hanging fruit but teasing such a rich historical New England setting in the opening made me wish the entirety of the film took place during that time.

Julian Sands doesn’t get enough credit for bringing such a steely Satanic servant to the screen. His presence is pure malevolence. He maintains a clear, driven persona throughout the entire film, rarely losing focus on his quest and always remaining in control even when it looks like he might lose the upper hand. Another person killing it on screen, albeit behind the scenes, is composer Jerry Goldsmith, who delivers a chilling soundtrack with a pair of leitmotifs for the two leads. The Warlock’s theme in particular can be singled out as a moody piece of synthesizer music that perfectly fits the tone of the picture.

The Warlock returns in “Warlock: The Armageddon”, an in-name-only sequel that, aside from Sands, has no real connection to the first film. Opening during an unknown time, a gathering of Druids tries to prevent the birth of Satan’s son, who makes the attempt every millennium. The Druids use six magic runes over the body of the chosen woman to quell the birth, and it works, but a small cadre of disapproving Christians attack, killing the Druids and scattering the runes across the land. Cut to present day and a woman in possession of one such rune suddenly writhes in pain, her stomach expanding rapidly. Before she knows what is happening, she gives birth to… something inhuman. The Warlock quickly rises from the afterbirth, kills the woman, takes the first stone, and then has a chat with dear old dad, who gives his son marching orders and prints up a convenient map to find the runes… burning it into the dead woman’s stomach. The Warlock rips it from her body and sets off on his quest.

Meanwhile, a pair of teenagers from a small town learns they are the descendants of Druids. Kenny (Chris Young) and Samantha (Paula Marshall) have come of the age when it is time to learn their true heritage. Will (Steve Kahan), Kenny’s father, a town outcast due to his beliefs, does the only thing he can to prepare his son for battle with the Warlock: he kills him. Kenny is soon reborn and gifted with extraordinary abilities. But he can’t take on the Warlock alone. Samantha, daughter of the town reverend Ted (Bruce Glover), takes her own life when her dad buckles under the pressure, and soon she, too, is reborn and trained to fight. As Kenny and Sam are trained under the watchful eye of Will and his associates, the Warlock makes his way across the country, gathering the remaining runes and leaving a trail of grotesqueries in his wake. A battle is coming and if Kenny and Sam fail, the Warlock will bring Satan to this Earth, ending all life as we know it.

Reviews have called this entry “cheesy” due to the Druid business, or that it plays too much like a stereotypical horror picture, and to that I say, “WTF?” A warlock. Druids. Runes. Magic powers. A magic dagger! Brutal, twisted deaths. And Paula Marshall. What the hell is there NOT to love? Witchcraft and black magic are woefully underused elements in horror, even to this day, and to see Hickox combine all of the above into an entertaining cocktail of Satanic proportions is a feat horror fans should appreciate. There’s this awesome buildup to the final battle between Warlock and warriors that develops organically because as the teens train to take on their first – and deadliest – foe, the Warlock is gathering his daddy’s gems and dealing out death with devilish glee. Sands plays the role with a twisted delight I would liken to Andrew Divoff’s role as the Djinn in “Wishmaster” (1997). None of his victims are particularly well equipped to take on a Warlock, save for one, and the death that guy gets it a literal wall-to-wall bloodbath. So, once Satan’s son finally meets up with Kenny and Sam you genuinely believe these two are incredibly overmatched. It makes for a good battle.

Touching on the death scenes, Hickox had already proven he could kill in inventive ways with “Waxwork” (1988) and that same ingenuity is put to work here. In fact, the Djinn comparison is more than fair because the Warlock, unable to simply take the runes, must bargain with each of his marks to obtain what he seeks. And once he shows off a little magic it whets the appetite for each victim, and once they ask to see more it ends with their demise. And some of these are just downright cruel. Dying would be a relief for a few of them, especially the dude who gets banished to a nightmare carnival land and the art dealer who is literally turned into a Picasso sculpture. The difference between the Djinn and Warlock, though, is the former always has that wry smile when he’s about to mete out some subversive magic, whereas the Warlock keeps a straight face – which is more unsettling.

How much do I love Paula Marshall? Let me count the ways… Seriously, I had a mammoth crush on Marshall back in the day and even now, watching the film over 25 years later, that girl has still got it going on. But what the hell was she doing dating Kenny in secret when she had access to a dude with the sweetest mullet since Kevin Dillon in “The Blob” (1988)?

As Julian Sands recounts in the bonus features, he was offered the lead in a third “Warlock” film but he turned it down because the script was lacking. So, instead of doing the smart thing and reworking it to retain their lead the producers simply hired another guy. Enter Bruce Payne and “Warlock III: The End of Interest”… er, “The End of Innocence” (1999). Aside from the inclusion of horror fan fave Ashley Laurence, this sequel is a dreadful bore. Laurence plays Kris, a college student who has just inherited an old house from a long-lost relative she never knew. She does the sensible thing and invites along her buddies, including Boyfriend, Stoner, Sex Maniac #1, Sex Maniac #2, and Weird Witch Girl. Soon the warlock, Philip Covington (Bruce Payne) – apparently not supposed to be THE warlock from previous films – is released and he pays the house a visit, posing as an architect. Everyone takes a room for the night, shit goes down, and eventually it’s just Kris and Philip squaring off in The Big Showdown.

In my notes I wrote, “this movie is ancient witch turd brew”. Accurate. Covington doesn’t fully appear until the 40-minute mark, making a weak entrance. By comparison, Sands appeared near the opening of his films and he made a grand spectacle of it both times. Payne is not a bad actor but he is bad in this role, especially when taking his predecessor into consideration. Even worse, the cast is comprised of the sort of college stereotypes you want to die immediately, forget having to wait for them to be picked off one by one. Laurence is the only one worth tuning in for, but she can’t carry an entire film on her back. I’m sure this entry has its fans but I am definitely not one of them. I do, however, applaud Lionsgate for taking completion into consideration when issuing this set.

“Warlock” film rating: B-
“Warlock: The Armageddon” film rating: B+
“Warlock III: The End of Innocence” film rating: C-

Video

Usually picture quality improves over the lifetime of a series, with newer entries enjoying a bit more polish due to technical advancements and all that good stuff, but in this case “Warlock” is actually the best looking transfer of the bunch. The 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image is generally quite pleasing, with a pristine print that shows very little age related damage or dirt. Colors pop with an unexpected vibrancy, while black levels, although occasionally hazy, hold relatively steady throughout. Film grain is also even for the most part, with the only noise noticeable during some particularly dark moments.

“Warlock: The Armageddon” is (sadly) much less impressive. The 1.78:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded picture is often slightly soft, either due to the lenses used or the glut of optical and (poor) CGI effects. Film grain is uneven, too, with occasional clumping from scene to scene and expected spikes during optical effects. Fine detail is evident in tight shots and during the day, but for the most part isn’t nearly as clear as viewers would like to be seeing. This was made during the very early days of CGI and there are many shots that looked unconvincing back in 1993, forget how bad they appear now.

“Warlock III” is in a similar boat, with a 1.78:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image that is simply put: drab. Colors are dull, fine detail is lacking, black levels are not truly black. The image is perhaps a bit more defined than the previous film, but the palette and photography are both so bland that it doesn’t matter if other aspects are a slight improvement.

“Warlock” video rating: B+
“Warlock: The Armageddon” video rating: B-
“Warlock III: The End of Innocence” video rating: B-

Audio

Each film receives an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track, with similar results across the board. “Warlock” excels thanks to Goldsmith’s olden score, which sounds killer in lossless. “The Armageddon” has a forgettable score, and moments of big action don’t have the impact they deserve, but it is a stable track with no clear issues. “The End of Innocence” has a dreadful horror-pop score, with equally appalling source music, and the dialogue levels sound uneven to my ears. Also, at one point in the film an eagle screech is used more times than I would like to remember, which drove me absolutely mad until the scene ended. Subtitles are available on all three films in English SDH and Spanish.

Extras

Lionsgate continues to make good with their Vestron Video line, delivering a witches’ feast of bonus features here that’ll satisfy all fans of this series. Yes, even those who loved the third one.

DISC ONE: “Warlock”

There is an all-new audio commentary, recorded by director Steve Miner.

Isolated score selections are included, featuring an audio interview with author Jeff Bond.

“Satan’s Son – An Interview with actor Julian Sandsfeaturette (1080p) runs for 25 minutes and 4 seconds. Sands touches upon not just the first film but all three in the series, explaining what drew him into the part to begin with, what kept him around for the sequel, and what drove him away for the third. This is a great chat that fans definitely do not want to miss out on hearing.

“The Devil’s Work – An Interview with director Steve Minerfeaturette (1080p) runs for 16 minutes and 18 seconds. Miner is a bit of a Renaissance man behind the camera, and here he discusses what it is about horror that appealed to him for this project.

“Effects of Evil – Interview with make-up effects creators Carl Fullerton and Neal Martzfeaturette (1080p) runs for 16 minutes and 24 seconds.

A theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 54 seconds.

A video teaser (SD) runs for 32 seconds.

Some TV spots (SD) are included, running for 2 minutes and 41 seconds.

“Behind-the-Scenes” footage (SD) runs for 17 minutes and 35 seconds.

Still gallery (1080p) runs for 9 minutes and 7 seconds.

Vintage interview segments with cast & crew (SD) runs for 40 minutes and 28 seconds.

“Vintage Featurette with Make-Up Effects Carl Fullerton and Neal Martz” this featurette runs for 5 minutes and 50 seconds.

“Vintage Featurette with Visual Effects Supervisors Patrick Read Johnson & Robert Habros, Animation Supervisor Mauro Maressa, and Matte Artist Robert Scifo” (SD) this featurette runs for 5 minutes and 51 seconds.

DISC TWO: “Warlock: The Armageddon”/”Warlock III: The End of Innocence”

“Warlock: The Armageddon” Bonus Features:

There is an audio commentary with director Anthony Hickox.

A theatrical trailer (SD) runs for 1 minute and 50 seconds.

TV spots (SD) run for 1 minute and 14 seconds.

“Vintage Making-Of” featurette (SD) runs for 7 minutes and 43 seconds.

A still gallery (1080p) runs for 4 minutes and 10 seconds.

“Behind-the-Scenes Footage” featurette (SD) runs for 4 minutes and 57 seconds.

“Extended Vintage Interview Segments with Actor Julian Sands, Director Anthony Hickox, and Actress Paula Marshallfeaturette (SD) runs for 5 minutes and 41 seconds.

“Warlock III: The End of Innocence” Bonus Features:

A theatrical trailer (SD) runs for 2 minutes and 22 seconds.

Video sales promo (SD) runs for 45 seconds.

“Behind-the-Scenes Footage” featurette (1080p) runs for 14 minutes and 6 seconds.

A still gallery (1080p) runs for 3 minute and 44 seconds.

Vintage interviews with cast & crew (1080p) runs for 43 minutes and 19 seconds.

Packaging

The two-disc set comes housed in a Blu-ray eco-case, with the cover art and slip-cover both featuring new artwork for the series. For the price Vestron Video (Lionsgate) is charging it would be nice to see reversible artwork, non-eco-cases, and a booklet, but the fact they’re even doing this much is remarkable.

Overall

The first two films hold up well, although as I have clearly explained my favorite is by far the second. Kudos to Lionsgate for putting out all three and giving them all a nice amount of bonus features, especially the first, which is jam-packed with an unholy amount of extra goodies.

The Film: B- Video: B- Audio: B Extras: A Overall: B

 


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