Thursday, 25 February 2016

Cast A Deadly Spell (1991)

This TV movie (from HBO, in its infancy) was a lot of more fun than I expected. The premise is simple enough - in 1948 Los Angeles magic is now routinely used by everyone. This has made policing organised crime even more difficult, and private eye Phil Lovecraft is a dinosaur, a 'shamus' who uses no magic at all. So why does a rich, eccentric Amos Hackshaw hire Lovecraft, of all people, to retrieve a very valuable book that's been stolen from him? And yes, it is the Necronomicon.

This might sound like fanfic of the silliest kind, but in fact Joseph Dougherty's script is spot on in its combination of traditional hard-boiled crime fiction and supernatural horror. Fred Ward's Lovcecraft couldn't be more different from his illustrious namesake, as he punches and wisecracks his way through a satisfying plot that sees him encounter dames, gangsters, cops, zombies, demons, and quite a few other things. Ward is a convincing gumshoe with a face that looks like its been punched rather a lot, sometimes from the inside. David Warner earns his paycheck, as always, in the role of Hackshaw, whose intentions re: the fabled book are of course less than academic. Julianne Moore is sultry as Lovecraft's ex, nightclub singer Connie Stone.

The film is very much of its time, with some slightly dodgy but endearing visual effects. The soundtrack is nicely jazzy, the overall look is well-realised, and there's an excellent supporting cast. The workings of a magic-driven economy are amusingly (and horrifyingly) handled, with undead construction workers shipped in from Haiti in containers. After the usual runaround Lovecraft finally has to deal with a genuine opening of the portal that will let the Old Ones return. I think Great Cthulhu himself appears, though he didn't actually introduce himself. It might have been Yog-Sothoth. The point is that there's a happy-ish ending with a predictable but still satisfying twist.

The dialogue is often delightful. When Hackshaw explains that the nasties have been waiting for millennia Lovecraft asks 'How long is that in dog years?' As tributes to Lovecraft go, this is one he would probably have hated (as well as being a hard-drinking guy who likes a tumble in the hay Phil gets help from a charming voodoo priestess at one point), but it's still a good, solid bit of entertainment.

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