Wishcraft 2002 Review
Directed by: Danny Graves
Starring: Alexandra Holden, Michael Weston, A.J. Buckley
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
For a genre with such a simplistic structure, it’s a shame that the slasher hasn’t produced more crossbreed attempts. There are of course a few and you could say that the likes of Basic Instinct et al would never have existed without John Carpenter’s Halloween, but in terms of out and out combining of trappings, I have always felt that there should be a few more tasty bocadillos on the menu. Stalk and slash flicks sit most closely to their thriller counterparts in terms of cinematic proximity and there has been times when the difference in styles has been incredibly slim. I mean was Dressed to Kill a slasher or a thriller? What about James Mangold’s Identity? How would you classify The Last Stop? For me, these are all slasher flicks, but I guess mostly, it all comes down to individual opinion.
In terms of reputation and standing with critics however, you could say that the slasher category has most in common with the chick flick. Bizarre as it may at first sound, take a step back and allow me to explain. Chick flicks all have pretty much the same plot: Guy meets girl. Guy and girl dislike each other. Guy and girl (for some reason) end up being thrown together for an amount of time and then they fall in love. There’s a tragedy/accident/something that will split them for a while. Guy and girl overcome the odds and end up happily ever after. It’s the simplest of scenarios and one that was started most probably by the classics of Walt Disney. I always ask my friends when we are discussing movies to name me at least one chick flick that does not abide by the aforementioned structure. It’s fun watching them stumble and then bow to my cinematic expertise. Even if there most probably are a handful of titles that break away (Lost in Translation?), the synopsis that I have outlined above remains mostly untampered with. Why try and fix something that just isn’t broken?
So we can say that stalk and slash films have become the chick flick of the horror genre, but has anyone ever mixed the two together? Could it ever work? Although I feel that it may not have been writer Larry Katz’s initial idea, Wishcraft from 2002 is the closest I can think of that takes parts of both styles and mixes them to create an entry that on the face of it, seems worth checking out…
Hi-school nerd Brett Bumper (Michael Weston) has got a crush on the school beauty, Samantha (Alexandra Holden). However, Sam merely sees him as a geek that gives her private tuition about the Second World War for the sake of her history classes. Brett despises her boyfriend, Cody and wishes that he could take her to the school prom. One day, he arrives home from school to find a strange package addressed to him from ‘an anonymous friend’. On closer inspection, he reveals a creepy box containing an ancient totem and a bizarre note stating that he can have three wishes for whatever he wants. Clearly confused, he puts the weird object in the bin and carries on unusual. When he tells his friend about the occurrence, his pal says that he shouldn’t throw it away without at least testing it. Still uncertain, he decides to make a wish that the girl of his dreams would ask him to the dance the following night. He’s shocked when the next day, out of the blue, Samantha wants to know his plans for the evening. Brett’s dream has come true and he’s over the moon. Unfortunately as soon as he uses the extraordinary object, someone begins methodically killing off his classmates. As his relationship with his sweetheart deepens, the murders begin getting closer to home until Brett realises that Sam could be next on the killer’s list….
Unlike most of the z-grade genre pieces that have slowly faded from store shelves, Wishcraft looks neatly produced and fairly well budgeted. The supporting cast, which includes Meat Loaf and Zelda Rubinstein (the lady who’s most famous for her high pitched ‘Caroool Aynnne’ routine from Poltergeist) seem uninspired and just here for the pay cheque, but the two leads are charming and bond superbly with the ambitious plot. Alexandra Holden was really good as the lovesick teen and she worked well with Michael Weston. I was surprised by the amount of chemistry that they managed to create in their unlikely pairing and I was enjoying waiting to see how their relationship would blossom. Director Danny Graves does ok on his debut and manages to build some tension in one or two of the murders. It’s always something of an alarm call when you see that a director has only the one credit to his IMDB listing, but I felt that it was most likely more because of a poor financial run from this feature (?) than a lack of talent.
There’s a good bit of creativity in the the way that the killer slaughters his victims and the majority of the kill scenes are sharp and unique. My favourite is when one guy is knocked unconscious in the school changing room and then wakes up sometime later buried up to his chin in the ground. The killer then proceeds to roll a bowling ball at his head and he is visibly relieved when the bumpy terrain sends it just skimming past. There’s no such fortune with the second one though and it hits him square in the face, which is conveyed to be as gruesome as it sounds. Even if most of the slayings are committed off-screen, they are delivered in a manor that allows your imagination to do the work and they are surprisingly brutal, which sits somewhat awkwardly amongst the cheesiness of the two lovebirds and their soppy romance. One outside review that I’ve read criticized the choice for the ending here and called it ‘stupid’ and ‘corny’, but I disagree. I thought it was a good decision – but then I guess that I’m an old romantic at heart – and maybe that helped. The story adds just enough character development to allow you to care about the outcome of the plot and you’ll find that you’ll breeze through the movie and never feel like you’ve wasted your time.
So there’s definitely a theme running here, but the creative blend doesn’t combine flawlessly and ends up looking like the horror bits have been sellotaped on to a cheesy love story. Maybe it could have worked if there were a few more minutes spent with the maniac as he stalks and murders the cast members or if they played the whole thing straighter from both angles. For some reason though the film never develops a dark enough tone to convince as a horror picture and struggles to deliver an adequate amount of trepidation. Also, the main comic relief character is obnoxious and annoying, which means that he should have been one of the first to die. Add everything together and what starts as a clever and original plot, just loses complete focus and rolls along to leave a whole load of unanswered questions. I mean, why didn’t Brett use his power to conjure up a 12 bore shotgun, or wish that the twosome could escape to safety? It’s hard to believe that no one on the crew highlighted this to the writer or director as they worked through the production.
Of the myriad of Scream imitators that were unleashed during the early noughties, Wishcraft is most definitely not one of the worst that you can place your hands upon. Weston and Holden make for an agreeable pairing and the film is worth seeing for maintaining an impressive pace and generating moments of unique humour. It is an ok time-waster rather than a good one and I can’t help but feel that it tries too hard to have one over on Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson.
I will have to wait a bit longer for someone to successfully mix Halloween with Breakfast at Tiffany’s then…
Final Girl √√√√