Moments before execution, a 17th century warlock (Julian Sands) teleports to present day (well, 1989) in search of pieces of the witch's bible, The Grand Grimoire, scattered across America. Just before the portal closes, a witch hunter by the name of Redferne (Richard Grant) follows the Warlock to halt his evil quest. Soon the two become entangled with 20-year-old Kassandra (Lori Singer) with Redferne joining forces with the cursed woman who ages twenty years with each passing day to break the spell and stop the Warlock from destroying the world with the discovery of the true name of God.
Where have you been all my life, Warlock? This has been one of those films I've been aware of for years but simply never bothered to actually see. My neglect has been a mistake since this Roger Corman-produced work helmed by Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2/3, House) and written by David Twohy (Pitch Black, The Arrival) was well worth the time. Given Twohy's heavy sci-fi background, Warlock only dips its toes into the horror genre while primarily focusing on the more fantastic aspects of sorcery and mythology surrounding its battling characters from long ago. Anal fantasy fans may get their Dungeons & Dragons decks in a bunch over the film's swift pace, but this is the true beauty of what could be called Miner's best feature.
Instead of bogging down in the more detailed questions raised by the spells casted and ethereal abilities gained, Twohy wisely places faith in the intelligence of the viewer to understand these elements of increasing implausibility as simply part of the film's vernacular. Once eased into how the Warlock and his pursuer face off using the black arts, every twist feels like a bloom of creativity instead of posturing hyperbole or plot convenience. Aspects like the Warlock's methods of acquiring new abilities, Redferne's familiarity in a modern day Mennonite, and exactly where the pages of the The Grand Grimoire end up exhibit awesome imagination. All these little touches act as great propellant to keep watching and the lack of grisly violence is more than made up for by Julian Sands's ruthlessly menacing performance. The optical effects, like the Warlock's plasma-like fire, are also quite good and nearly seamlessly executed for the budget and era. Warlock was far more I expected going in and easily outclasses similar films like Necronomicon: Book of Dead (1993) or even Wishmaster (1997). Definitely one to either revisit or see for the first time like myself.
Although the old Trimark/Lionsgate DVD kinda sucks. Instead of the decent anamorphic transfers the studio afforded to Dead Alive (Braindead) (1992) and The Ugly (1997), Warlock is presented in unmatted full frame taken from an ancient video master. Overbearing blacks, dot crawl around edges, rainbows of chroma noise, and combing plague the image. Watchable, but if one already owns the LaserDisc or VHS, there's little reason to upgrade. One funny thing about the filmographies is Miner's 1998 credit for Halloween H20 being listed as "Halloween: The Revenge of Laurie Strode".