Wishmaster (1997) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

The Wishmaster episode of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? was Written by Emilie Black, Narrated by Jason Hewlett, Edited by Juan Jimenez, Produced by Lance Vlcek and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

Horror has had many periods and the late 1990s were very much for self-referential films, dark humor, and cameos. Wishmaster, or Wes Craven’s Wishmaster (watch it HERE) as it was marketed at the time, is more on the dark humor side of things than self-referential. Still, it does have plenty of cameos and references to other movies to be found by those paying attention.

While the film was marketed as Wes Craven’s Wishmaster, the film was in fact, written by Peter Adkins and directed by Robert Kurtzman, two creators the world of horror already knew. Craven was an executive producer here, but his name put butts in seats back in the day, so it was a good bet to use his name to sell tickets, especially coming out so close to Scream. With that in mind, the film does share a bit of dark humor with Scream, and both are horror movies, but that is about all they have in common.

Wishmaster is the story of a gemologist who becomes involved when a stone falls out of a sculpture when it is destroyed in a shipping accident. The stone has magic properties and soon releases a Djinn, an evil spirit with powers to grant wishes, but at a cost. Here, our Djinn gets out into the world and starts giving twisted versions of people’s wishes, hoping to gather enough souls in payment to set himself free. Of course, he must take the body of a man to better be able to get close to humans and get their wishes more easily.

Starring as both Nathaniel Demerest and The Djinn, Andrew Divoff gives the character life, molding him into a being that is both charming and creepy, a man who appeals to people yet repulses some at the same time. His work here is a big part of why Wishmaster is still remembered to this day. He also played the same part in the first sequel and did not come back for parts 3 and 4, which is for the better, let’s be honest. His take on the Djinn in “monster” makeup and out, really takes the film where it needs to go, his delivery, and his persona. He has a way with the part that, once seen through another actor, really shows how good he was – As he is greatly missing in parts 3 and 4. His work here brings a worldly aspect to the character, which makes sense considering Divoff’s background is a mix of Irish and Russian, born in Venezuela, who has spoken 8 languages. Yeah, impressive and practical. He can easily blend into many cultural backgrounds and do accents like it’s second nature. He also had played a bunch of villains before this, so clearly, he could handle a being like the Djinn.

Co-starring with Divoff, is Tammy Lauren as Alexandra Amberson, a young woman who once upon a time saved her sister’s life from a house fire that killed their parents. From there, they rebuilt their lives very connected to each other, seemingly from the amber of the fire. Yes, her last time is connected to fire, something that comes back to the Djinn himself, who is supposed to be born from a flame and whose eyes reflect the blue of flames within the brown of Divoff’s eyes. Is this a tenuous connection? Of course! Do the filmmakers care here? Absolutely not! Obvious connections and tenuous connections abound in this film. Back to Alexandra, she’s our lead on the good side, she’s the target for the Djinn, and it’s pretty clear early on that she’s meant to be our final girl. As you see, the film very much follows some of the rules of slasher films, whether on purpose or by accident.

Of course, other cast members come and go here, with a love interest for Alexandra, her sister, a character whom she meets just to give exposition for the film, victims, victims, victims. Those most people will remember are the horror legends who pop up here and there, like Robert Englund playing a rich man who hosts a doomed party, Tony Todd as a security person who dares to say not to Demerest, Kane Hodder, Angus Scrimm, Ted Raimi, Joe Pilato, Walter Phelan, Verne Troyer, Reggie Bannister, and Howard Berger. There are a lot of people making appearances here with parts that vary in size and impact on the story. Also involved are Easter Eggs before Easter Eggs were cool. One of those is the statue of Pazuzu in the background of a scene. Also, a couple of lines are lifted from Twilight Zone episodes in an homage to the groundbreaking television series. The names of some of the characters came from science-fiction and horror authors such as Charles Beaumont, August Derleth, Jack Finney, and Abraham Merritt. The filmmakers knew their stuff and it shows. They probably also had some serious industry contacts considering some of the cast members and the lower budget.

Considering the film was written by Peter Adkins, who had previously worked on Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, and Hellraiser: Bloodline, as well as segments in both Inside Out movies and a few other titles, so he had some connections and some background in horror. Tasked with directing here was Robert Kurtzman, a founding member of KNB EFX group, with Howard Berger, who appears in this film, and Greg Nicotero. Kurtzman had worked with many industry greats by then and by now has worked with just about everyone who is a name in the horror industry. His being the director most likely had a lot to do with names like Kane Hodder, Robert Englund, Tony Todd, and more showing up in the film. Wishmaster was his second directorial effort, with The Demolitionist being the first in 1995. He has since mostly done effects, with a few more films where he directed, including The Rage, Buried Alive, and Deadly Impact in the late 2000s. His work as an effects artist does speak for itself, though; any horror fan would agree.

This leads us to who handled the practical special effects, and to no surprise to anyone, it was of course KNX EFX Group. In interviews, Andrew Divoff said it took 3 and a half hours to put on and 90 minutes to get out of his creature makeup. Considering the results, practical effects was definitely the way to go, and man-in-suit instead of potential animatronics was the right choice. The work by the team, under ownership of their own as director, is just right not only for the Djinn but the multiple kills and other practical effects bits. Image Animation International is also listed under the special effects. Another aspect of the special effects here is the cgi and well, as is usually the case, these have not aged well, unfortunately.

Another name adding to the film’s horror pedigree is Harry Manfredini who did the score here and of course is better known for his score to the original Friday the 13th film and its sequels. The man has over 200 composer credits, most of them in horror, so getting him here was a no-brainer, really, and his work is, as usual, on point.

Wishmaster (1997) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

With the pedigree behind the scenes, one would be tempted to assume the film’s budget and box office were both huge. Well, not so much. The budget for the film was right around $5 million USD and the box office take was just over 3 times its budget at $15.7 million USD. Considering marketing and distributing costs, the film can be considered a low-level hit from its box office alone. Once one adds video rentals where the film became more popular and now home video sales and streaming, this one is a money-maker, just not a huge one. Nonetheless, it made enough money to bring forth 3 sequels that were less and less interesting as they went along, if we are honest here.

As for its time at the box office, Wishmaster opened on September 19, 1997, against some pretty big players and did fairly well. One its opening weekend, the film came in at number three according to the-numbers.com. Above it in the top position were In & Out and The Game. Coming after Wishmaster but still making decent numbers and thus having some of the attention that weekend was L.A. Confidential, The Full Monty, A Thousand Acres, G.I. Jane, Money Talks, Air Force One, and Fire Down Below. That is some solid competition in terms of popularity.

So, yes, horror fans were going to see it, but the film didn’t exactly have a wide range of appeal, and general audiences were not going to go see it, Wes Craven’s name on the poster or not. This is all part of why the film was only a low-level hit. Of course, another aspect as to why folks didn’t run to the theaters to go see it was how it was reviewed. Back in the day, the reviews were not favorable, and to this day, the film has a 25% on Rotten Tomatoes, which seems harsh. The audience percentage is a little bit better than the reviewers’ one with a 37% which for horror seems par for the course sometimes. Of course, expectations played into this and folks who were expecting something more like Scream because of Wes Craven’s name on top of the poster were not going to be happy with what they saw. Those who went in wanting a fun, gory film with some entertaining cameos and lots of practical effects were in for a treat.

In terms of where the original Wishmaster is with horror fans these days, well, it’s still fairly popular. Enough for the series to get a no-frills box set on Blu-ray a few years ago. One with few extras, the first and second film having their own discs and the third and fourth getting to share a disc. The films look great on blu-ray, and the effects of the first film, besides the cgi, have aged decently, something that seems to happen for most practical effects films. As for the Wishmaster himself, Andrew Divoff, he is still very much active in the horror genre, attending conventions regularly, and connecting with fans on social media, calling them HellaKidz and BeerNuts in reference to Wishmaster and his brewery.

Wishmaster has stood the test of time for some and is a complete mystery to others these days, something they should consider fixing as soon as they can. It’s a new sort of classic, one that is dated a bit by its sense of humor, definitely by its CGI, but also one that has some fun performances, a strong final girl, some nonsense here and there, and just a boatload of fun to watch. Those involved in making it seem to remember it fondly when asked, something not all horror movies have going for them. It’s a film that can easily be watched now and enjoyed for the first or hundred and first time.

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/wishmaster-1997-wtf-happened-to-this-horror-movie/