Never has there been a more obvious film embodiment of the phrase “be careful what you wish for” than Wishmaster, the 1997 horror feature from director Robert Kurtzman. Kurtzman is primarily known for his special effects work, a prominent part of Wishmaster‘s modus operandi; however, the film also gained notoriety at the time because of Wes Craven’s attachment to the production, emblazoned across posters and box art. Wishmaster is certainly a product of its time, featuring a joke-heavy script from Peter Atkins and a slasher villain that borders on cheesy rather than creepy; still, the fun comes from the film’s ability to make wishes reality – in much the same way A Nightmare on Elm Street got away with the fantastical – and its blood-soaked action scenes.
Wishmaster follows Alexandra (Tammy Lauren) after she accidentally comes in contact with an ancient gem that houses an evil djinn; once released, the Djinn (Andrew Divoff) collects the souls of anyone who makes a wish, filling the gem with power until he’s finally able to grant Alexandra three wishes and unleash the rest of his hellspawn on the world. Alexandra is plagued with visions of the Djinn until eventually he makes contact in the form of a handsome man who tries to grant her wishes by asking if she wants a drink or some food. Just kidding – it’s a lot gorier than that.
Wishmaster has a lot of cool elements to it, including its opening scene involving a Persian massacre at the hands of the Djinn before he’s ultimately trapped in the gem for centuries. However, it quickly becomes clear that the film doesn’t have the most effective writing or acting; Atkins’ dialogue is often hokey, but it doesn’t help that our lead character Alexandra is a wooden and uninteresting person. Lauren does what she can with the protagonist, but too often Wishmaster feels like a grittier made-for-television special than a theatrical release, and the more expository scenes with Alexandra attempting to track down the Djinn in his human form as Nathaniel Demerest tend to fall flat.
Luckily, Kurtzman doesn’t put much stock in this and alternates between Alexandra and the Djinn, depicting Demerest granting people wishes whenever he can trick them into asking for something stupid. Wishmaster utilizes that age-old slasher approach: the more kills the movie can get in the better, even if those people aren’t relevant to the plot. Kurtzman turns to a couple of horror film veterans – including Robert Englund as a haughty art collector with knowledge of the ancient Ahura-Mazda figure that houses the Djinn’s gem, Kane Hodder as a rough-and-tough security guard, and Tony Todd as a nightclub bouncer – to pull in fans but also to contradict the usual dichotomy with these actors: now they’re the ones being killed rather than doing the killing.
And Wishmaster has a lot of great practical effects from KNB EFX Group, aided by Kurtzman’s own knowledge. Body modification is a strong part of the film, and KNB does an awesome job capturing Atkins’ twisty takes on wishmaking. The film takes those wishes and makes them into mini-fables, using puns and playing with word choice to provide some memorably creative scenarios. Even its conclusion is inventive, with Alexandra’s final wish reversing the entire film and eliminating the need to find a physical way to vanquish the Djinn.
Some will not enjoy Wishmaster because of its goofy nature, but the film is better seen as more of a horror comedy, especially with Divoff chewing the scenery. It’s not a perfect specimen for sure, but the practical effects and violently creative kills make this a film worth seeing. I wouldn’t wish it any other way – then again, if Wishmaster is to be believed, any wish is a bad one.