[review by JA Kerswell]
|Brett (Michael Weston) and Samantha (Alexandra Holden) have an unconventional relationship in WISHCRAFT.|
WISHCRAFT is an enjoyable slice of hokum that somewhat got lost in the slipstream of post-SCREAM (1996) slashers. Eschewing the post-modernism of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s film, this plays it mostly straight - well, as straight as a movie about a wish-giving penis can play it straight. Despite some hints at production woes and a plot device that wouldn’t fly today, this looks back to the relatively more innocent days of early 80s popcorn slashers and is all the more welcome for it.
High school nerd Brett (Michael Weston - who was knocking 30 when he made this) is smitten with class hottie Samantha (Alexandra Holden). The only problem is that she only has eyes for the hunky head jock Cody (Huntley Ritter). Brett commiserates about his life with his best friend, and fellow outsider, Howie (A.J. Buckley). His geek status is only deepened by his stellar performance in the classroom of Mr Turner (Austin Pendelton) - where he is surrounded by poorly performing students.
Brett receives a mysterious package in the mail that contains a strange-looking object (that turns out to be a mummified bull’s penis) and a typed letter saying that it grants the bearer three wishes. Depressed with his lot in life, Brett wishes that Samantha would be his date to the annual ‘spring blast’ dance. The next day, he and Howie are amazed that Samantha asks Brett to accompany her - which not only puzzles Samantha but outrages her boyfriend Cody.
|The trick is to keep your head the unfairly overlooked in WISHCRAFT.|
After the dance, fellow classmates Jimbo (Charlie Talbert) and his girlfriend Kristie (Alexandra Breckenridge) make out on a golf course. However, when they are separated, Jimbo is attacked by someone in a mask and robes who kills him with a ceremonial sword and a hunting knife - leaving his severed head atop a pole for Kristie to find.
Soon, more of Brett’s classmates are targeted by a killer with seemingly supernatural strength. Will he use his final wishes to secure the love of Samantha or save himself and the other students from his High School … ?
WISHCRAFT features a number of highly creative kills that play well to its popcorn nature and never feel mean-spirited. Indeed, the whole film has a lightness and playfulness to it that was missing from many subgenre efforts as the 2000s progressed (as it veered inexorably towards so-called ‘torture porn’). It’s the kind of frothy film where the characters throw a pool party instead of a wake for one of their fallen. The cast plays it straight, but you can tell they are having fun with the material - which is why it works as well as it does. It is all helped with some fun extended cameos by Meatloaf as the detective investigating the murders and Zelda Rubinstein as a sassy coroner.
WISHCRAFT harkens back to some of those early 80s slashers that added a little of that supernature to spice up the knifeplay - although never overwhelmingly so. The revelation of the killer and their motive is pleasingly daft and the showdown at a remote house has definite FRIDAY THE 13TH series vibes - complete with one character pinned to a door with an arrow through his eye socket. The wish/slasher crossover sub-subgenre was popular at the time - with another example being THE WISHER (also 2002). Both films were inspired by the success of another film with a Wes Craven connection WISHMASTER (1997) (which he executive produced and presented).
|A masked killer lurks in Richard Wenk's supernaturally tinged slasher movie.|
The script for WISHCRAFT was written by Larry Katz. It was filmed in locations around Los Angeles in the summer of 2000 on a generous (for a slasher film) $5 million budget. However, the production details are a little murky. The film was part of a $100 million initiative by the newly formed Gold Circle Films to produce 20 indie features over two years. Gold Circle Films produced mega hit MY BIG GREEK WEDDING (also 2002). The film was directed by Richard Wenk, the writer/director behind the fun 80s vampire movie VAMP (1986). Here he uses the pseudonym Danny Graves, which suggests some behind-the-scenes conflict. It was also his last directorial effort - although he has gone on to a very successful screenwriting career. It was shot on 35mm, which again suggests that it was originally intended for a cinema release. VALENTINE’s (2001) box office failure showed that the post-SCREAM balloon had finally deflated and - whilst it got a limited release to cinemas in France - WISHCRAFT was dumped straight to video in the United States in early 2003 (almost a year after other territories).
The film features an array of recognisable and soon-to-be-famous faces. Including Alexandra Breckenridge, who went on to considerable small-screen success in shows such as AMERICAN HORROR STORY and THE WALKING DEAD. Alexandra Holden - so memorable as the anorexic beauty queen in the savage black comedy DROP DEAD GORGEOUS (1999) - appeared the next year in the excellent Christmas set chiller DEAD END (2003). Weston also went on to a successful TV career - and had previously appeared in another troubled slasher production CHERRY FALLS (2000).
WISHCRAFT is a fun throwback to the popcorn slashers of the early 1980s and was unlucky to have missed the boat during the subgenre’s late '90s and early 2000s revival. If I could make a wish today, it’d be to see this get the hi-def release it deserves.
female: 1 / male: 6
1) Male is slashed with knife and run through with a sword
2) Male decapitated with a bowling ball
3) Female hung from a street lamp
4) Male whacked on the head with an axe
5) Male decapitated with an axe (off screen)
6) Male found pinned to a door
7) Male cut through the back of the neck with a sword
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