Monday, 8 September 2008

No.62 : Witch Hunt

Witch Hunt at the IMDb

This 1994, made for cable company HBO, movie is a follow up to 1991’s ‘Cast A Deadly Spell’, which I haven’t seen nor intend to given its lack of a ‘W’ first initial. The scenario and characters appear to have been retained from the original although the lead, H. Phillip Lovecraft is now played by Dennis Hopper instead of Fred Ward.

The film is set in 1940’s Los Angeles in a reality where magic is common place and used by most to assist their daily lives. One exception is Hopper, whose private eye does things the old fashioned way without recourse to the supernatural. He is given a case by a Hollywood starlet who thinks her husband is playing around. When he promptly dies the woman is a suspect and our man’s brief changes to proving her innocence.

While the investigation progresses we witness a backdrop of political intrigue which sees an ambitious senator try to out law magic as ‘anti American’. Hopper manages to progress his case with the help of a licensed witch but is troubled when she’s sentenced to burn for her witchy habits. The senator clearly has skeletons in the closet but can Dennis solve the case, save the witch and avoid the zombies in time?

Although this film has the unmistakable cheap look of a TV movie I enjoyed the first half hour. The set up is a bit clumsy with the actors looking faintly embarrassed, talking about magic as if it’s a fact of life. Once you buy in there is a lot to like with some funny scenes such as the executive shrinking to the size of a doggy toy to the obvious delight of his Dobermans. I also like the witch’s spell turning into physical words as she spoke them and the idea of her retrieving great writers such as Shakespeare and Twain from the past so that they could work on some screenplays.

Things quickly deteriorated however and by the end I was looking for a spell to get my two hours back. The obvious device of substituting ‘magic’ for ‘free speech or expression’ was overdone and laborious. Why the baddie senator wasn’t simply called 'McCarthy', to be sure I don’t know. The same point was hammered home so relentlessly it got to the stage you were willing the bad guy along so that you wouldn’t be exposed to some more liberal outpourings.

Dennis Hopper is always worth watching but his part here was a sub-par Marlowe, complete with portentous voice over. You also get a happily underused Julian Sands and Eric Bogosian (Talk Radio) as the really annoying senator.

It’s a shame this film drifted off down a dull avenue named preachy liberal clap trap as the premise and set up were good. TV movies aren’t necessarily bad but I’m afraid this one certainly was.

Best Bit : Will Shakespeare fails to pep up the screenplay.
‘W’ Score : 12/23

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