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‘Warlock’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 11, 1991

Except for a few gory flourishes and several jolly special effects, "Warlock" is a surprisingly old-fashioned horror adventure that benefits from the superbly malevolent presence of Julian Sands as said warlock, transported from 1691 Boston to 1991 Los Angeles in search of the "Grand Grimoire," a satanic Bible containing the secret name of God, which, spoken backward, will kick off the Uncreation. Naturally, said warlock has a warlock-killer (Richard E. Grant) on his invisible tail, providing this familiar tale with some lively period dialogue ("let's tarry not!").

Writer D.T. Twohy apparently tarried not, or at least not very long, on the script, which is almost as well-traveled as its leads (cf: "Highlander" and "Terminator," one of whose most famous lines is recast here as "he lays waste to all in his path"). When the warlock turns up in L.A., he's very casual in his violence, which is both physical (finger-chopping, tongue-yanking, eyeball-popping, finger painting with body fluids) and mental. For instance, he revenges himself on an innocent bystander (Lori Singer) by casting a spell that ages her 20 years each night. Naturally, she doesn't like getting (and looking) older without benefit of major partying, and she quickly allies herself with the witch-finder, hoping to break that nasty spell and, perhaps incidentally, save the world.

All this unfolds at a deliberate pace, thanks to producer-director Steve Miner's resistance to jump-cut genre expectations. In fact, the long opening sequence in 1690s Massachusetts is excellent period film, dark and spooky in campfire-tale fashion. The modern chase (with several comical variations) and the eventual mano-a-mano denouement in an ancient graveyard are predictable but nonetheless enjoyable, though filmgoers expecting major FX damage may be disappointed that Sands's warlock resorts to a great deal of internalized evil. He's gorgeous, self-centered, vain -- a Necromantic gleefully headed for Hell -- and Sands has a genuine ball with the role.

"Warlock" contains some scenes of violence.

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