Within the opening minutes of Wishmaster, a man’s skeleton rips his way out from the inside of his human host and then starts running around and attacking people. At this point you figure you must be in for a pretty good ride because Jesus, look at what that skeleton just did. Unfortunately, at least until closer to the ending, Wishmaster is never quite able to top its opening scene/the incredible human body skeleton escape. It’s like that movie Ghost Ship. It opens with so much promise and after that there’s nothing left to do but watch as all of that potential continuously slips away.
If you don’t know what Wishmaster is…that makes a lot of sense actually. It’s about evil genies. One in particular. You see it turns out the Djinn (fancy talk for genie) are this race of evil horned dudes who look like actors wearing bad rubber suits. The Djinn are way into taking over the world and to do that, one of them has to escape from a gem and then have the person who freed them make three wishes. At that point the Djinn can freely run around the planet and do whatever they want, which I assume is really bad. They make it seem like it has to be this genie in particular who makes it all happen but I assume there must be tons of them out there, floating around in gems and waiting to be freed. We never get into it. Instead it’s just this dude.
So Robert Englund is this professor who is getting a statue delivered but the crane operator carrying the storage box is drinking on the job and accidently drops the box and squishes Ted Raimi, also breaking the statue as a result. It turns out the Djinn orb/gem/thing is inside the statue and it’s stolen by another worker who promptly sells it to a pawn shop owner who takes it to have it appraised. It eventually ends up in the hands of Alexandra (Tammy Lauren). She rubs the thing, the Djinn comes out and starts granting wishes for other people because I guess he needs their souls before he can ask Alexandra to make her wishes? Maybe that actually doesn’t come into play until the sequel. Anyway the whole movie is primarily this Djinn, who takes on a human form played by Andrew Divoff, roaming around the city and turning peoples’ wishes against them. You want to be beautiful forever? Guess what, you’re a mannequin now. Oh hey security guard, you would love to see me try and get through you? Well hey now you’re made of glass and I’m shattering you as I literally walk through you. Get it? Oh you say you would love to escape? Well now you’re suddenly in a big glass box full of water and tied in a strait jacket because magicians escape from things I guess, I don’t know shut up. Clearly the Djinn is willing to stretch the meaning on these things.
Most of the fun of the movie, at least initially, is waiting to see what the wish will be and then predicting how it will be twisted around. Eventually though it becomes clear that there is never going to be a scenario where the wish doesn’t happen and that kills much of the suspense. Literally every interaction ends with a twisted wish so there’s no tension about whether or not the person will be ok. Also, this Djinn is kind of a cheater. It doesn’t take long before victims don’t even need to say “I wish…”. It can be any variation of it. “I’d love it if …” “Boy it would be cool if…” or even just replying yes if the Djinn asks them a leading question. His rules are ill-defined and he can seemingly make just about anything work against his victims. This leads to the Djinn making for a bit of a boring villain because it seems like no matter what, he is going to get his way. Andrew Divoff is fun in the role at least, keeping the Djinn away from the land of Freddy Krueger style one-liners and instead playing up the necessary charm needed to have people bend to his will.
The rest of the cast is full of horror icons, though none of them get much more than an individual scene, and sometimes are only given a minute of screen time. Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, Ted Raimi and Tony Todd all make appearances and Angus Scrimm provides narration. It’s a lot of fun to see all these guys show up but it’s certainly not the Expendables of horror which is something I’ve seen mentioned a few times. The cast, at least this section of it (Tammy Lauren is fine in the lead role but has some pretty over the top moments, something she readily admits in a new interview included on the recently released blu-ray set), and the gore effects are definitely the primary draws of the initial Wishmaster movie.
Wishmaster has really strong opening and closing scenes, but the middle is lacking overall. The idea of a Djinn turning your desires against you isn’t original in the overall world of storytelling, but it was a unique idea for a horror movie, especially in the year it was released (1997). This was during a time when Scream was still pretty fresh so most horror movies that were coming out tried to follow in its footsteps. They featured a group of high school students, or 30-year-old adults playing high school students at least, being murdered by a masked assailant. Here we have a group of adults dealing with an asshole genie, so it was a breath of fresh air. They largely make good on the genie premise, arguably too good since so much of the middle section of the movie is little more than the Djinn walking around turning people’s desires against them. It’s hokey, but there is at least some fun to be had here.