Stuff I Wrote About Because I Got It For Free #1 The Wishmaster
Stuff I Wrote About Because I Got It For Free is a column about stuff I got for free.
There were a lot of things I loved about working for The A.V Club. It was exhilarating being at the epicenter of online comedy at the height of the dot.com boom, when money rained down down from heaven and the world radiated promise. That was nice. It was also nice watching the site evolve from a tiny little mom and pop operation to a global force in humor and entertainment.
But mostly what I loved about my 16 years as a staffer for The A.V Club, primarily as head writer, was all the mail I would receive.
Every time I would score a choice piece of loot in the old mall I’d cackle like a toothless, drunken, hard-living prospector sidekick in an old John Ford western and do a merry little jig I called the “Mail Swag Shuffle.”
“Nyah, nyah, nyah!” I would taunt insouciantly, like a naughty schoolboy! “I’ve got season eight of Frasier on DVD and you don’t!” Then I’d continue to mince about the office in a mocking fashion while continuing to lord my possession of the eight season Frasier DVD over my colleagues until they’d either beg me to go away or say something along the lines of, “Hey, jackass. I got sent one of those too. We all did.”
In a possibly related development, I have always been unpopular every where I’ve ever worked but it was worth all those icy stares and cold treatment for that sweet, sweet DVD and CD haul. DVD and CDs the likes of which your mind can hardly imagine! I’m talking season three and four of Mama’s Family! I’m talking all of Mama’s Family! Mama’s Family as far as the eye could see!
Every afternoon for several years a crane would transport thousands of pounds of Mama’s Family DVDs into the A.V Club office through a huge window left perpetually open in hopes of winning our attention. To this day no A.V Club writer has ever watched so much as a single minute of Mama’s Family. Such is the exquisite dance of seduction, attraction and repulsion between a publicist and a pop-culture writer or site whose cyber-ink and attention they crave.
Oh, but I miss those exquisite mail hauls! So many tacky riches, so much crap to bring home and sort through and alphabetize and arrange and sometimes even experience and/or write about! There were the albums you’d been feverishly anticipating for years, the videocassettes and then DVDs of movies that spoke to something deep and important within your soul. But more importantly, there was the weird, random crazy shit. George Foreman grills. Insane Clown Posse beanie babies (received, alas, roughly 12 years before I was able to appreciate them). Pillows with Ben Stiller’s face on them. An ounce of genuine marijuana to promote a marijuana cultivation guide. It was fucking beautiful, I tell you!
In an effort to bring back this golden age of people sending me cool shit for free, I am introducing a column called “Stuff I Wrote About Because I Got It For Free” devoted to stuff that I’m writing about because I find it fascinating and newsworthy and compelling, but just as importantly, because I got it for free, and I want to continue getting sent stuff for free.
As its title hopefully conveys, “Stuff I Wrote About Because I Got It For Free” is a column devoted to the stuff I have gotten for free and don’t really have an outlet to write about otherwise. This both allows me to write about interesting ephemera and keeps the ol’ swag train rolling right along into old Nathan Raebin’s mailbox all nice and smooth like. Because if I could send out one message to the publicists of the world it would be this: please send me free stuff. Lots and lots of free stuff. I really like free stuff.
For the first entry in “Stuff I Wrote About Because I Got It For Free” I’ll be highlighting the first movie in the Wishmaster quadrilogy, which is being released on Blu-Ray as part of a series of releases from Vestron’s catalog. I’ve always been vaguely curious about these films and my interest was further piqued when Stuart Wellington recommended the movies on The Flop House, one of my favorite podcasts.
1997’s The Wishmaster opens with a prologue so audacious and awesome that it damn near justifies this whole creaky endeavor. As a director, Robert Kurtzman has one giant gift: he’s a fucking amazing monster make-up and special effects guy, one of the very best, with credits like Night Of The Creeps, Evil Dead 2, Tremors, The People Under The Stairs, Scream and Army Of Darkness to his name.
The first scene in The Wishmaster illustrates in lovingly stomach-churning detail why Kurtzman is at the top of his field. The rest of the film illustrates why that field is make-up/special effects and not directing. The movie opens in Persia in 1127, with its villain, Djinn (Andrew Divoff) granting a ruler’s wish to see “wonders” in the darkest, most ominous possible fashion.
As a special effects guy, Kurtzman delights in showing wonders that horrify as well as dazzle the human eye. This misguidedly open-ended wish leads to a stunning set piece where a Persian pleasure palace devolves into a circle of hell as otherworldly creatures begin to burst out of people’s stomachs, Alien-style while others instantaneously melt, devolving into puddles of blood and guts and muscle and goo. The special effects are not breathtakingly original. The film wears its influences proudly, borrowing extensively from the Alien and Evil Dead franchises, but the creature effects are impressive.
This extends to the design of Djinn, a towering demonic figure with yellowy eyes that never blink and the face and body of a gargoyle crossed with a demon. Djinn talks in a rumbling, gravelly baritone from somewhere deep in the fiery bowels of hell. He is, in other words, evil as fuck but because The Wishmaster is a genie variation on the stories about Faustian bargains that invariably go awry, he is continually able to convince people who really should know better to ask him for a wish.
According to The Wishmaster mythology, if a Djinn grants three wishes it opens a portal to another world and unleashes the evil of the Djinn on an unsuspecting world. In the prologue, Djinn is defeated by a powerful wizard before he can grant a third wish undoing the ruler’s second wish. The wizard traps Djinn in a magic opal, where it is imprisoned until a loading dock mishap involving a bit character played by Ted Raimi (one of a slew of horror icons or semi-icons in the cast) unleashes his evil upon an unsuspecting world.
The opening set piece for The Wishmaster made me think that maybe I’d stumbled across a bona fide sleeper. The film grows much more clunky and stiff once the action is updated to the present and special effects and disgustingly inventive creature make-up take a backseat to wooden dialogue and lame plotting.
At first I found myself thinking, “Wow, this is going to be like a mediocre episode of Tales From The Crypt! Awesome!” Then, as the film creaked along, feeling throughout more like genre television than a motion picture, I found myself thinking, “Oh, this is just going to be like a mediocre episode of Tales From The Crypt.” Because while I may nurse a deep, nostalgic love of Tales From The Crypt, mediocrity is mediocrity, even if it’s the kind of mediocrity you happen to personally favor.
The Wishmaster is then mostly devoted to maddeningly interchangeable scenes where Djinn, both in his original form and in human form, encounters somebody at least a little bit pissed off. Djinn grinningly, ghoulishly asks them if they’d like to make a wish concerning whatever’s got them hopping mad and they almost immediately say yes, despite Djinn being clearly evil and every Satanic/Djinny bargain invariably working out strongly in Satan/Djinn’s favor. Sure enough, the wish instantly backfires, leaving the luckless wisher in a state where death begins to seem like a pretty nifty option.
In morality tales like these, where cartoon sinners end up paying a horrible price for their transgressions, Satan at least has the decency to put on a good show initially. Heck, in The Devil & Daniel Webster, my favorite variation on this legend, the desperate farmer who makes the Satanic bargain enjoys a few years at the top in exchange for his soul. But in The Wishmaster there’s about a ten second lapse between a person falling for Djinn’s trap and agreeing to ask for one of his recommended wishes and that wish backfiring in a way that either kills them or makes them pray for death.
Take away some amazing make-up and creature effects and a hammily enjoyable lead performance by Andrew Divoff as The Wishmaster and there simply isn’t much to The Wishmaster. But if you were a Fangoria-reading nerd back in 1997, amazing creature and make-up effect and a memorable (if derivative villain) would be more than enough to make a movie worthwhile.
I personally got pretty much exactly what I wanted out of The Wishmaster. It was a perfectly adequate way to waste an hour and a half and scratch a weirdly Wishmaster-sized itch. The public seemed similarly semi-impressed by the film. The movie was a modest box-office hit, thanks in part to Wes Craven’s name on it as a presenter/Executive Producer but it was no Nightmare On Elm Street or Scream-like dynasty although like Nightmare On Elm Street, it had a sequel directed by Jack Sholder that I apparently saw and thought was okay many lifetimes ago for The A.V Club.
Though I was sent the whole quadrilogy, I have little interest in seeing whether The Wishmaster 2 holds up, let alone watching the third and fourth entries in the series. Unlike the luckless wish-makers here, I know well enough to reject a losing offer outright rather than suffer unfortunate consequences.
If you’d like your stuff to be considered for this column, send it to
c/o Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place
1231 Church Street