Thursday, October 25, 2012

#801. Wishcraft (2002)

Directed By: Danny Graves, Richard Wenk

Starring: Michael Weston, Alexandra Holden, Huntley Ritter

Tag line: "In this school, when you're marked absent, you won't be coming back"

Trivia: In Hungary, this film was released as Dangerous Wishes

Most of the actors who appeared in 2002’s Wishcraft were relative unknowns at the time, but there are two familiar faces in the bunch. The first belongs to Zelda Rubenstein, the petite actress who helped rescue Carol-Anne throughout the Poltergeist series, here playing what could be the strangest coroner ever committed to film. Then, we have rock star Meatloaf, as a detective investigating a string of bizarre killings. Celebrity appearances like these, which filmmakers throw in to lend a little legitimacy to their picture, are commonplace in low-budget horror. But this movie didn't need any stars to enhance it because, for most of its running time, Wishcraft is both a tense whodunit and a bloody slasher, telling a story that's a good diversion on its own.

Brett Bumpers (Michael Weston) is a model student, which doesn’t exactly make him the most popular guy in high school. He is secretly in love with Samantha (Alexandra Holden), a foxy cheerleader he’s tutoring in World History. Of course, Samantha is dating an arrogant jock named Cody (Huntley Ritter), who all the girls swoon over, so what kind of chance does a guy like Brett have? That question is answered when Brett receives a package in the mail, containing a totem (a severed bull’s penis wrapped in leather) and a note telling him he’s just been granted three wishes. At first skeptical, Brett eventually uses the totem and is shocked when his wish actually comes true. But at the same time Brett is attempting to change his life, a number of students at his school are being savagely butchered by an unknown killer. Does Brett’s new “toy” connect, in any way, to these murders? And if so, how?

The opening scenes of Wishcraft are dedicated to setting up the film’s high school environment, and while there’s nothing new here (jocks, cheerleaders, Goths, and our man, Brett, on the outside looking in), it’s certainly presented well. Then Brett receives the totem in the mail, and, prompted by his best friend, Howie (A.J. Buckley), he makes his first wish. Lo and behold, it comes true: Samantha asks him to a school dance. Naturally, the date doesn’t go as Brett would have liked it to, but at least he knows the totem works. Geared more towards the fantastic than the frightening early on, Wishcraft established an interesting premise, and I was anxious to see how it was going to evolve into a horror tale.

As it turns out, I didn’t have to wait very long. Right after the dance, we join Jimbo (Charlie Talbert), one of the jocks, and his date (Alexandra Breckenridge) as they’re making out on a blanket in the middle of a golf course. Unfortunately, the sprinklers go off, spoiling their romantic moment and sending the two scurrying in the direction of Jimbo’s car. In his hurry to escape the running water, Jimbo left his pants behind. So, he goes back to retrieve them, only to find they’re now hanging from a tree branch. Realizing someone is messing with him, Jimbo calls out, threatening to beat the hell out of whoever it might be. It’s then that he’s attacked by a cloaked figure with a deformed face, who slices Jimbo up with a knife before using a samurai sword to pin his torso to a tree. The kill itself isn’t all that shocking, but the gruesome discovery made by Jimbo’s girlfriend right afterwards is. More students will be polished off in a similarly violent fashion, including one who meets his end by way of a bowling ball!

Wishcraft doesn’t connect the dots between Brett’s Totem and the murders until late in the film, and I have to say I was surprised by the twist (because I didn’t see it coming), but also a bit disappointed when the killer was finally revealed (his motives were beyond weak). The movie then wraps up with a ridiculous fight sequence, a kung-fu style showdown that had me rolling my eyes in disbelief. 

It was a poor ending to what had otherwise been an engaging motion picture.

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