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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful.
"I got vampires in West Hollywood, salamanders coming out of the fire hydrants in Santa Monica..."
By H. Bala
CAST A DEADLY SPELL is a curio piece today, but so it was also when it aired back in 1991 as an original made-for-television HBO movie. Lovecraftians shouldn't get their feathers ruffled, but affectionate references abound with regards to the Cthulhu and the Elder Gods and Azathoth and such, not to mention the broader riffs on both the horror and hard-boiled detective genres. If you've seen and been keen on films like DYLAN DOG and LORD OF ILLUSIONS, note that CAST A DEADLY SPELL was there first. It's irritating that there's no DVD out yet for this very entertaining blend of whimsy and film noir and the occult.
In the alternate reality of 1948, Los Angeles, magic exists and humans apply it for their every day needs. That is, except for down-and-out private eye Harry Philip Lovecraft (Fred Ward) who refuses to compromise, to take a short cut by using magic. In my favorite role of his by far, Fred Ward is authentic and tremendously likable. He captures the old-school mannerisms. The world-weariness is there, and the expected wise-cracking, and that tattered but unbendable code of honor. He handles all the gumshoe tropes with enormous appeal.
Lovecraft is engaged by the wealthiest man in Los Angeles (a prissy David Warner) to procure a stolen grimoire, and, yes, it's none other than the Necronomicon. In sniffing out them clues, Lovecraft is reacquainted with an old partner now become club owner and local gangster (Clancy Brown) and with his moll, the lovely chanteuse Connie Stone (a sultry Julianne Moore). Because, c'mon, what's film noir without a femme fatale? To make it more interesting, of course Lovecraft and Connie Stone have a history. As Lovecraft mentions in his voiceover narration: "It always starts with a woman." Ward and Moore share a nice chemistry, and never mind that Moore lip-synchs her tunes in the nightclub. Her performance of the lush torch song "Why Do I Lie (To Me)?" is compelling stuff.
"Things are in flux. The auras are bad. Me, I'm going to Florida!" remarks Lovecraft's landlady, Mrs. Hypolite Kropotkin. Mrs. Kropotkin - delightfully played by Arnetia Walker - knows what she's talking about, seeing as how she's a landlady AND a practicing witch. Since this is a nod to H.P. Lovecraft, the perils are accordingly high stakes. The lesser demons and gremlins and zombies that Lovecraft encounters thru the course of his investigation serve as mere appetizers. The Necronomicon is a interdimensional portal thru which the Elder Gods hunger to worm their way. One only requires the Necronomicon and a sacrificial virgin to grease the engine ("Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a virgin in Hollywood?" grouses the gangster). Here's hoping Lovecraft is itemizing his expense account.
HBO released a sequel two years later, except that Witch Hunt [VHS] - starring Dennis Hopper as Lovecraft - falls short of matching all the neat touches that made CAST A DEADLY SPELL so very good. CAST A DEADLY SPELL is well-acted and delightfully holds up even today. Well, alright, the special effects are pretty dated. In all else, it's simply a first-class production. And it achieves this remarkable thing. It manages to establish a moody, noirish atmosphere while nursing a tongue-in-cheek vibe. The inside jokes and sight gags come plentiful. I love all the zingers targeted at Lovecraft's much abused tie. We're treated to a diverse and imaginative assortment of the supernatural elements this other Los Angeles has to offer. One clever bit has Lovecraft attacked via a written curse (the victim has to read for it to activate). A voodoo doll is introduced as a murder weapon by a straight-faced copper. There is death by a thousand paper cuts. There's even a unicorn. There's also a ridiculous rubbery gargoyle that our hero wrestles with, but let's not talk about that.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful.
Clever premise, indifferently executed.
By Amazon Customer
The combination of magic or fantasy and hardboiled detective stories has been a rapidly growing field for fantasy writers for about the past 15 years or so, but this film beat the trend and just misses being a classic. The concept, H.P. "Phil" Lovecraft as a Chandleresque detective in a world where magic is an accepted fact of life, is brilliant and much of the story is clever. Fred Ward gives the performance of his life as Lovecraft, and some of the cast (principally Julianne Moore, Clancy Brown, David Warner and some of the minor parts) are very good.
Unfortunately, the screen play varies between a well-written fantasy mystery (albeit with tongue firmly planted in cheek) and a cheesy mess that s little better than the primitive special effects that weren't state of the art of the time and are simply awful today. All in all, the film is enjoyable; but it could have been so much better than it was.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful. See all 311 customer reviews...
I like Fred Ward and I like David Warner
By Stephen Thomas
I like Fred Ward and I like David Warner. That being said, I didn't truly enjoy this movie. Fred Ward played the hero with his usual "not-quite-bright-but well-intentioned" aplomb, and David Warner did his "thing" as the outwardly respectable, inwardly vile villain -- both actors held up their ends of the movie as best they could, dealing as they were with a less-than-stellar script and numerous plot holes that were left unfilled.
As I said, it could have been a really cool movie if HBO had put more into it. It's the 1940s. Everybody uses magic (except the hero, for reason that are never really explained). The plot is transparently "Chandleresque"or "Hamettesques" if you prefer.. The hero, a down-at-the heels private eye who tries desperately to channel Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade, and fails miserably at both goes in search of a missing book of some importance. In this case it's the Necromonicon, and has the power to summon the Ancient Ones from the depths of wherever they may have been banished to rule the world (that old chestnut!). Of course, there's more to it than that, but anyone whose seen any of the classic noir movies of the 30s or 40s can pretty much figure the whole thing out. Julianne Moore, whose sultry "singing" voice is obviously dubbed here, plays her part as the ill-fated femme fatale with painful-to-watch rigidity, as though she really didn't want to be there. There's a virgin (of course) who is intent on not remaining one, a nosy landlady (who is a witch but not a fanatic about it) and a few supporting characters who are there for comic relief (more or less). I gave this flick 3 stars, though I probably gave it more than it deserved. All in all, not a movie I would watch a second time.