With Wes Craven as executive producer and legendary special effects supervisor Robert Kurtzman directing, you’d probably expect Wishmaster to have at least achieved some cult success. Sadly, this isn’t really the case, and the film has faded into obscurity.
From the start, Wishmaster is a singularly odd film. Opening with a lengthy narration (delivered by Angus Scrimm, the Tall Man from the Phantasm franchise) describing the djinn and their evil nature, Wishmaster then depicts a twelfth-century Persian emperor unleashing the power of the djinn, only for a sorcerer to imprison the malevolent wish-granting creature inside an opal.
Fast forward to 1990s America, and the gem finds its way into the hands of Alex (Tammy Lauren), who accidentally wakes the djinn, and then must refrain from using three wishes lest she free legions of evil djinn upon the Earth. Wishmaster‘s plot is both ridiculously simple and unnecessarily convoluted, and numerous times it disregards its own established rules for reasons of horror/comedy, resulting in a number of plot holes.
However, as to be expected with someone like Kurtzman at the helm, it features extensive practical make-up effects which have aged well, and Craven’s involvement meant that numerous actors from popular horror films delivered cameo performances, which certainly add to the film’s watchability. These cameos include Tony Todd (Candyman, Final Destination), Ted Raimi (Candyman, Darkman, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness), Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th), the above-mentioned Angus Scrimm, as well as Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street), who appears in a supporting role. However, this actually leaves Wishmaster feeling more like a love-letter to the horror genre than an actual movie in its own right.
The film does have its moments, though. It’s campy and not at all scary, but it’s able to tell a relatively coherent story that is genuinely entertaining, and its practical effects are something to behold – most come off as comedic rather than frightening, but there’s a real spectacle to the film that is an undeniable draw.
Wishmaster‘s ludicrous plot detracts from a theoretically sound premise: an ancient and powerful evil who is forced to abide by certain rules (allowing for it to be outsmarted) is awoken and intent upon consuming the world. However, the lack of overly intelligent writing doomed Wishmaster to B-movie status, when really it could have been something far more. It seems mostly that it came at entirely the wrong moment – shortly after the release of Scream, slashers became all the rage, and this late ’90s fantasy horror came almost a decade after it would have been most appreciated.
Despite its shortcomings, Wishmaster is an overall enjoyable experience. It hardly breaks the mold, but it does try to do something a little different, and that unique quality is what allows it to stand out even over two decades after its release. For fans of horror flicks, it’s worth watching for the cameos alone, and while it’s often laughable and ridiculous, odds are you’ll at least be somewhat entertained.
Summary: An unjustly forgotten gem (pun intended) of campy ’90s B-movie horror, Wishmaster ticks just enough boxes to warrant a viewing.
Highlight: The djinn’s ridiculously gravelly voice is campily classic, and will have viewers shredding their own vocal chords in order to replicate it for comic effect.