Friday, October 19, 2018

Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)

Most of the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft takes place in the 1920s and 1930s. Most film adaptations decide to put the stories in the era they were filmed, but a few take the leap for period production elements. Then you have this film, which moves the action to the 40’s, has a character named Lovecraft, contains the Necronomicon and a huge monster rising up to destroy the earth. It is as if the pulp magazines of the war years exploded all over the screen.


It is 1948 in Los Angeles, and everyone uses magic. Well, everyone except for private detective H.P. Lovecraft (Fred Ward). It makes his job a bit tougher, since the police are using spells to catch the rampaging criminal gangs summoning demons to whack targets. Let’s not mention the werewolves, vampires and unicorns wandering around. Things take a turn for the weird when Amos Hacksaw (David Warner) hires Lovecraft to retrieve a stolen tome: a little book called the Necronomicon. Before you can say Cthulhu, all kinds of craziness starts to happen.

Turns out that the local crime lord (and former pal to Lovecraft) Harry Bordon (Clancy Brown), may have sent his hulking zombie after it. Lovecraft’s old flame Connie Stone (Julianne Moore) has a few clues of her own to share, but is the price worth it? Let’s not forget the car full of gremlins, a creature bursting from a pot of oatmeal and the sacrifice of a lovely virgin. Lovecraft has his work cut out for him, especially since he won’t stoop to actually Cast a Deadly Spell.

Good Points:
  • Fred Ward is a hoot as the hard boiled, square jawed detective
  • The concept and production are handled really well
  • Never takes itself too seriously, which helps with all the crazy creature effects

Bad Points:
  • Some of the humor falls pretty flat
  • None of the monsters are all that scary
  • The tone of the film never quite gels


Oh man, how badly do I want to love this movie? I really do. But in the end it just never quite comes together. The concept is fun, the actors are game and the visual effects are pretty darn impressive. But the humor doesn’t always land, and contrasts with some of the over the top gore that ends up splashing around. Instead of going for slapstick humor, the film should have embraced a drier and darker variety of comedy, that would have fused well with the horror and noire overtones. It is a fun film.  If you’re looking for something a little bit different, this sure fits the bill.

Scores(out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting:  4
Script:  3
Music: 4
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

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  1. 40s noir is the quintessential American B movie style, and the original films are usually funny in a gritty way. Philip Marlowe describes the previous owner of a dive bar, for example: "He died in 1940, in the middle of a glass of beer. His wife Jessie finished it for him." So, kudos just for the period setting. This sounds like fun despite missteps.

    1. Heh heh. That's a good one. There is some of that type of humor in this film. When Lovecraft is chatting up a dame, she is trying to persuade him to see her side of the story. She says, "I'm serious." to which Lovecraft replies, "Then why are you wearing that hat?"

      I was a little harder on it when I first posted this review, but reflecting on all the chances they took with this mash-up of genres and the fact that all the actors do such a good job jumping into this idea, I had to give them more credit.