Cast a Deadly Spell Review
Cast A Deadly Spell
review by Eric
1991 – Cast a Deadly Spell
Fred Ward as H. Phillip Lovecraft
David Warner as Amos Hackshaw
Julianne Moore as Connie Stone
Clancy Brown as Harry Borden
Directed by Martin Cambell
Written By Joseph Dougherty
The story revolves around the character Phill Lovecraft a private detective, a man out of time and out of sync with “modern times” The story takes place in 1948 in L.A. As Phil is hired to track down a special book ( The Necronomicon )stolen from Amos Hackshaw a wealthy and sophisticated man with intentions he is not revealing. Through the Movie he runs into innocent damsels, Old Flames, former partners and zombies. Which all leads to the final encounter with “The Old One”
In this world magic exists, along with regular “modern” technology. It is framed that using magic is a shortcut to achieving your goals and that everybody uses it. Seemingly an allegory for either drugs, power, corruption or technology. All manner of magic exist be it, voodoo, Curses, Demons, vampires, werewolves and especially Lovecrafts the old ones such as Cthulhu. This movie is especially interesting because of its use of Genre mashing. I would qualify this as a Film Noir / horror / Black comedy.
The structure of the plot and many of the tropes are classic hard boiled detective film noir. Out of place detective gets a case that leads him into deeper mysteries/ old flames whose motivations are mysterious/ betrayal and the eventual overcoming of antagonists machinations. What makes this film fresh is that it inserts the supernatural as an everyday almost boring aspect of this world. Everybody uses magic that’s why its so weird that Phil doesn’t. It also uses dark almost slap stick comedy throughout. Not in a Shane Black kind of way but also not the 3 stooges either.
This movie captures all the tone of Film Noir but in color instead of black and white. Its use of color is bold using primary colors to accentuate mood and tension. Unfortunately I was only able to see this film from a VHS rip and is sadly deteriorated. What’s surprising is that this movie hasn’t had a proper restoration and conversation to Blu-Ray. The acting is solid all the actors playing their tropes well but at the same time believable and engaging. Clancy Brown even inserting a certain old timey inflection to his voice as you would expect from a movie from this period.
Julianne Moore is especially good in this movie she plays the old flame with a lot more subtlety and depth then anyone else in the movie. Her motivations are complicated yet she is just as relatable as Phil, maybe more so. Where Phil is stuck in his ways and many of the things that happen to him as a result. She’s doing the best she can with what’s been dealt to her trying to find more meaning in life.
The rest of the cast all put in memorable performances and they fit and add to this movie. The special effects aren’t half bad although it was hard to tell sometimes due to the quality of film. They are all practical effects using many of the old fashioned in camera effects they used in the old days. It gives the movie a charm and a sense of tone that helps capture the post WWII World.
There is one cringe aspect to this movie. Maybe they tried to chalk it up to the time it took place in. The main antagonists plot is foiled because the virgin he was going to sacrifice was no virgin at all. The problem being is that she is 16 and the man is presumably much older and married. Maybe I juts take extra notice of it because these kinds of details are dealt with in a much more serious way these days and the fact it was almost flippant in the way it was revealed erked me.
The way they deal with the H.P. Loveraft is also well handled. Instead of being an outright adaption it borrows themes and story elements from his work. Anyone who is familiar with Lovecrafts work knows of the baggage he carries. It’s been especially difficult to separate the man from the work. No one has figured out a way to bring his ideas and work to mainstream movies without carrying along all of the bad shit he was into with it. I think this movie is so far the best way do that. Bringing his unique brand of horror and ideas without dragging along the rest of it to spoil the genius and uniqueness of the voice.
Overall the movie is super solid. the performances, the story and the rich world it takes place in make a very enjoyable ride. The genre mashing makes it unique and refreshing while not being as overly clever as say a Shane Black movie. It holds truer to its film noir roots. Whats strange is that it hasn’t made its way to be restored and put on blu-ray yet. The movie certainly is justified in getting this kind of treatment.