CAST A DEADLY SPELL (aka: LOVECRAFT)TV MOVIE (director: Martin Campbell; screenwriter: Joseph Dougherty; cinematographer: Alexander Gruszynski; editor: Dan Rae; music: Curt Sobel; cast: Fred Ward (Phil Lovecraft), David Warner (Amos Hackshaw), Julianne Moore (Connie), Clancy Brown (Harry Borden), Charles Hallahan (Det. Morris Bradbury), Alexandra Powers (Olivia Hackshaw), PeterAllas(Det. Otto Grimaldi), Lee Tergesen (Larry Willis / Lilly Sirwar), Raymond O’Connor (Tugwell), Arnetia Walker (Hypolite Kropotkin); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Gale Anne Hurd; HBO; 1991)
“It drowns in its own shallowness.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A made for cable blend of Raymond Chandler 1940’s gumshoes and H. P. Lovecraft 1930’s ghouls, that cleverly turns into a daffy pic that tries to bypass its genre-bending story line with witty film references by breaking movie conventions. When its innovative premise finally gets carried out, it can’t smoothly be pulled off as it drowns in its own shallowness and gets eaten alive by its cheesy special effects and its harmless satire becomes a bore. Director Martin Campbell (“Three For All”/”Criminal Law”/”Golden Eye”) is served with a far-reaching script by Joseph Dougherty, and strains to get as much comedy out of such a trying horror/mystery concoction that he can. Ultimately, he can’t pull it off.
It’s set in the fantasy world of 1948 Hollywood, a place that’s viewed as a postwar boom town filled with magicians who make things happen for those who practice the black arts. Every gangster and shyster in town seems to be doing well, but the honest hard-boiled shamus Harry Phillip Lovecraft (Fred Ward), a Marlowesque type of private dick who can’t be corrupted despite his lack of dough. Lovecraft’s lone client is the wealthy eccentric demonologist Amos Hackshaw (David Warner), who aims to retrieve the legendary “Necronomicon” (one of the keys works of the real H.P. Lovecraft). We learn the priceless black magic book supposedly can show the way to release the “Elder Gods” from their cosmic confines and return them to Earth, and upon their release Hackshaw believes he will rule the world. The rival for the book is a low-life gangster named Tugwell (Raymond O’Connor), whose favorite nightclub singer is Connie ( (Julianne Moore). The femme fatale was a former girlfriend of Lovecraft’s and again takes a romantic interest in the shamus despite being linked to her venal nightclub owner Harry Bordon (Clancy Brown). The greedy pig was Lovecraft’s former police partner, who went completely rotten and through Tugwell has joined in the effort to secure the book.
We also learn that the book has been stolen by a chauffeur (Lee Tergesen) who was dismissed for trying to seduce the man’s beautiful 16-year-old virgin daughter Olivia (Alexandra Powers).
There’s urgency in keeping Olivia pure and in recovering the book in time to do the Satanic ritual, as another chance won’t come around again for 666 years.
Another character worth noting is the Haitian witch named Hypolite Kropotkin (Arnetia Walker), Lovecraft’s protective landlady, who operates tap-and ballroom-dancing studios on the side.
REVIEWED ON 9/12/2013 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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