I actually saw both previous “Warlock” films in the theaters, back when moderately budgeted B-Horror films were still allowed to grace the multiplexes. Now, you couldn’t get into the theaters unless your films had a big budget, is being distributed by a big studio, or has a named cast. Such is the fate of “Warlock 3: The End of Innocence”, which is the third in the series and the first to go straight to video. Which may be just as well, because “Warlock 3”, despite being much better than both previous installments (including the strangely lackluster original), has little to no relation to the previous two films besides its use of a warlock character.
Ashley Laurence (the “Hellraiser” franchise) jumps ship to take the lead, starring as Kris, a young artist who has no idea where she comes from, but has a burning desire to find out. When Kris is told that she’s inherited a spooky old mansion in the boondocks, she eagerly travels alone to the homestead in hopes of learning more about her past. Soon, her friends join her, including loyal boyfriend Michael (Paul Francis), quiet musician Jerry (Jan Schweiterman), S&M lovers Lisa (Angel Boris) and Scott (Rick Hearst), and practicing witch Robin (Boti Bliss).
No sooner does the friends arrive does the warlock himself (Bruce Payne) make an appearance, pretending to be an architect interested in the house. Soon, the warlock has turned all of Kris’ friends against her, with plans on finishing up a ceremony that would give him ultimate power or destroy the Earth or one of those Evil Master Plan that all witches and warlocks and demons are wont to do in these movies. Can Kris stop the manipulative warlock in time? Better yet, will she stop calling for her boyfriend to come protect her? It’s getting really annoying.
Director/co-writer Eric Freiser is obviously a talented filmmaker, and yet he seems unable (or unwilling) to drop all the cliché of the Teen Horror genre. Throughout the film, Freiser keep springing Shock Flashes, where we see brief glimpses of something supernatural going on, all doused with loud, nonsensical screeching noise. It’s supposed to “shock” and “befuddle” us because the scenes are much too quick (usually less than a second) for us to actually “see” anything going on. It’s a tiresome gimmick that horror filmmakers seem unable (or unwilling) to shed. (See “Darkness” and “The Nameless” for more gratuitous use of the Shock Flash gimmick — both films are also directed by the same man.)
Although working with a low budget, Freiser does very well with what he has on hand. Oh sure, the sets are limited, and what little special effects that do appear seem to be used up in a brief confrontation between the warlock and Wicca Robin. That scene, although nothing to get excited about, is still nicely done, but it also means there’s no more budget for anything else, including the supposedly climactic final battle between Kris and the warlock. That particular scene is covered in red filters (probably to hide the lame set) and Freiser drowns us in Shock Flashes, which leaves me to this conclusion: If I didn’t already despise Shock Flashes, watching “Warlock 3’s” ending would have done it.
None of which is to say that “Warlock 3” is a bad movie. It’s actually quite interesting, if a bit slow and plodding for the first hour. The screenplay by Freiser and Eisen relies more on traditional horror elements, including a Haunted House atmosphere for the first 30 minutes, with Kris staying in the creepy house alone. This is followed by 30 minutes of subtle suspense and manipulation by the warlock. Rather it was the low budget that forced the movie to take a more grounded approach to the evil going on or if the whole thing was intentional from the very beginning, the result is the same: the film’s first 60 minutes works extremely well.
Surprisingly, the cast is capable, including Bruce Payne (“Highlander: Endgame”) as the villainous warlock. Payne oozes maliciousness as the brooding warlock, who arrives wearing black leather pants and an evil twinkle in his eyes. As the lead, Ashley Laurence does just fine with what she has at hand, although her character is written as being somewhat irritating. Kris is mostly useless, always prone to calling out to boyfriend Michael for anything and everything. One would hope that the film’s heroine would possess some courage besides calling out her boyfriend’s name whenever she encounters dirt on the floor.
In the end, I have to grudgingly admit that “Warlock 3” is much better than its big-budgeted pedigree. There’s definitely something to be said about a limited budget requiring the filmmakers to be more creative than usual.
Eric Freiser (director) / Pierce Milestone, Bruce David Eisen, Eric Freiser (screenplay)
CAST: Bruce Payne …. The Warlock
Ashley Laurence …. Kris Miller
Paul Francis …. Michael
Jan Schweiterman …. Jerry
Angel Boris …. Lisa