It used to be that I could watch 100 Direct-to-Video movies in a row and not find a single good one in the bunch. At least not good enough to ever get over the 2.5-star hump and thus, a film that I would recommend. But apparently 2004 is shaping up to be a good year for DTV movie watching, because the first two that I’ve seen, “Time Quest” and now “Wishcraft”, have proven to be excellent entertainment. Mind you I’m not saying both will be up for Oscars in ’04, but there’s something to be said about making due with a limited budget, a cast of mostly unknowns, and turning out a product that is both entertaining and, to a certain degree, unique.
Such is the case with “Wishcraft”, about high school nerd Brett Bumpers who receives a totem (in the form of a bull’s penis, no less) in his mailbox one day. A note attached to the totem informs Brett that he’s been granted 3 wishes. Being that Brett is your average horny all-American boy, he of course wishes that the school’s hot cheerleader would ask him to an upcoming dance. It works, but as soon as the dance is over, the wish also wears off. Learning from his mistake, Brett makes his second wish: for the hot cheerleader to fall madly in love with him forever, which she does with aplomb. And oh yeah, while all this is going on a maniac with super strength is going around killing teens.
If it seems as if the movie is split into two halves — a Teen Slasher with a masked killer chopping up jocks and your ordinary Teen High School movie about nerds and the cheerleaders they all stereotypically pine for — then you’re not far off. For much of its running length, “Wishcraft” looks and feels like a Fantasy set around the climate of a small town high school. But of course there are murders taking place every 20 minutes or so to ruin that notion. By the hour mark, the movie’s two halves have come closer to joining, and the whole thing ends with a rather silly — albeit entertaining nevertheless — ending that resolves all loose ends.
“Wishcraft’s” director is Danny Graves, a first-time director who works from a script by Larry Katz. Michael Weston (“Cherry Falls”) stars as the improbably named Brett Bumpers, with the lovely and sprite Alexandra Holden (“Sugar and Spice”) as the object of his wet dreams. The boy’s got good tastes. The Goofy Best Friend is played by A.J. Buckley (“The In Crowd”), who gamely carries much of the film during its brief set-up period. Buckley’s Howie continues to be the film’s highlight, with Katz’s script smartly keeping the character from trespassing into Odious Comic Relief territory.
Aside from rocker-turned-actor Meat Loaf (“Fight Club”), “Wishcraft” is working with a cast of relative unknowns. But although they’re not recognizable names, everyone here has been in at least a dozen major feature length films apiece, which may explain why the acting is, across the board, above par. The characters are all believable, which is saying something because movies of this genre usually drop the ball when it comes to hiring decent actors. This is a sin made even more unforgivable because the characters they’re playing are usually stock characters incapable of surprising even the casual genre fan.
I won’t say that “Wishcraft” breaks the mold, because it’s a rare film that does that. If there is a weakness, it’s the script’s final act. By the time the relationship between the masked killer and Brett’s newfound ability to make his wishes come true are revealed, the script has wandered conveniently into comic book territory in order to explain everything. The best part (or should I say, the funniest part) is that the characters, once made aware of the film’s ultimate plot twist, don’t seem especially bothered by such fantastical explanations. Who knew it would be so easy to convince people that a bull penis had so much power?
As a straight Teen Slasher, “Wishcraft” doesn’t completely satisfy. With much of the movie devoted to Brett and Samantha and even the hi-jinx of Howie, the scenes involving the masked killer seems a bit out of place. At any rate, the movie is not very bloody, even though we get a decapitation and more than one offscreen killing. There is no nudity whatsoever, although lead Alexandra Holden does tease us with the world’s most perfect female abs. Whoever heard of a Teen Slasher movie without gratuitous nudity? As a fan of the genre, I can only say that I hope this isn’t a trend!
“Wishcraft” is never boring and there are few, if any, unnecessary characterizations to muddle things up. It’s a smart screenwriter that realizes people who watches movies about masked killers and stupid jocks don’t care about a character’s childhood trauma or his thoughts on the formation of the universe in the seconds after the Big Bang. There’s no doubt that Danny Graves could have done wonders with a bigger budget, but he manages well enough with what he had on hand. The film doesn’t have the Hollywood slick and gloss, but it makes up for the lack of visual polish with a surprisingly good script and an all-around good cast.
Who knew watching DTV could be so rewarding?
Danny Graves (director) / Larry Katz (screenplay)
CAST: Austin Pendleton …. Mr. Turner
Michael Weston …. Brett Bumpers
A.J. Buckley …. Howie
Sara Downing …. Desiree
Alexandra Holden …. Samantha Warren