Schlocktoberfest #7: Witch Hunt
I saw the sequel to Cast a Deadly Spell long before I saw the original. and it may be directed by Paul Schrader of Cat People and Mishima fame, it lacks much of the charm of its predecessor. It’s too cute, it concentrates more on its McCarthyism analogy than magic, and the talented cast is mostly wasted. This time around we lose the reliable lug Fred Ward as P.I. Lovecraft and instead get everyone’s favorite scenery-chewery, Dennis Hopper. He can be great, but here he’s pretty useless. Everyone is replaced, even Hypolita Kropotkin, our hero’s plucky Jamaican-Russian landlady and licensed witch.
In Witch Hunt, H.P. Lovecraft is called to investigate a murder linked vaguely to the populist Senator Larsen Crockett, played to the hilt by Eric Bogosian. I liked Bogosian’s schtick when I saw him in Talk Radio, but he plays the exact same type here, and it’s just as annoying as when Bobcat Goldthwait did it. Here he plays a McCarthy clone who goes on a real witch hunt! Get it? Hollywood’s flirtation with the dark arts has offended middle America, and he’s going to ride his way to the Presidency on a clean-up campaign. While the first movie was a “what if,” this is like a lame Star Trek episode where an analogy is used to make a point and not offend the censors or sponsors.
Julian Sands is effective as a creepy warlock named Finn Macha, who is using Crockett to gain power of his own. The film tries to juggle two plots, and makes a mess. If you hadn’t seen the first one, it can be interesting, and I liked Finn Macha’s use of magic. At one point he spits a newt at someone, and it sticks to their face; moments later the victim is spitting up an endless series of toads, and if that’s not creepy to contemplate, I don’t know what is. Got a frog in your throat? The film’s dialogue is pretty bad, but they don’t stoop that far.
“I knew a private eye who hired a witch to put a tail on a guy, and the poor bastard had to have it surgically removed.” Stuff like that is bad enough. Dennis Hopper can do many things, but he’s no subtle everyman gumshoe. Fred Ward was too busy filming Short Cuts with Robert Altman to return, and he made the right choice I’m afraid. While Cast a Deadly Spell had its share of humor- kicking a demon in the nonexistent balls, and the great virgin twist, Witch Hunt is just silly. Zombies were dangerous in the first one; in the sequel, Hopper just sidesteps it and falls down, eyes popping out of its head. Disappointing writing.
There’s also a distinct lack of monsters and I think the budget took a nosedive. The best we get is a killer raven plucking out a witch’s eye, and you’ll be wondering why they even bothered using the “Phil” Lovecraft character if everything else was going to change. If you like voodoo movies and want to see an imaginative take on the Red Scare transplanted to a magical Hollywood, this might be worth a rental. However, it’s such a disappointing sequel that if you like the first movie you should probably avoid this. It’s the equivalent of a direct-to-video release. It’s so bad that I can’t even find screen shots on the web, and there’s nudity (Jill Pierce) in it. Avoid.