Warlock (1989) Retrospective

The Warlock is taken captive in Boston, Massachusetts in 1691 by the witch-hunter Giles Redferne. He is sentenced to death for his activities, including the death of Redferne’s wife, but before the execution, Satan appears and propels the Warlock forward in time to late 20th century Los Angeles, California. Redferne follows through the portal.

When the Warlock crash lands in the flat of a waitress named Kassandra and her gay roommate, Chas, he is taken in by them. While Kassandra is out, the Warlock attacks Chas, cutting off his finger with a carving knife to acquire his ring, before biting out his tongue, leaving him to die of shock. The Warlock confronts a fake psychic, tricking her into allowing her to be possessed by Satan who tells him to reassemble The Grand Grimoire, a book scattered in three pieces across the world that will reveal the “true” name of God which when spoken backwards will unmake Creation. Satan promises to make the Warlock his second-in-command if he accomplishes this task. Ripping out the psychic’s eyes and using them as a Satanic compass, the Warlock finds the first piece of the Grand Grimoire hidden inside an antique table at Kassandra’s flat. Whilst there, he places an ageing curse upon her and takes her bracelet. Redferne arrives with a “witch compass” with which to track the Warlock. After Redferne explains some basic rules of Witches and Warlocks, such as their weakness to purified salt, Kassandra follows him in order to regain her bracelet which will break the spell and allow her to become young again. Meanwhile the Warlock acquires the power of flight by murdering an unbaptised child and boiling his fat.

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Using Redferne’s witch-compass, Redferne and Kassandra pursue the Warlock to the rural home of a Mennonite family where the Warlock has located the second piece of the Grimoire, increasing his power. After a brief battle with Redferne, the Warlock attempts to fly away but is struck down by a weathervane thrown by Redferne. Redferne, Kassandra and the Mennonite couple hold the Warlock down and attempt to bind his hands and feet with a pair of blessed manacles that will stop him from using his power but the Warlock hexes the Mennonite farmer with the Evil Eye before escaping on foot. Redferne gives Kassandra a blessed hammer with which to hammer nails into the Warlock’s footprints while he and the farmer’s wife carry the ailing farmer back to the house. While the Warlock sheds his shackles, Kassandra follows him and hammers nails into his footprints, causing the Warlock unbearable agony. He manages to escape via a train but not before Kassandra recovers her bracelet from him, restoring her youth. The farmer dies, leaving Redferne even more determined to hunt the Warlock. Kassandra does not wish to go with him but is reluctantly persuaded to when Redferne tells her that the Warlock intends to destroy the universe.

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They take a plane to follow the Warlock to Boston where the third and final piece of the Grand Grimoire is supposed to be buried on sacred earth. There they arrive at the Church where the Grimoire is held and warn the local priest that the Warlock is coming for it. The priest, whose family have protected the Grimoire for generations, reassures Redferne and Kassandra that the book is buried in sacred earth, directing them to the graveyard where it is buried. Upon arriving however, Kassandra realises that due to construction, many coffins have been moved from the graveyard to the other side, which is not consecrated ground. They find Redferne’s coffin and break it open to get the Grimoire when the Warlock arrives, having forced the priest to reveal the location of the book by threatening to give his wife a miscarriage. Redferne quickly carries the book onto hallowed ground but the Warlock grabs Kassandra and threatens to kill her if Redferne does not bring him the book. Redferne challenges the Warlock to a fair fight without weapons or magic and the Warlock agrees. He flings Kassandra into a lake and he and Redferne fight. The Warlock quickly gains the advantage and Redferne is forced to cheat by throwing soil from the sacred ground in the Warlock’s face. With the rules broken, the Warlock uses his magical abilities to subdue Redferne and claim possession of the final third of the Grimore. He assembles it and learns the true name of God.

Before the Warlock can speak the word backwards, however, Kassandra stabs him in the neck with the syringe she normally uses to inject insulin, which she has filled with salt water from the lake. The Warlock’s throat seals shut and he bursts into flames. Redferne and Kassandra bid one another an emotional farewell before Redferne returns to his own time. Kassandra takes the Grimoire and buries it in the middle of the Bonneville Salt Flats.

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The project began in the mind of writer D. T. Twohy, “For a long time I was dabbling with the premise that the warlock would be the good guy,” said Twohy in an interview during filming at a church in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston. “I spent, if not wasted, a good six to eight weeks trying to make the warlock somebody who was persecuted during the witch craze of the 17th century, and came forward to this time and experienced much the same persecution here for other reasons. It didn’t work that way. Only when I reversed that expectation and made the warlock a bad guy did everything begin to fall into place.”

His script was first discovered in the offices of Inter-Ocean Films, a company that specializes in the sale of movies to foreign territories. After they spent some time developing the script together, a director and another writer were brought in to work on it, but it still wasn’t filmable, according to producer Arnold Kopelson. It was at that point that New World Pictures suggested bringing in director Steve Miner. Recalled Kopelson, “They had been suggesting him right from the beginning. When we finally got together I realized this guy was right.”

Miner returned to Twohy’s earlier draft, and worked with him on fashioning the final screenplay. Such was their relationship that Twohy was accorded the rare privilege for a screenwriter of being present during production. Twohy said that it’s “reflective of the relationship I have with Steve Miner. He and I became creative brethren on this project. We saw no reason to terminate that relationship.”

One thing that meant was that Twohy began to get involved in considering financial limitations on the film. While early on he refused to let such matters “inhibit my imagination,” he found certain practical problems when he and Miner began budgeting out the special effects. The film’s total budget could not exceed $15 million. One such problem arose with one of the warlock’s powers: the ability to create ectoplasm which could then be hurled as a bolt at his helpless victim.

“We feared for a while that we’d have to trim our ectoplasm out,” said Twohy. “We rewrote it, taking it out, but in the rewrite we couldn’t really find a suitable replacement for it. So we wound up switching special effects companies to somebody who could do it more economically and so they say-better.” Dreamquest was originally scheduled to do the special optical effects, including the ectoplasm. They were replaced by Perpetual Motion. Its proprietor, Barry Nolan, became the optical effects supervisor for the film. Such things as whether the budget is too high or too low remains relative, of course. Kopelson noted that WARLOCK will be “the most expensive movie that New World Pictures has ever been involved with.”

Miner also had a large say in the casting. Kopelson had wanted Lori Singer and Julian Sands, but it was Miner who suggested that Sands play the warlock instead of the witchhunter. Kopelson agreed, recalling what Oliver Stone had done casting Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger against type in PLATOON. Asked about Sands being cast against type, Miner laughed, “You don’t know Julian, obviously. To me, he’s always been a perfect warlock.”


For his part Sands said he “liked doing something a little different” since this is the “first malevolently sinister role” he has gotten to play. Sands also enjoyed playing with some of the humorous elements of the script, “If you can make a cocktail of BEWITCHED and THE ÉXORCIST you’ll get an idea of what the warlock is capable of.”

Miner insisted that both the warlock and Redferne the witchhunter be cast with English actors. Richard E. Grant, who makes his American film debut as Redferne. “I thought it was very important to cast the two males with English actors,” said Miner. “It starts in colonial United States which was an extension of England. They’d been off the boat for five years, ten years at the most. They’re English.”

That desire to at least make a stab at realism in the midst of a story about a warlock is what brought the production to Copps’ Hill cemetery in Boston’s historic North End-a short walk from Paul Revere’s house. The production built its own version of Boston Harbor, including the city’s skyline, on a Los Angeles soundstage.

While Miner’s credentials both inside and outside the horror genre are secure, for most filmmakers such films are used as a stepping stone to what are perceived as more prestigious projects. Why, then, would a producer who has an Oscar on his mantelpiece for one of the most successful Vietnam films want to make a film about witchcraft and the supernatural?

As Sands noted. screenwriter Twohy has invested the dialogue with a great deal of humor and put a fresh spin on conventional horror flick wisdom. Miner has done all he can to bring it convincingly to the screen. eliciting solid performances from everyone but Singer who, apparently, was difficult on the set. Worse. the people holding the purse strings at the late, lamented New World handcuffed Miner. whose FX ambitions exceeded his cash flow.


Sands understands Miner’s dilemma. “The thing about a limited, budget is it means people really have to think very hard and the preparation has to be very good. They have to be alert and inventive. Despite the limited millions, you have to put every dollar on the screen. Steve did just that. He’s a very balanced director.

The budget crunch forced Miner to create atmosphere and to suggest, more than he shows. Still, Warlock boasts its share of gruesome moments, such as the chopping off of fingers and the aforementioned tongue-biting and eye-gouging. Sands didn’t hesitate to go all out for the nastier scenes. “You’ve got to go for those.” Sands maintains. “That’s the fun for me. I enjoyed playing those scenes for just whoever was in the room, one or two dozen people. That was an audience and it was a performance. Now, it’s there for whoever sees the film.

“That was the appeal of the Warlock for me, that sort of heightened, almost stylized fun to be had with this malevolent creature. A lot of my friends said. Oh, you shouldn’t do a horror film, blah, blah, blah. But I just do what I feel I’ll enjoy.”

The tongue-bite scene, however, nearly made the actor ill. “It’s a hell of a French kiss. I did feel like throwing up after I bit it out of the actor’s mouth and it was sitting in mine. I was just happy to spit it into the frying pan,” he jokes.

A scene that proved too unpleasant for some people was Warlock’s breaking lady” sequence. In it. Sands freezes the body of the topless channeler (Woronov), knocks it to the ground and proceeds to stomp on her chest until he frees Satan’s eyes from her breasts. Now. Sands merely plucks out Woronov’s eyes, not exactly something we haven’t seen before, “That first sequence was shot. and I don’t know why it was cut: I think audiences at test screenings found it just too much.” Sands muses. “I don’t know who was in the audience, whether it was executives or people’s wives or brothers. But yes, the eyeballs used to be in the breasts. I see them.” details Sands in a most happy voice, “and I freeze her up and she falls over. I stomp all over her breasts to get to the eyes balls. People just found that too politically offensive, too humanitarianly offensive. There was something too brutal about the Warlock’s boots stomping on her.

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Woronov was outfitted in the scene with latex appliance breasts devised by Oscar nominee Carl Fullerton, the film’s makeup supervisor, who was assisted by Neal Martz.  The building of the breakable glass body was largely the work of Neal Martz, experimenting with candy glass. “The actual manufacturing was done by myself and Vinnie Altamore,” Martz states. “We had to paint in a layer of skin first inside the negative mold.

Underneath that, you’d have fascia or fat, and next to the fat come the muscle groups. Then you have bones and organs. It was all made of candy glass. Most of the candy glass people said you couldn’t mold it. We went the route of painting it in and letting it dry. You’d get a few cracks, and then you’d paint another layer, and that would seal those cracks. We did it for a test, and it worked so well that we decided this is the way we’d have to go because the look of it was exactly what they wanted.”

The transformation sequence was achieved through a combination of picturization and lap-dissolving. “We put her in a chair that would lock off her head,” Fullerton says. “We colored her a little. The important thing is that the subject does not move. We had to shoot three different stages of her in the freezing-up process, which we did with complicated coloration and also an ice material that we added to her. That worked beautifully.”

Miner reportedly reshot the scene with a demonic makeup to suggest the eyes are ripped from the psychic’s face instead.

Another effect in the film that did not come off as planned was Fullerton’s elaborate old-age prosthetic makeup for Lori Singer, who plays a hip waitress who befriends the witchhunter and gets caught up in the battle of good vs. evil. For a sequence where Singer is aged prematurely by the warlock, Fullerton came up with a series of makeups to progressively age the young actress. Although the elaborate prosthetics had been tested and okayed, Singer nixed them on the day of shooting. The first stage of the makeup was to suggest an age of 40 years. Singer refused to wear any prosthetics for this stage at all, forcing Fullerton to resort to such techniques as stippling, shadow, and a grey wig.

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For the more advanced makeup, intended to suggest an age of 60, Singer agreed to wear appliances on her cheeks and chin but not on her nose or eyes. This was a considerable frustration for Fullerton, who found it difficult to blend the prosthetics on Singer’s face. “She has all the classic signs of youthful beauty: smooth skin, long neck, blonde hair,” said Fullerton. “It’s my feeling that she designed the makeup. That’s a personal defeat for me, but will that ruin the film? No: if the scene plays well, it will still work.”

The optical effects for WARLOCK are the work of Perpetual Motion, a small effects company brought onto the production when the original effects supplier failed to submit an acceptable budget. Visual effects supervisor Patrick Reed Johnson gave the work to Perpetual Motion because “Most of the places we talked to had staffs of 40 or 50. Perpetual Motion has a grand total of six-a small efficient crew.”


With almost no time for preparation, such as steady-testing cameras for plate photography, and no one from Perpetual Motion available to be on the set, Johnson underwent a promotion to Visual Effects Supervisor and went to Boston to supervise the shooting of background plates for later optical work.

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“We’ve done a few unorthodox things in terms of shooting plate shots,” said Johnson. One composite scene that required effective miming from Grant involved the witchhunter throwing a weather vane like a javelin at the flying warlock and impaling him in the back. Johnson suggested shooting it optically instead of the physical effect that was planned. “So we filmed Grant as though he had the vane in his hand and then the warlock Sand’s stunt double reacting with the proper timing.” said Johnson. “We’re going to blue-screen in the miniature weather vane and shadow, and have it sail a distance of 100 feet.”

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Another deleted scene shows the Warlock using a spell involving a chicken to track Redferne and Kassandra. A version of the scene remains in the novelization.


Warlock (1989) Jerry Goldsmith

Steve Miner

Steve Miner

David Twohy

Julian Sands as Warlock
Lori Singer as Kassandra
Richard E. Grant as Giles Redferne
Mary Woronov as Channeler
Kevin O’Brien as Chas
Richard Kuss as Mennonite
Rob Paulsen as Gas Station attendant

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Cinefantastique v19n04

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