Well, I'll be damned. I hired this from Blockbusters, certain that it would be rubbish. Just look at the title! The original Wishmaster (1997) was a movie from which I've heard Wes Craven removed his name (if true, eeek!), full of genre actor cameos (Robert Englund, Angus Scrimm, Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, Reggie Bannister, Ted Raimi and an uncredited Tom Savini). All of its sequels have been straight-to-video. Even the box cover looks as if it was secretly intended as a warning of crappiness. Poisonous creepy-crawlies in the jungle advertise themselves with gaudy colouration and so do toxic wastes of celluloid in your local video store.
Imagine my shock when it turned out to be rather good.
The Wishmaster himself looks risible. I'm sure I've seen his second cousin on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, except that Buffy's version looked less silly. However I really like the underlying concept, a cheerful mish-mash of Middle Eastern legend and Biblical myth. This thing calls itself a Djinn (a variant transliteration of "Genie") and grants the traditional three wishes, but in return it wants your soul. It's the Devil, basically, but in goofier make-up. One might regard Wishmaster as an updating of all those Olde English folk tales in which the Devil tried all kinds of clever tricks to separate local yokels from their souls (and almost always got tricked himself).
Naturally the movie is aware of this, with lots of traditional Hellfire imagery and angels being the Djinn's mortal enemies. However, even in these mostly atheist days, we take literal Bible references more seriously than would be good for this movie. Thus, as with Hellraiser, "hell" is used as a non-specific term for a Hot Place Where Nasties Dwell. Oh, and if anyone ever receives the traditional book of three wishes then all Djinn will be unleashed and the world will perish in an apocalypse. Seems to me that we're damn lucky this hasn't happened already. I can't believe no one ever reached the third wish, especially given the Djinn's single-mindedness and tendency to interpret even throwaway comments as wishes if they happen to include the W-word.
This is a great gimmick for a horror movie! It essentially turns the Djinn into an evil Jeeves - he's your servant, apparently dedicated to doing whatever you want. That's a motivational twist beyond the usual unstoppable malevolence.
Since granting a third wish would mean the end of the world, I assumed that the film was too quick to grant our heroine her second one. You think you know how the script must go after that... except that shortly after I'd made this assumption, I was proved wrong with an ingenious plot twist. Suddenly things got a *lot* more interesting. I thought that was really clever, actually. The Djinn became an evil comedy character; this is the kind of thing you'd get if horror movies were sitcoms. He's still a sadistic monster, but there's some really bizarre relationship stuff going on in this film. Cool!
Our heroine is Lisa Burnley (Tara Spencer-Nairn), living with a self-pitying hunk o' repressed sex drive. This movie's theme is the difference between love and sex. They get confused (usually disastrously) by almost everyone in the movie except Lisa - and I don't just mean the male characters (though they're the most blatant examples), but the women too. An interesting twist is that the Djinn is the ultimate rules lawyer, always looking for wish loopholes, which lets it discuss the meaning of love in terms that would be tooth-rottingly saccharine from any other source. Fortunately the Djinn is a seven-foot monster that wants to steal your soul and destroy the world. Sentimentality isn't an issue.
My biggest complaint is that Spencer-Nairn mumbles the most important line in the film! You soon work out what she must have said, but until then you're playing catch-up. There's an angel who looks incredibly gay. If all angels looked like him, one might start worrying about God (though as I said, this film sensibly steers clear of actual theology). Things get silly towards the end, with pointless noisy destruction because... well, because it's the end and we need some pointless noisy destruction! And at one point things get a bit Highlander-esque.
These quibbles aside, this film works on almost all levels. It's got nudity! I thought Wes Craven franchises avoided nudity? It's got fun sadistic gore. It has everything you'd expect from a schlocky horror sequel, and on top of that a theme too! This story's *about* something! It's not exactly understated, but who's going to notice subtle themes in a movie called Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled?
I enjoyed this a lot. Admittedly it's straight-to-video, but it's hard to imagine a fourth Wishmaster film getting a theatrical release when 2 and 3 didn't. I don't think you can hold that against it. Wishmaster 4 isn't a masterpiece or anything, but it's a pleasantly surprising piece of nonsense with ambition, fun and energy. Thanks to that twist I mentioned I suspect it might be better than the first three, though not having seen 'em I'm willing to be proved wrong. But I reckon it's better than many films that do get a theatrical release.