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Monday, October 6, 2014

Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)

Cast a Deadly Spell is an HBO movie that epitomizes the term “Forgotten Gem” as it has a fantastic concept and even a better cast that all put together create a sweet tribute to both the horror and detective genres. If ever a movie deserved to a get television spin-off it’s this one.

Cast a Deadly Spell title card

Set in an alternate 1948 Los Angeles where everyone uses magic, well everyone but private investigator H. P. Lovecraft (Fred Ward), we see a world where magic isn’t just used it’s become common place; luggage will float behind their owners, a flick of the finger and a flame appears to light a cigarette, and demons can be raised to slay your enemies. It’s the latter use of magic that has Police Chief Bradbury (Charles Hallahan) often calling on Lovecraft for help as he refuses to use magic in any way shape or form.

“Nobody’s got a mortgage on my soul. I own it. Free and clear.”

Sadly being a private eye who doesn’t use magic does not lead to a very profitable business and so with office rent overdue, and a witch landlord you don’t want to screw over, Lovecraft is grateful to get a rich client. It seems Amos Hackshaw (David Warner) needs Lovecraft to track down a chauffeur that was fired for making amorous moves on his virginal daughter Olivia (Alexandra Powers) and upon being fired left with a stolen book. That book being the Necronomicon.
Necronomicon was his Book of the Month offer.

Also after the book is Harry Borden (Clancy Brown) who owns the nightclub The Dunwich Room and who is a man not at all adverse to using black magic to get what he wants. Harry was also Lovecraft’s partner when they were both on the force, that is until Harry had to leave the police department under a cloud of corruption charges.

Clancy Brown 
Smug Evil is the worst kind.

Things get a bit rough for good all Lovecraft as Harry sends his main goon Tugwell (Raymond O’Connor) to end Lovecraft’s involvement by casting dark ruins that will unleash a demon on whoever reads them.  Oh, and he has a zombie henchman as well.

Thugs of Magic 
The original Salt and Pepper.

Adding a dash of difficulty to the situation is the fact that he also has to contend with the raging hormones of Olivia Hackshaw who is only a virgin because of her father’s iron grip on her social life.

The Virgin 
The only fun she gets is hunting unicorns.

No nod to Raymond Chandler would be complete without the femme fatale and nightclub singer Connie Stone (Julianne Moore) fits the bill perfectly. Of course she and Lovecraft have a history and that now that she is working for Harry it becomes a rather sore spot.  Not that it will stop either of them from jumping into bed together.

Connie Stone 
“Me, untrustworthy?”

Will Lovecraft track down the missing chauffeur? What exactly does Amos Hackshaw intend to use the Necronomicon for? Where does Harry get such wonderful zombies? And whose side is Connie really on? All these question and more are answered in this quite fantastic little movie. Characters like Olivia, Harry and the chauffeur are almost lifted straight out of The Big Sleep while much of everything else is a nod to the works of horror icon H.P. Lovecraft, and the blend is handled perfectly by director Martin Campbell, who went on to direct many more prestige’s movies since but I’ll always have a warm spot for this one.  And one further shout out to Fred Ward who just nailed the hard nosed private brilliantly and just oozes that era.

Note to HBO Executives:  With shows like True Blood and Sleepy Hollow proving that there is a market for this kind of stuff on television I don’t see why your network isn’t jumping at the chance to bring this back as a weekly series.

“Book’em, Dano.”

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