I'll be honest here: I don't much care for television. In my opinion, the gogglebox has done more harm than good, and most of what comes through its screen is either tripe, pointless nonsense, or good ideas gone horrifically bad. Once in a while, however- and usually without any fanfare of any kind- a truly great idea marches its way out of the set. This is the tale of one such idea.
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It's the 1940's, but not the sort your grandpa went on about. In THESE 1940's, everyone uses magic. It's the 'wave of the future', and everyone wants to get in on it. Everyone, that is, except for private detective H.P. "Phil" Lovecraft, who doesn't trust the stuff. Lovecraft, who's played with lovable but heavy-handed seriousness by Fred Ward (Tremors...um...Tremors 2), is contacted by a wealthy occultist, played by David Warner (Tron, Time Bandits), to retrieve a book of some importance. The book, as Lovecraft fans may already have guessed, is none other than the dreaded Necronomicon.
I like this movie because, despite some of the limitations imposed by its 'TV-Movie' status, it remains a completely unique idea. What we have here is a mixture of classic Hardboiled Detective (a la Humphrey Bogart), and Supernatural Thriller (a la a bunch of people whose names no one remembers). And it works. In fact, it works surprisingly well, which leads me to wonder why it hasn't been used more. Listen up, hardboiled fans! This is the ultimate incarnation of the 'hero-as-outsider' detective tale. With a decent budget, a good plot, and a crew of top-notch actors, you could have the next Maltese Daemon on your hands.
Which leads me to the few gripes I have with this movie. The plot, while- thankfully- making sense,was contrived in places, and strained in others. There are things that could have been done much better and cleaner here, even on TV. Secondly, the acting, while decent for its medium, is rather bad when compared to any serious cinema work. If you saw one of these guys on Braveheart, American Beauty, or even The Rock, you'd likely cringe in agony. Here, however, they get along just fine. (The notable exception to this is David Warner, who despite looking like he ought to be making Tron 2, still puts in a damn good performance. I get the feeling he could've done it in his sleep.)
All things considered, Cast a Deadly Spell gets 8 out of 10 stars. Not least for its originality and gutsiness in bringing an untouched idea into this world. Find it (if you can- this thing is notoriously hard to get a copy of), watch it, and tell me if you wouldn't have liked to see Bogie go up against a demon or two, hmm?
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.