US / 1991

Though I’m not very big on Valentine’s Day as an actual celebration, I have a huge soft spot for Valentines that come in the form of movies. CAST A DEADLY SPELL is a love letter to the genre if ever there was one, right up there with CREEPSHOW in its unadulterated affection for all of horror’s luminaries and trappings and the sophistication with which it communicates that love. Screenwriter Joseph Dougherty and director Martin Campbell also demonstrate a deep knowledge and love for the mechanics of noir as well, and this is what keeps the viewer from ever feeling shortchanged on either front. This is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of genre mash-ups: two tastes that taste great together. “A hardboiled shamus tracking down the whereabouts of the Necronomicon” is a concept that might scream trouble to some and the blatant name-checking of figures like Lovecraft and Bradbury surely won’t bode any better, but like the heartfelt homages of Fred Dekker CAST A DEADLY SPELL manages to rise above faint lip-service and exist as its own assured and lovably goofy entity. The connection to Dekker isn’t just tangential either; CAST… was an original TV movie produced by the film branch of HBO, the same channel that had found recent success with their TALES FROM THE CRYPT series, a program which Dekker had written several teleplays for and even directed the season two episode, “The Thing from the Grave.” Much of the black humor and comic book-imagination that fueled that series and Dekker’s own projects like NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and THE MONSTER SQUAD turn up in CAST A DEADLY SPELL, and together this small cluster of mid-80s to early-90s productions form a distinctly jovial and joyous brand of horror that we just don’t see anymore in an age of post-modernism where every trope and well-worn plot must call attention to itself in well-meaning but essentially jaded films ranging from SCREAM to THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. CAST A DEADLY SPELL is content with just being itself, and what it is is the stuff dreams are made of.

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