They just don’t make movies like this anymore. Whether taken as a direct sequel to Steve Miner’s Warlock (1989) or a full reboot of the franchise, Warlock: The Armageddon is goofy, convoluted, inconsistent, and insanely derivative, but it’s got something scary movies seem to have lost in recent years: a sense of joy. Drawing from various sources, including Star Wars (1977) of all things, director Anthony Hickox has crafted a uniquely upbeat horror experience that, for all of its rough edges, reminds us of a time when the idea of fighting the Antichrist with your zombie druid powers was deemed fun.
Don’t expect a farce though. Unlike House II: The Second Story (1987), C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D. (1989), and other jokey sequels of the late eighties, Warlock: The Armageddon retains the tone and earnestness of the original if not the consistency of its myth. Last we saw our titular warlock (Julian Sands), Satan had propelled him from the sixteen-hundreds to the present day, promising to make him his “one true son”. In this new film, we learn that, every millennium or so, our villain is reborn to try and undo God’s creation, so either the guy in the previous flick was already seven hundred years old, or the devil kept his word and rewrote history to insert his new Antichrist.
Regardless, much like an RPG protagonist, our nameless warlock is tasked with gathering five rune stones, each conveniently located on the American West Coast. There are rules, mind you, namely that every stone must be given freely, until the third act, when Warlock: The Armageddon plays off dubious technicalities to move the plot along. In the meantime, one gets a perverse pleasure from watching Julian Sands entice jewel collectors with wild promises and then screw them over by way of deadly wordplay. It’s sort of like 1997’s Wishmaster but with haggling and a more charismatic lead.
That’s only half the movie though. Warlock: The Armageddon devotes an equal amount of runtime to Kenny (Chris Young) and Sam (Paula Marshall), star-crossed lovers destined to battle the warlock. I like these kids a lot and the fact that Hickox take the time to build introductory subplots for them instead of relying on “boy/girl next door” clichés. You see, in denial over the prophecy, Sam’s old man (Bruce Glover) renounces his druid heritage and even goes so far as to forbid our heroes from seeing each other. Kenny’s dad (Steve Kahan), on the other hand, alienates the town by preparing them for the upcoming challenge (albeit at the last minute), asking the teens to protect a world that fears and hates them.
An early comic book shot hints that screenwriters Kevin Rock and Sam Bernard drew inspiration from The X-Men, but, to me, Kenny’s journey in particular resembles more that of Luke Skywalker: the plucky farm boy who discovers he’s got an important destiny and must develop his innate magical powers to defeat the forces of evil. It doesn’t help that his training sequences are lifted straight out of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) or that Mark McKenzie’s score for Warlock: The Armageddon sounds like a John Williams cover.
There is, however, one major difference: Kenny has an equal partner in Sam. In fact, the unreasonably fetching Paula Marshall portrays her as the more powerful of the two, held back only by chronic recklessness. Think of our young heroine as the Anakin Skywalker of my increasingly forced Star Wars comparison: fierce and gifted but also impulsive, petulant, and just a little whiny. Horror cinema gets a lot of flak for its treatment of female slasher victims, but Warlock: The Armageddon serves as a healthy reminder that the genre also boasts a long history of showcasing strong, resourceful women keeping evil at bay with their sheer awesomeness.
If it seems like I’m putting more emphasis on our fresh-faced heroes than on the titular attraction, well, maybe that’s the way it should be. Sure, Sands has an eerie charm about him, and one’s got to appreciate the outlandish practical effects associated with his half of the story, but what marks me most about Warlock: The Armageddon remains the loving dynamic between Sam, Kenny, and their respective fathers. Healthy family relationships have become such a rarity in horror. More to the point, I miss rooting for the good guys like this.