Back in 2021, I started a recurring column here on Bloody Disgusting called The Silver Lining, where I’d try to find the good parts of movies that were generally considered “bad.” Not only did I have a lot of fun looking back on less-appreciated films while finding hidden nuggets of entertainment where there should only have been schlock, but these articles also taught me to take in the good with the bad when watching genre pictures that at least tried to do something different.
I was reminded of this lesson while revisiting Warlock: The Armageddon this past week, as I believe this strange little film contains both the best and the worst moments of the Warlock franchise in an unexpected blend of sheer creative madness and aggressively bland characters. That’s why I’d like to invite you to join us on our second foray into the Warlock series retrospective as we dive into what makes these movies so damn compelling despite their obvious limitations.
While the first Warlock technically lost money during its original run at the box office, raking in a mere $9 million on a $15 million budget, international sales and the home video market ended up turning it into a modest success for Trimark Pictures (who acquired the flick after it spent two years in distribution limbo). With that in mind, a sequel made a lot of financial sense, especially if producers could keep costs down when telling another story about a super-powered Satanist wandering about modern-day America.
However, neither Steve Miner nor David Twohy opted to return for the budget-friendly follow-up, which is probably why the new movie ended up being a completely stand-alone story with no connection to the original other than our villainous leading man, Julian Sands. This new script was cooked up by Kevin Rock (who would later go on to write 1994’s unreleased Fantastic Four film), with the production being helmed by Hellraiser III’s Anthony Hickox.
In the finished film, Julian Sands’ Warlock is literally reborn from the womb of an unsuspecting woman and tasked with collecting six rune stones in order to release Satan from hell. Meanwhile, teenager Kenny Travis (Chris Young) discovers that he’s part of a long line of druids destined to combat evil with magical powers, with Kenny embarking on a quest to hone his abilities in order to stop the Warlock from completing his goal.
In an unexpected turn of events, the sequel actually makes an effort to portray non-Christian faith in a more positive light, touching on matters of prejudice and religious persecution in a manner closer to what was initially intended by Twohy in his original vision for the first movie. Unfortunately, this druidic hero’s journey is marred by some unconvincing acting and absurd lore that feels like it was made up on the spot. For example, why do the druid warriors have to be killed in order to unlock their powers, and why is it that only they can face the Warlock if he was defeated by regular humans in the previous movie? And that’s not even mentioning the training montages that look like they were lifted straight out of a sweded Star Wars flick.
The original film was already held back by some lackluster special effects, but the filmmakers really take things up a notch here by introducing CGI-enhanced telekinetic battles and compositing that would already have been laughable in the ’70s. Naturally, this is the result of the reduced budget, though I find it curious that the script still insists on featuring more effects shots than its more expensive predecessor.
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom in The Armageddon, as Julian Sands returns with an even more memorable performance as our favorite son of Satan. In behind-the-scenes interviews, the actor has since claimed that his character’s enhanced sense of humor in the sequel is derived from the fact that he somehow overcame his defeat in the previous film, with that added ego-boost turning him into a scenery-chewing sociopath that we love to hate.
There are really two different movies going on at the same time in The Armageddon, with one of them being a highly-entertaining Wishmaster-inspired slasher that accompanies the titular Warlock as he enacts increasingly absurd acts of magic-fueled violence upon unsuspecting victims, and another much less interesting film chronicling the young-adult adventures of a teenager discovering that he’s the druidic chosen one and has to learn to control his Force-adjacent powers before it’s too late.
These stories only really intersect in the less-than climactic final battle that feels a lot less exciting than the Redferne vs. Warlock showdown from the previous film, though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the rotoscope-enhanced Satan that slowly emerges from the ground during the fight. Alas, Chris Young is certainly no Richard E. Grant (with especially hammy dialogue doing him no favors), so you’re likely to end up rooting for our charismatic villain by the time the credits roll even if it means the end of all creation.
Hell, the movie even goes out of its way to depict several of the Warlock’s victims as equally despicable thugs, so it’s pretty clear that even the filmmakers knew that Sands was the real heart of the picture here. From psychedelic trips to hellscapes on the other side of the looking glass to turning a snobby art collector into a living sculpture, there’s so much unbridled creativity here that it’s hard not to recommend this oddball film despite its many flaws.
While I can’t honestly claim that the good outweighs the bad, as a huge chunk of the film is devoted to uninteresting subplots (unless you can derive some form of morbid entertainment from the bafflingly primitive telekinesis effects), I can assure you that it’s worth watching this flick simply to witness Sands at his most chillingly playful.
The original Warlock is still the superior picture, offering up a duo of likable protagonists to go along with all the witchcraft and dark humor, but I’d still recommend The Armageddon to any fan of absurdist cinema willing to deal with some unflattering effects work in order to glimpse at some memorably villainous character acting.
Now don’t forget to tune in next time for the final installment in our Warlock series retrospective!
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