A ways back, I covered an urban fantasy film called, “Cast a Deadly Spell”, which injected a post-War film noir aspect into the realms of modern fantasy. The sequel, “Witch Hunt” focuses on Cold War paranoia being represented by the abuse of magicks.
In the introduction, we’re given a TV newsreel of the world of L.A.! But, it’s not our L.A., as magic is everywhere in this atomic age fantasy. But, this decay in morality is too much for Senator Larson Crockett! His goal is to put an end to magic once and for all! Will he succeed? And of course, what insidious power is really at work here?
Our story begins with ol’ Detective Phillip at a barber salon. When his deal with the barber goes sour, dark magic strikes! As Phil takes out the trash, Sen. Crockett preaches a sermon on how magic IS the trash of society! Back in the office, he meets with world famous actress “Kim Hudson”. She hires Lovecraft to snoop on her husband, an unfaithful film producer. Later, Lovecraft’s on the producer’s tail with the narration of Crockett’s rants, only to be knocked out by a trick spell. Back at the Produce’s headquarters, he acts like a dick and a curse rightfully kills him off and Kim Hudson ain’t pleased. And of course, Crockett exploits the shenanigans for his own benefit. Phil’s back on the case to figure out the magical murder, with the help of Kropotkin (his landlady) and two other practitioners. However, their point of investigation turns out to be a set up. With Phil separated, he gets into a heap of trouble at the mystery mansion, owned by a drag wearing practitioner as well as Macha himself! Phil tracks down Hudson at the drive-in picture show (which she stars in), bumping into a “friend” as well. After “friend” bends the movie to become “interactive”, Phil’s gets more info on the case after the mystery pal is hacked off.
The clues begin to line up with a “water” theme, as both Lovecraft and Kropotkin are summoned to speak with the Senator himself! The Senator crafts up a Palpatine speech on joining forces in his efforts to get rid of magic, before dropping some more clues. Before Hudson testifies on the darkness of magic to a Senate conference, he warns Lovecraft about the charm on his arm, linking him to Kropotkin. As Crockett twists Hudson’s speech, Kropotkin is now put on the spot. Crockett tries to use his same charismatic tricks on Kropotkin as well. His hellfire-and-brimstone fear mongering ends up victorious as Lovecraft’s landlady is put in lethal peril. Hudson tries to commit suicide out of guilt, before Lovecraft saves her and tries to help her with her case on the beach house and beyond. Apparently, the producer and Macha were trying to convince the senator against a current plan. He tracks down his nemesis striking a deal with Crockett. Apparently, he was teaming up with this crooked foe to take absolute control of magic via building a scapegoat. But, Crockett decides to double-cross Macha to further his plans. While Macha gets even by forcing Crockett to come clean to the crowd, he darts off. When Lovecraft finds Macha, we find our that he’s the reason Lovecraft is so adverse to magic use. Macha’s use of magic is pure madness, attacking people out of spite and aggression. In fact, he’s holding Hudson prisoner! The only way Macha will release her alive is if he can convince Phil to use magic. Because of the charm from Kropotkin, Macha is neutralized without Phil breaking his vow against magic use. Hudson decides to restart her life, as Lovecraft goes back to his office to ponder.
In terms of art direction, the film tries to capture the clean and glossy 1950s compared to the film noir-tinged dirty world of the last movie. However, the unearthly clean look and plasticity matches the alternate 1950s environment. It could be said that the lighting and other visuals for the most part almost create an unnatural atmosphere. Some of the characters truly match the era too! In fact, one of the psychics kinda looks like Lucille Ball from “I Love Lucy”. The architecture and art is filled with ’50s populuxe and googie stylings. On top of that, the soundtrack has a late ’40s – early ’60s jazz feel that conveys thick atmosphere.
Fred Ward’s replacement with Dennis Hopper isn’t nearly as satisfying. While Hopper’s performance is fine, it didn’t quite fit the character to the same degree as Ward. Whether this was the fault of the director or from casting, I still hale Ward’s performance as superior. Also, a lot of the performances in general went for a more droll take, instead of the tongue-in-cheek route found in the previous film.
While the writing in Cast a Deadly Spell wasn’t exacting beyond the pulps, it had plenty of twists and turns. While I know this film wanted to convey a Cold War anxiety, many of the characters just screamed, “I AM THE BAD GUY” while others were just your usual scum/minor antagonists. Crockett was more interesting to me than Lovecraft’s nemesis, Macha. To me, he wasn’t just about making an homage to Senator McCarthy, but creating a manipulative bastard who you wanted to know and see more of during the film. When there’s the twist that he’s been pulling Macha’s strings to erase magical competition and to grab power, it was legitimately a fascinating twist. Although, I was kind of asking for a battle between the two with Lovecraft in the crossfire. I wasn’t overly disappointed that the film didn’t go this route, but no problem.
Heck, the final scenes could be some great commentary on America’s racial issues in the 1950s, or at least they could have been if the idea was fleshed out. Perhaps the crowd being mostly caucasian getting ready to burn the landlady whose clad in a stereotypical voodoo wardrobe, cuz keeping non-white communities out of suburbs and general race driven hostility. But, this could be grasping at straws so who knows… If this was explored in the movie, it certainly would have been interesting as well.
While the mystery was still interesting, it felt like an attempt to rewrite history with a fantasy theme, rather than creating a pulpy mistory with multiple arcs. By missing a lot of that depth, there wasn’t nearly as much thrill in this picture.
That isn’t to say this film isn’t full of clever gags that will cause you to crack a smile. Admittedly, the scene where the zombie topples over got me to chuckle a bit. Also, the scene where Shakespeare was teleported into the film studio is hilarious! And when they brought him back in the final scene? BRILLIANT! Heck, even the Producer’s death scene was darkly humorous in a sense. Stack that on top of the morbid funeral speech about how a once big man became a very little man!
All in all, it feels like a lot of the same. However, a lot of what made the first film great just wasn’t present here. That’s not to say this wasn’t a great movie, just not on par with the previous film. But, is it still worth a watch? Sure! The plot might not be as clever and the world might not be as full of intrigue, but it’s still a fun story!
While it doesn’t reach up to the last film’s standards, it was a fun ride through and through. Witch Hunt gets 6.5 hexes out of 10! If you’re free on a raining evening, give this film a try. Hell, you can view it right here!
WATER! WATER EVERYWHERE!