Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with a special AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I never really dove into the WISHMASTER movies when they first came out. But thankfully, Vestron Video and Lionsgate Home Entertainment has collected and rereleased the entire WISHMASTER series on BluRay in a special edition release. To commemorate the release, the Wishmaster himself Andrew Divoff agreed to talk with me about his role as the evil Djinn. For a guy who has made a career of playing bad guys and thugs, Divoff seems to be a charming, intelligent, and all around kind person. See for yourself in the interview below and after that I review the very first WISHMASTER movie!
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Hi Andrew. I appreciate you taking the time to answer some questions about WISHMASTER. How did you first become involved with the film and what were your first impressions going into the project?
ANDREW DIVOFF (AD): By the time my name came up for the role of Nathaniel Demerest/The Djinn, it had been about 7 years since my first meaty supporting roles; Cherry Ganz in ANOTHER 48 HOURS and Luis Cali in TOY SOLDIERS. My first encounter with Robert Kurtzman was during the casting process and my recollection of Bob was that he had a very precise idea of Nathaniel and was keen to flesh out the Djinn”s characteristics once an actor was in place. I remember one of our first conversations in pre-production was regarding the Djinn’s voice. We both agreed it had to be markedly different from Nathaniel’s voice, and so I became obsessed and a bit intimidated by the idea that the ‘Genie’s’ entire persona would hinge on my being able to define the voice of the Djinn. As the make-up tests evolved, and I watched Bob’s and KNB’s vision of the Djinn move from stunning artwork on paper to being confronted with a sculpture of the Djinn built up on my likeness from a plaster mold. That was the moment it all became very real and all the more important to definitively ‘design’ the Djinn’s voice.
BUG: There was extensive make-up effects for the Wishmaster look. What was it like wearing all of that stuff and how did you utilize it to make it work for the character?
AD: The make-up effects were intensive indeed, and went beyond what could be seen. The Djinn make-up and the wardrobe were the responsibility of amazing artists in their own right, Karyn Wagner who designed the Djinn Costume and Garrett Immel and Gino Crognale who were meticulous with their application of the Djinn’s prosthetic make-up. Once the make up was on, and with the Djinn’s chest cowl, and flowing ragged robe on me, I gained about 45 pounds. Add to that, the remote control motor which operated the articulating tentacles on the Djinn’s head and you’re guaranteed to get a grumpy genie. All the make-up, wardrobe and technical features helped give the Djinn an impressive appearance and brought about the happy accident of the Djinn’s voice. My first night in the Djinn make-up was a lesson in hunger management. I soon realized I would not be able to eat a meal while in the Djinn make-up and opted for hearty protein shakes and jelly beans to keep me going in between shake breaks. It turns out that the whey in the shakes and in the jelly beans caused my throat to produce more phlegm than usual. I realized the side effect of this build up was a more gurgly and deeply gravelly voice, so I stopped clearing my throat altogether until the ‘Djinn look’ was wrapped for that day.
BUG: I read that in your scenes as the Wishmaster you don't blink at all whenever you're on screen. First, for you, what did that add to the character and second, how did you do that? -- I can't keep myself from blinking even when I think about not blinking!
AD: Actually, I was not aware of not blinking until Bob Kurtzman brought it to my attention. He said he thought it was a cool choice, but one I cannot take full credit for. I believe the no blinking , both as the Djinn and as Demerest, were due to wearing corneal contacts, which required the eye tech to keep the eyes moist with eye drops each time we cut the scene, and therefore made it unnecessary for me to blink in order to moisten my own eyes.
BUG: From a distance, Wishmaster seems like a combination of Freddy Krueger and the Leprechaun. How did you try to make yourself distinct from those two iconic horror anti-heroes?
AD: I’ve got allot of love for both of the “Horror Movie Icons” you mention in question 4. Having said that, I have never gone into my preparation for any role by considering what others have done with characters that may be viewed as being similar. The distinction must come out of a conspiracy between the writer, the director and the actor who are all in on the project because of its own merits.
BUG: The first WISHMASTER had a sort of magical combination of yourself sharing the screen with Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, Ted Raimi, Reggie Bannister, and Angus Scrimm. That's one hell of a cast. What was it like working with these guys?
AD: Robert Kurtzman and the WISHMASTER production team deserve all the credit for bringing aboard what has been referred to as the Horror Movie version of the expendables. It is clear to me, and to all Horror fans that this casting was a sign of love and respect for the genre, for these iconic actors and their film accomplishments, and of course, for the fans. I have spent more than just set time with all of these titans of Horror and can say, to a man, that there is much more to each and every one of them than meets the eye. I was lucky enough to work on set with Robert Englund, Tony Todd and Kane Hodder. They were all very supportive of the new monster on the block and their respective humility went a long way toward grounding me in this magical effort. I was also fortunate enough to spend time with Reggie Bannister, Ted Raimi, Angus Scrimm and Joseph Pilato at various fan conventions, and am happy to consider all of them my friends.
BUG: You are best known for playing bad guys. Do you ever get sick of it? What do you do to cleanse yourself from playing these awful characters?
AD: I never get sick of playing the antagonist – the bad guy. I always look for what makes each character tick. There is a reason, a method to the madness, if you will, behind every role. I am also fortunate that many of the roles I play are people who speak with an accent or speak a foreign language. Languages and accents always add another layer to the part, I often quote Thomas Jefferson – a polyglot in his own right – who said that a person is as many different people as the languages he or she speaks. When I finish a role, especially an intense villain role, I will stay in the area for a few days afterward to unwind, and get a chance to do more of the every day stuff like walking through downtown or making a point of going to see an exhibit at a nearby museum or visiting a local point of interest.
BUG: You played the Djinn for two films, but left the series after the second one (to be replaced by John Novak). Why did you decide to not come back for the third and fourth outings?
AD: I will keep my reasons for not participating in the 3rd and 4th issue of the WISHMASTER to myself, except to say I am happy there was enough interest in the franchise to add a third and fourth edition.
BUG: If they ever made another WISHMASTER film, would you be game to play the character again?
AD: I would be crazy to say anything but “Yes” to the idea of playing the Djinn/Demerest again. I also think it would be a writer’s dream to pen the fifth edition of WISHMASTER. Imagine having Bob Kurtzman overseeing the practical and special effects again.
BUG: What upcoming projects do you have going on at the moment?
AD: I’ve been staying busy lately and have a couple of projects in post production that I’m very proud of. The first is a film called THE HATRED. It is produced by Malek Akkad – of HALLOWEEN fame and written and directed by Mike Kehoe. It is a freaky, and creepy jump-fest. My most recent project is called DEMONS and was written and directed by Miles Doleac. It was shot in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and blends traditional southern gothic elements with the more modern demons of our own making.
BUG: Last chance, why should folks check out this new BluRay WISHMASTER Collection from Vestron/Lionsgate?
AD: I am very proud of having been part of the WISHMASTER series. On this twentieth anniversary of the WISHMASTER, it is gratifying to see it get rewarded with a BluRay edition. I had a great time catching up with Tammy Lauren and Robert Kurtzman while doing the behind the scenes commentary for the BluRay disc. I for one, cannot wait to see the BluRay version of WISHMASTER as I know that everything from the special and practical effects to the sound-track and sound effects will be given a heightened vibrancy and make this set a collector’s must have for a long time to come.
BUG: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions! Now here’s my review of the very first WISHMASTER film. I’ll be reviewing later installments in this WISHMASTER Collection in the coming weeks!
Retro-review: New this week, released in the WISHMASTER Collection from Vestron Video/Lionsgate Home Entertainment!
WISHMASTER (1997)Directed by Robert Kurtzman
Written by Peter Atkins
Starring Tammy Lauren, Andrew Divoff, Robert Englund, Chris Lemmon, Wendy Benson-Landes, Tony Crane, Jenny O'Hara, Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, Ricco Ross, John Byner, George 'Buck' Flower, Gretchen Palmer, Ted Raimi, Angus Scrimm, Reggie Bannister, Joseph Pilato, Brian Klugman, Ari Barak, Jake McKinnon, Greg Funk, Richard Assad, Dan Hicks, Tom Kendall, Verne Troyer, Walter Phelan, Betty McGuire
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While the Djinn may sometimes come off as an amalgamation of other horror icons, Andrew Divoff makes the titular character unique and with a cast full of recognizable horror stars and some fantastic special effects, WISHMASTER makes for a good old 80’s horror flick with revisiting.
Angus Scrimm narrates in the opening moments that the Djinn are neither angels nor humans, but demons trapped in the space in between heaven and earth. Once manifested, Djinn offers humans three wishes, but if the third wish is granted, this allows the Djinn to cross over into the human realm and bring his Djinn friends to basically set up shop and take over. A type A personality workaholic jewelry appraiser named Alexandra (Tammy Lauren) attains a giant jewel from a dealer and uncovers that, once polished, the jewel releases the Djinn (Andrew Divoff) who grants three wishes. But Alexandra is privy to the curse and vows not to give him his wishes, though the Djinn pursues and eggs her on in demonic and human form. It all culminates at a museum of antiquities owned by Raymond Beaumont (Robert Englund) where the Djinn aka the Wishmaster animates all of the statues and pieces of art in an effects extravaganza.
The standout in WISHMASTER, first and foremost, is the effects. KNB Effects-man Robert Kurtzman directed the film, so this gives the effects crew a chance to go crazy here with as many weird, gory, and twisted practicals as possible. While there are computer effects tossed in, for the most part, these effects are within the scene and interacting with the actors, making it feel all the more believable. There are some twisted imagery in terms of effects as piano strings decapitate, statues come alive, and people turn to glass and other forms. There’s even a baby Wishmaster form (played by Verne “Mini-Me” Troyer) that is shown at the beginning right after the Wishmaser takes physical form. The full body costume of the Wishmaster is impressive as well with writhing tendrils, saw-blade teeth, lenses, and a full suit of armor. It makes for an imposing figure with an iconic look that seems like some kind of ancient deity. Divoff can still be recognized behind the face and his grimaces make for a very formidable movie monster.
The premise of the Wishmaster is just…ok, though. Through word-play, the Djinn tricks his quarries into wishing for something, but sometimes the lengths to which he goes to get folks to wish for something is stretching the concept a bit thin. By the end of the film, it just seems like KNB unloaded their entire warehouse into this film and didn’t really care about how it ties in with the wishes motif. So you have puke monsters and insects erupting from people’s throats and the like. When the Wishmaster tempts people one on one with their deepest desires, the M.O. works, but it loses something when wishes are granted without a little back story. Still, the Djinn is sort of the flip side of Freddy Krueger who makes nightmares come true, by granting his victims their wildest dreams.
Leading lady tries to come off as a strong female character, but only succeeds in being somewhat spastic throughout the entire film. She jumps at telephone rings, car honks, people bumping into her in the street. She seems like she’s on a caffeine high the entire time and her jittery delivery kind of hurts her overall likability here.
That said, THE WISHMASTER is decent if you’re looking for fun effects utilizing the same kind of fun of the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series where anything can happen and does, as long as the effects guys have enough materials and money to make it. Divoff’s deliciously maniacal performance and the effects are the reason you’re going to want to seek this one out. This BluRay Collector’s edition comes with all kinds of baubles such as; audio commentaries from director Robert Kurtzman & screenwriter Peter Atkins, another from director Robert Kurtzman and stars Andrew Divoff and Tammy Lauren, an isolated score selections/audio interview with composer Harry Manfredini, plus featurettes such as “Out of the Bottle” interviewing director Robert Kurtzman and co-producer David Tripet, “The Magic Words” – interviewing screenwriter Peter Atkins, “The Djinn and Alexandra” interviewing stars Andrew Divoff and Tammy Lauren, “Captured Visions” interviewing director of photography Jacques Haitkin, “Wish List” interviewing actors Kane Hodder and Ted Raimi, a vintage featurette “Making of Wishmaster”. Plus trailers, TV spots, still galleries of storyboards and a behind-the-scenes footage compilation!
Look for more WISHMASTER reviews in future columns.
Ambush Bug is M. L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 15 years & AICN HORROR for 5. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller and on his new website collecting posts for AICN HORROR as well as all of the most recent updates on his various comic book projects on MLMillerWrites.com.
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