"Wishmaster" is a washout in its painfully obvious attempt to launch a new horror franchise. Unconscionably sadistic, even by genre standards, and mind-numbingly formulaic, this bloody mess opened nationwide Sept. 19 without benefit of press previews, and appears destined for a quick trip to video-store shelves.

“Wishmaster” is a washout in its painfully obvious attempt to launch a new horror franchise. Unconscionably sadistic, even by genre standards, and mind-numbingly formulaic, this bloody mess opened nationwide Sept. 19 without benefit of press previews, and appears destined for a quick trip to video-store shelves.

Although Wes Craven’s name looms large in the pic’s advertising come-ons, the “Nightmare on Elm Street” creator serves merely as executive producer. The real auteur of “Wishmaster” is Robert Kurtzman, a special-effects ace whose credits include “Spawn” and “Mars Attacks!” Working from Peter Atkins’ by-the-numbers script, Kurtzman clumsily apes the “Elm Street” mix of messy carnage, smart-alecky wisecracks and bizarre makeup effects. Only the least discriminating horror buffs will be impressed.

Instead of dropping a razor-fingered bogeyman into the dreams of teenagers, Kurtzman goes for the gore by unleashing a slyly wicked genie. The prologue, set in 12th-century Persia, introduces the Djinn (Andrew Divoff) as a mischievous monster who livens up a king’s party by casting horrible spells on the terrified guests. Fortunately, the Djinn is trapped inside an enchanted opal by the king’s wizard. Naturally, the story doesn’t end there.

Flash-forward to 1997: The opal, hidden inside an antique statue, is exposed when the statue is damaged during shipment to a Los Angeles art collector. Alexandra Amberson (Tammy Lauren), a perky young gemologist, inadvertently frees the Djinn from captivity while examining the opal. Very quickly, the Djinn assumes a human form, and resumes his evil ways.

The Djinn may be a genie, but, as one character notes, “Forget Barbara Eden, forget Robin Williams.” Each time he tricks someone into making a wish, he plays a nasty trick on his unwary victim. When a young woman wishes to remain beautiful forever, the Djinn transforms her into a mannequin. When Alexandra’s boss rashly asks for a million dollars, the boss’ mother immediately signs a $1 million insurance policy — and dies in a plane explosion.

At first, Alexandra refuses to play the Djinn’s game. But while the Djinn waits for the chance to make her nightmares come true, he cunningly torments her friends and acquaintances.

“Wishmaster” is bookended by party sequences that emphasize blood-and-guts excess. In between the mass slaughters, pic is little more than a repetitive series of cues for the Djinn to do his dirty work on a one-to-one basis. Kurtzman lacks both the visual flair and the storytelling wit to make any of this interesting.

As the Djinn, Divoff is outfitted with what appears to be a chintzy Halloween mask, a couple garden hoses and some very cruddy-looking teeth. In his devilishly grinning human form, Divoff comes across as someone who looked at too many Jim Carrey movies, then slapped himself on the forehead and exclaimed: “Hey! I can do that!” Trouble is, he can’t.

Lauren tends to mug wildly during Alexandra’s moments of distress. Pic benefits little from the stunt casting of three horror-movie vets — Robert Englund (aka Freddy Krueger), Tony Todd (“Candyman”) and Kane Hodder (Jason of “Friday the 13th”) — in supporting roles.

The only supporting performance of note comes from Jenny O’Hara, whose clever portrayal of a blunt-spoken occult expert has a touch of Shirley MacLaine to it.

The makeup effects and digital visual effects — including hideously contorted bodies, exploding chest cavities and other grisly trickery — are more than competent. But, like just about everything else in “Wishmaster,” they’re too familiar to be truly impressive. Other tech credits are adequate.

Wishmaster

Production

A Live Entertainment release of a Pierre David production. Produced by David, Clark Peterson, Noel A. Zanitsch. Executive producer, Wes Craven. Co-producer, David Tripet. Directed by Robert Kurtzman. Screenplay, Peter Atkins.

Crew

Camera (color), Jacques Haitkin; editor, Dorian Vernaccio; music, Harry Manfredini; production design, Vernaccio, Deborah Raymond; costume design, Karyn Wagner; sound (Dolby/DTS/SDDS), James Hilton; visual effects supervisor, Thomas C. Rainone; special makeup effects, Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger; additional special makeup effects, Gary J. Tunnicliffe, Imagine Animation Intl.; digital visual effects, Digital Magic Co., Computer Cafe Inc., Area 51 Inc., 2G Effects; line producer, Russell D. Markowitz; assistant director, Dave Tanaka; casting, Cathy Henerson-Martin, Dori Zuckerman. Reviewed at the AMC Meyer Park 16, Houston, Sept. 20, 1997. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 90 min.

With

Alexandra Amberson - Tammy Lauren
The Djinn - Andrew Divoff
Anthony Beaumont - Robert Englund
Johnny Valentine - Tony Todd
Shannon Amberson - Wendy Benson
Josh - Tony Crane
Nick Merritt - Chris Lemmon
Wendy Derleth - Jenny O'Hara
Merritt's Guard - Kane Hodder
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