Many centuries ago, tales were told of the Djinn, a demon spirit which could grant any wish it was asked; however, there was always a twist to this as the spirit was power hungry, and should he be able to grant three wishes to one individual he would be able to bring about Hell on Earth as he would see fit. Nobody has allowed him this so far, but he came close once in the Middle East where he tricked a king into letting him unleash his might: fortunately there was a wise man who stopped the Djinn (Andrew Divoff) just before mankind was doomed...
Ah, but there will be other chances, because just as the template of eighties horror influenced many a franchise where an entry could be produced cheaply without need for innovation, so it was Wishmaster spawned a bunch of sequels. Generally, it was recommended you stick with the first one if they sounded appealling, otherwise you were wasting your time with filler material: for the point where horror sequels were getting to, quite often they would be strictly for the straight to video market, and it was a fact that many were surprised this initial instalment was released to cinemas at all, but it was, which at least raised some kind of profile.
It was the brainchild of Peter Atkins, the man who was no stranger to shocker sequelising when he had penned a number of Hellraiser efforts, his Hellbound: Hellraiser II being by far the best of them. At the time Wishmaster appeared on the scene, there was not a majority standing up for it, probably thanks to this looking very old hat when it was the summer of Wes Craven's Scream, which revitalised the chiller market. This on the other hand, even though it had Craven's name "presenting" it, was so obviously a throwback to the previous decade's productions that no matter how much novelty Atkins put into it, we'd really seen it all before.
So Wishmaster was rather unloved, seeming a bit silly when it had apparently been inspired by Disney's Aladdin as much as it had Craven's Freddy Krueger series, caught between the two stools of the horror of the recent past and the horror of the twenty-first century. All this makes it interesting to look back on now and realise, for all the criticism it received, hey, maybe it wasn't all that bad. Certainly it was no classic, but never underestimate nostalgia, and this came across as nostalgic itself for the slashers with the novelty kills that proliferated in the years before it, which renders it a shade more generously regarded now all that time has gone by since its release. Yes, it still looked a bit cheap and nasty, but in a kitschy fashion.
One aspect which saw it pay tribute to those peers and antecedents was the cast of horror regulars. The Linda Hamilton-esque Tammy Lauren was our heroine, who examines the jewel containing the Djinn and from then on has an unexplained connection with it, meaning she is the one who must wish three times for him to get his own wish come true. You do wonder why the throaty-voiced Djinn didn't just get the first person he met to make three wishes, but no, he is intent on messing things up for himself so every time they voice their first desire, he kills them in a twisted version of that desire, or at least captures their souls as they turn into glass doors, mannequins or escapologists (?!), usually played by some familiar face from another franchise. That Wishmaster goes about this with a trashy verve was not something noted back in '97 when it was deemed needlessly sadistic, but it comes across as a lot tamer now, and an excuse for director Robert Kurtzman to exercise his special effects expertise. It remains nothing great, but it didn't have to be. Music by Harry Manfredini.