The time is the 1600s, the place is Boston, Massachusetts, and a scheming warlock (Julian Sands) is being kept chained up in a tower so that he may be executed the next day for consorting with the devil. The witchfinder, Giles Redferne (Richard E. Grant), ventures up to see the prisoner and tells him he will not escape his fate, but no sooner has he walked back down the stairs than dark stormclouds loom over the horizon and Redferne realises that he's going to be cheated of his victory. Rushing into the room, he witnesses the Warlock disappear and dives into the vortex after him... but where will they both end up?
Warlock was one of the final films produced by Roger Corman's New World studio and nearly didn't come out at all as it was mixed up in the legal wranglings that arose from the end of the company. But eventually it was released to good reviews and a brief but popular run on home video, after which it sunk into relative obscurity, which is a pity as quite a few people would have happy memories of it should their memories be jogged. Heading its cast were two young British actors making a name for themselves in Hollywood after British successes: A Room with a View for Sands, and cult favourite Withnail and I for Grant.
Fortunately, neither of those stars adopt the tongue in cheek approach that could have made Warlock tiresome, instead playing their roles with a commendably straight face. Joining them, and equally as enjoyably, is Lori Singer as Kassandra (with a K) who encounters them when they both arrive through time in the Twentieth Century. Yes it's a sort of Terminator from the past or Time after Time from further back through the years as the Warlock attempts to unite the pages of a grimoire that reveals the true name of God. Should he discover this and speak it backwards then the whole of creation will be undone.
Yup, every last bit, so it's lucky that Redferne is around to hunt him down. When the Warlock crashes into Kassandra's apartment, she and her flatmate think he's drunk, but when he later bites out the flatmate's tongue and generally kills him, Kassandra gets panicky. The Warlock smashes up the antique kitchen table, for a third of the grimoire pages are contained there, and heads off in search of the rest; Kassandra is packing to leave when Redferne shows up and recruits her to assist him, but just as she tries to get away the villian places a curse on her: she will age twenty years every day. Now she needs to find the Warlock as much as Redferne does.
In spite of some modern day ribbing from Kassandra in Redferne's direction, this film has a rather conservative outlook of the "scaring people into being pious" school. An unbaptised boy is killed (offscreen) so that the Warlock can use him for his magic potions, and the deeply religious Redferne is the hero, with Satan being a genuine force. But any misgivings are forgotten when the story is acted with such aplomb and David Twohy's script is so brisk and breezy along with its serious minded mythologies, with fun 17th Century dialogue for Sands and Grant, and exasperated eighties-speak for Singer. The plot may start to wind down in the last act as the usual conventions of such horrors are made plain, and the effects are wisely used sparingly as they're not the best you'll ever see, but in the main Warlock is a modest triumph of its genre. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Followed by a cinema sequel and a straight to video sequel.