Film Reviews:

Witch Hunt

(Paul Schrader, US, 1994)

Spoof horror movie made for the HBO cable channel in the US as a follow-up to the earlier (and very similar) Cast A Deadly Spell. Both were written by Joseph Dougherty and both have a period setting inspired by the detective noir thrillers of the 1940s - but here's the twist - magic is the norm and is used by people everyday.

In the lead role as private dick HP Lovecraft is Dennis Hopper. It is Los Angeles in the 1950s. Lovecraft discovers that his latest client, Kim Hudson, has been accused of murdering her husband. An old-fashioned kinda guy, Lovecraft normally shys away from using magic to help him in his work. At the same time (in a nice parody of the McCarthy witch hunts of the decade) a Senator is holding hearings on the subject of magic. Finally giving in, Lovecraft decides to use the skills of Hypolita Kropotkin, a local witch, to determine if his client is innocent of the charges she faces. But it doesn't go to plan and Kropotkin herself is accused of the murder and sentenced to death - to be burnt at the stake.

Some rate its predecessor, Cast A Deadly Spell, ahead of Witch Hunt but I disagree. The jibes at the McCarthy trials adds a much welcome satirical, and slightly darker, edge - something absent from CADS. Whilst I would agree that Fred Ward (in the first film) looks more the part of the cheap dectective, it's good to see a star like Dennis Hopper adding an extra character type to his already extensive repertoire. Julian Sands stands in for David Warner here - so a balance is maintained in the cheesy acting department. And director Paul Schrader (yes, that Paul (American Gigolo, Cat People, Mishima) Schrader) also holds the attention better than Martin Campbell does on Cast A Deadly Spell. Both are certainly lightweight but this is the only one of the two I own on video and I won't be looking to make up the pair. But then I did see Witch Hunt first - and maybe, them being so alike, that's the way the favour falls. 

Rob Dyer

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