Looking for a Saturday-night movie, tonight? The movie Cast a Deadly Spell (1991) has reportedly arrived on Amazon Prime in the USA, and this week Film School Rejects has a short appreciation (warning: plot spoilers!) of this ambitious and successful attempt to create a fun mix of H.P. Lovecraft and 1940s gumshoe film noir…
Cast a Deadly Spell is pure fun, first and foremost. That said, the movie is also a prime example of how great storytelling and imagination are two of the most magical ingredients in any film. This movie has those qualities in abundance, and it deserves to be appreciated by a wider audience.
When it first appeared, Darrell Schweitzer noted in a fanzine that the original title was to have been H.P. Lovecraft: Private Eye. The central character is indeed named Lovecraft, and the actor has a mild facial resemblance, but otherwise he’s a typical 1940s Private Investigator. Schweitzer also compared the movie to Disney’s equally retro The Rocketeer (1991), but with more overt humour and (I would add) the budget put into FX and hand-made monster-puppets rather than big shiny stunt-planes and jet-packs.
It even has the coveted Stamp Of Approval from S.T. Joshi, who knows his gumshoe detectives as well as his Lovecraft…
it ingeniously combines the Mythos with hard-boiled detection in its portrayal of a tough private eye, H. Phil Lovecraft … While not directly based on a specific Lovecraft story, it captures the essence of the Cthulhu Mythos surprisingly well.
In I Am Providence Joshi singled it out as a “striking performance” … “highly effective”. Although he calls it a “two hour” film, so it’s possible he saw a naughty convention screening of a print made before the editor trimmed it back for cable TV running times? Just my guess. The stated running-time is actually one hour and 36 minutes. I don’t seen any mention of some 14 minutes or so of out-takes being available elsewhere, on YouTube or the laser-disc version.
It appears that Cast a Deadly Spell was a cable-only U.S.-only show for many decades, with an old VHS tape being just-about obtainable and a laser-disc being almost unobtainable… but no DVD was allowed lest it interfere with cable showings. However, my UK version of Amazon now offers a £10 Spanish import DVD with multi-language including English. In terms of current streaming, nothing is visible on the UK Prime — at least to a UK Amazon user who shuns Prime. Such are the stupidities of the region-system. The UK is a big profitable market, with buyers who would spring instantly for a £3.99 streaming version. Yet instead we have to risk an import DVD, or dodge among the dodgy torrents, or peer at a 480px VHS-rip on YouTube.
Fangoria magazine #106 (1991) had a long article on the movie and many spoiler-pictures of the various monsters, as part of their ‘Lovecraft special’ issue. This same issue also has a long article from Will Murray in which he surveys Lovecraft adaptations to 1990…
Note that an early 1990s scan of Fangoria magazine is probably not ‘safe for work’ in 2020.
Beware also that there was a Cast a Deadly Spell sequel in 1994 with a different star and different cast, less charm and humour, and the Lovecraftian lore was cut. But those were the years of the virulent ‘satanic panic’ hysteria, so we’re probably lucky that either movie was made and then reached a mass mainstream American audience.