Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)

(On Cable TV, August 2013) I like to think that I’ve got a pretty good mental encyclopedia of fantasy movies, but this one had completely eluded me until now: A made-for-HBO film taking place in late-1940s Los Angeles in which magic is real and a gumshoe works at preventing a monstrous apocalypse.  Fred Ward stars as the tough-guy private detective (named Philip Lovecraft, ha), and he gets a few crunchy lines in-between his narration and his one-liners.  Cast a Deadly Spell gamely tries to portray a suddenly-magical Los Angeles and blend it with noir aesthetics, but it’s hampered by a low budget and by a lack of internal consistency: it’s never too clear how magic is supposed to work, as the various fantastical elements blend together in a blur of self-contradictory events.  Still, the film works relatively well as an unassuming hidden gem, and if the final gag can be seen well in advance, it’s still good for a laugh or two.  Director Martin Campbell and femme-fatale Julianne Moore would go on to bigger and better films a few years later.  Cast a Deadly Spell was followed by the barely-related Witch Hunt in 1994.

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