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Cast a Deadly Spell


Lee Tergesen plays Larry Willis/Lilly Sirwar in this horror/mystery/oddball film noir produced for HBO.

The movie is set in Los Angeles, 1948. Everybody's using magic. It makes things easier -- like mixing cocktails, handling baggage, filing papers, killing people...

About the only person not using magic is private detective Harry Phillip Lovecraft -- part Phillip Marlowe, part H.P. Lovecraft (appropriately enough in this homage to the works of both Raymond Chandler and H.P. Lovecraft). Despite his aversion to magic, he has been thrust into the midst of the strongest magic around.

The wealthy and mysterious Amos Hackshaw hires Lovecraft to track down a stolen book -- the "Necronomicon," a powerful book of spells that can unlock immense evil and control of the universe. (Hackshaw is played by David Warner, who was the equally wealthy and mysterious Thomas Eckhardt in "Twin Peaks." Fred Ward plays Lovecraft.) 

To find the book, Lovecraft must first find Larry Willis. 

Willis was Hackshaw's chauffer, but he was fired because of the attention he was paying to Hackshaw's virginal daughter. Before he left, though, Willis stole the "Necronomicon" and a blank duplicate.

Meanwhile, a small-time operator named Mickey Locksteader tries to sell the book to a hood named David Bordon. 

Enter Lee. In drag. (Albeit much better drag than his famous "I've Got it Bad and That Ain't Good Scene" in Oz.) About 15 minutes into the film, Lee-as-Lilly Sarwar is waiting for Mickey so that they can make their getaway with the money. But when Bordon discovers the book Mickey sold him was the fake, he has Mickey killed -- death by a zillion paper cuts.

Lee appears again about an hour later in the movie. Lovecraft has followed the trail of Mickey's girlfriend, Lilly, to a remote hotel. By this time, Lovecraft has figured out that Lilly Sarwar is an anagram for Larry Willis and the two people -- Hackshaw's chauffer and Mickey's girlfriend -- are the same, uh, guy.

Lovecraft finds the "Necronomicon" in Lilly/Larry's room, and Lilly/Larry explains the significance of it. He and Mickey had stolen it to not only get some money to make a fresh start for themselves, but also to keep evil at bay. 

No such luck. Evil comes bursting in through the window in the shape of a gargoyle. "Hold it right there, Lon Chaney," Lovecraft warns the creature. "Move away from the fairy and keep those meat hooks where I can see them." The gargoyle pays no heed and goes through Lilly/Larry (literally) to get at the book. But Lovecraft kicks the gargoyle in the nuts and flees.

Much more drama and special effects ensue, but they don't involve Lee/Lilly/Larry, so I'll wrap up this summary with an apt description  from a viewer's commentary at Amazon.com:

Take one part film noir Phillip Marlowe-style detective, one part Lovecraft influence and one part "Gremlins" campiness and you get "Cast a Deadly Spell." ... Not remotely a credible picture, "Deadly Spell" is an unfailingly entertaining one.

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Available on VHS

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Review at CHUD.com

H.P. Lovecraft.com