Necromancer (1988) – Necromancing the stone

This is not the kind of typically silly, low budget, 80s Horror I expected it to be. Instead of focusing on the good stuff, like demons and killing, Necromancer takes a different path. To be fair, there is some neck stabbing, a seductive demon, and a friendly neighbourhood Satanist, yet that doesn’t quite satisfy. Not to spoil anything, but there’s never any necromancy performed at any stage, not even a simple re-animation. The evil force at play is instead some kind of demon-channelling witch. Go figure. For the most part, the movie is a wild ride of relative banality and disappointment, with its focus firmly on the psychological. At least I assume that’s what it’s going for, as it revolves around a pretty heavy rape theme that’s supposed to keep us emotionally invested. Yeah, probably don’t watch this if you find such content understandably uncomfortable, as it is very present, and well overdone. This enthralling journey is brought to you by Dusty Nelson, a vaguely experienced director of Action and Horror, and writer William T Naud, a man who’s subsequent and final project was a Rocky parody about a gigolo. Apparently they both have a thing for making meta snuff Horrors, too, so it beats me how this turned out like it did.

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Necromancer isn’t all bad, though. At times the production value is quite decent, and there are some super cool sets – including Pepperdine University at Malibu, and one very nice party house, complete with a medieval-chic bathroom. I don’t know if that’s a real style, but see for yourself. On the flipside, the “necromancer” lady’s backyard-ritual garage fit-out is pretty lame. I’m not sure where the budget went either, as special effects are almost nonexistent. That said, there is a fairly large crew listed, so perhaps they actually got paid for their troubles, though I’ll be damned if I know what most of them did. The occasional moments where we do glimpse a demon are pretty bizarre, the costume is both hilarious and a tad creative, featuring some spooky, post-production eyes. Nelson understandably avoids giving the demon much screen time, not in a clever Hitchcockian way, more of a ‘please don’t look too closely’ kind of way. Relatively inexperienced cinematographers, Eric Cayla and Richard Clabaugh, seemed to have combined to do a pretty solid job though, and everything is carried by Carole A Kenneally’s editing. For the most part it’s simple and keeps things flowing, but there is one standout sequence where Elizabeth Cayton fights herself. It’s actually pretty awesome.

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Yes, Elizabeth Cayton, or Kaitan, is in this, and the movie is definitely better for it. Unfortunately her character, “straight A” college student Julie, doesn’t have many opportunities to show off her trademark smile. In the first act she’s attacked by creepy rich guy Paul – Stan Hurwitz, who looks totally familiar despite being a one-timer. The guy really nails the arsehole role. Then there’s seedy drama professor, Charles, who emotionally blackmails her – Russ Tamblyn, West Side Story, Drive, and some other, much trashier affairs. He totally overacts the part, but it weirdly works considering the character’s profession. I guess he peaked early.

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Lois Masten Ewing, who had a part in 21 Jump Street, is probably well cast as the witch lady, looking rather bizarre and almost carrying off her outlandish accent. The friendly Satanist, Ernest, turns out to be just a friendly nerd with immaculately greasy, painted hair – Waide Aaron Riddle, what a name, a guy who now makes short films on his own. He’s also a wannabe witch – yes, it is a male character, no, I’m not sure he fully understands the world he’s getting into. None of the other roles are too memorable, except maybe Julie’s rocker boyfriend Eric, another one-timer John Tyler, as he pushes someone into a pool. Surprisingly though, everyone more or less holds their own, which is actually a decent ask considering the sort of caricatures Naud’s script has blessed them with.

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Yes, Naud and Nelson seem to take all the wrong bits too far on Necromancer. Going too far is great if it actually makes things more interesting, or provides excitement, we’re talking about cheap, 80s Horror after all. At first I thought there was a feminist angle at play – every male character is either disturbingly creepy and vice-driven, or oblivious and ignorant. It soon became clear, however, that no character really has any redeeming qualities. Perhaps Naud and Nelson are going with misanthropy in an attempt to make their Horror hit home. Really though, it seems they’ve just taken every negative or stereotypical character trait and exaggerated it to a comic book level. Cayton’s Julie is a perennial victim who must somehow break the accursed cycle she falls into. It’s honestly hard to watch. In her defence, though, who wouldn’t hire a demon lady to do a spot of revenge killing? Her boyfriend is too busy being cool or jealous to help, and the one guy that does want to help is a useless nerd. She has friends, sure, but I’m not even sure where they are for the majority of the movie. Instead it’s all about confrontations between her, creepy guys, and demons, and that’s about it for the plot. By the way, that sounds way cooler than it actually is.

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That all seems a bit negative, especially for one of my opinions on a trashy, 80s Horror, yet Necromancer really does manage to disappoint. Again, no necromancy for a start.  At times Nelson does try to give us some sweet demon-on-human action, yet more often than not effects constraints, and Naud’s ham fistedly psychological narrative get in the way. Did I mention the few motifs they employ are ripped straight out of The Shining? The saving grace that is Elizabeth Cayton, and some slick editing, really doesn’t do enough to tone down the painful elements, nor resuscitate the sickly plot. Perhaps there’s something to be said for including so much hyperbole in the character’s interactions, though without any real payoff it all seems pointless. I mean, if you’ve had enough to drink this will be almost as good an 80s Horror trip as something like Biohazard, but maybe just go watch that instead. It does, however, give me a yearning to seek out this Popeye game I had no idea existed.

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