It’s no longer cutting edge to remind you, dear readers, that Steve Miner’s 1989 horror film WARLOCK is an underrated classic. WARLOCK is mentioned so often by horror fans that it should just be considered a well-known horror tentpole by now; just like THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, or the notion of “DIE HARD-as-a-Christmas-movie,” WARLOCK is just something we’ve come to accept. Julian Sands drinking human fat and flying through the air, seeking to undo creation… it’s the stuff of enjoyable horror fandom now. It’s a lurid film, of course, but also an infinitely watchable one — full of great characters, a snappy story, and a fun hero played by Richard E. Grant.
For those of you unlucky enough not to have seen it, WARLOCK is about an agent of Satan (Sands) who, on the eve of his public execution for witchcraft, casts a spell and throws himself into the future. He is followed by the good-hearted witch hunter Redferne (Grant), who teams up with a modern-day woman (Singer) to track the movements of the rogue Warlock in 1989 L.A. In the present, the Warlock seeks the pages of an evil book called The Grand Grimoire, which will reveal the true name of God. Evidently, when this name is spoken aloud, all creation will be undone.
Frustratingly, WARLOCK has not been granted a Blu-ray release in America… and all the DVDs are on the second-run market. It’s readily available through Amazon streaming services, though. If you want to hang fandom on it, there are a few tie-in products: There is the soundtrack CD, of course, featuring a pretty great score by Jerry Goldsmith… but I don’t think there’s a lot in the way of t-shirts, mugs and the like.
For those willing to invest the time, however, there’s also a novelization of WARLOCK out there in the world.
The world of movie novelizations is a broad and profitable market that is, sadly, often ignored by the literary community at large; most bigger movies are granted novelizations, and most deep-cut superfans track them down, but on the whole they are the redheaded stepchildren of the fandom community. These days, online fan fiction is perhaps more popular, and officially-sanctioned literary adaptations of screenplays are often seen as a bit of a “low” art. [For more on vintage film novelizations, watch this video by our own Rob G!]
These books, of course, take a great deal of talent to write, and require a great deal of creativity. A novelizer (novelizationator?) is often given nothing more than the film’s screenplay for reference — from which the author must suss out the story, include all the details, but also embellish further so that the story possesses enough detail to fill out the novel format.
The novelization of WARLOCK was written by one Ray Garton — an incredibly prolific genre author with many original classics as well as novelizations under his belt. Garton has adapted the TV version of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, and written the movie novelizations of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4 and 5, as well as GOOD BURGER and CAN’T HARDLY WAIT. Garton is just one of a slew of hard-working authors who are constantly putting out pop-lit for quick consumption. Those of us who have bothered to delve into this particular corner of geekdom could likely rattle off several notable authors working within the idiom; I’m fond of Peter David, myself — he wrote the “funny” novelizations of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION.
The tone of Garton’s WARLOCK novelization is decidedly darker than that of Miner’s film: The novel begins with the Warlock using his evil magical powers to torture a rat as he awaits execution. The Warlock himself, while described as looking like Julian Sands, possesses none of Sands’ natural allure. Sands is a seductive actor with a streak of dark sexuality — there’s a reason he’s been cast in films like BOXING HELENA — and while Sands is very good at playing heavies, he’s clearly not the one being evoked in Garton’s version.
The Warlock here, you see, is more or less a rapist — a non-human man who looks at the world, and sees nothing but open nerves, ready to feel pain. He’s like the Cenobites from HELLRAISER, but without any sort of asceticism. He’s a Satanist, yes, but his ethos is destruction. In a film, such a character can be seen as a delicious villain — an unknowable badass who is free to be an agent of chaos and may even serve as a dark avatar for the fantasies of the audience, who crave a villain who can give vent to their own destructive fantasies. The Warlock is no exception: Sands plays him as an awesome, powerful superhero. Evil, yes… but fun to watch.
Garton, when adapting this character to the page, needed to give him more of a voice. A novel allows the reader to look into the minds of a character, hear their thoughts, and see their point of view more vividly. As such, the Warlock is allowed to essentially soliloquize at length about how ugly the world is, and how much he loves inflicting pain. This Warlock is a balls-out sadist, an ugly being of pure impulse. Imagine a creature with no thoughts of compassion or decency, who has the power to harm and rape anyone he pleases — that’s what Garton did.
Since the Warlock is so evil, when he is transported into modern-day Los Angeles, the commentary becomes clearer — and more biting — in the novel. The Warlock seems to be perfectly at home in L.A.; modern-day urban centers, WARLOCK has declared, seem to superficially resemble the depraved metropolises of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the existence of the sex, money, and anger found in such places only reveals the depths to which the human soul has fallen. An ancient person coming to a modern city may see nothing but chaos and sex and horror, so one can perhaps relate to this anxiety — whether one loves or hates big cities.
Another dark wrinkle added to the novelization was that the Warlock does not simply kill people as in the movie; in the film version, the Warlock takes plenty of lives, although many of the deaths occur off-screen. Garton took the off-screen violence as a chance to fill in the gaps, as it were, and to give us the true horrors of which the Warlock is capable. For example: I’m not sure if this was something cut from the original screenplay, but in Garton’s version, the Warlock essentially rapes people to death. He has the ability to cast sex spells on some of his victims, forcing them to feel an intense arousal and to give themselves to him… but when they finally give into their urges, they see — and I’m not making this up — the Warlock’s penis is about the size of two baseball bats. It is described several times as “The Devil’s Member,” which would be a great name for a death metal band.
It’s implied that the Warlock, when he became allied with Satan, was “blessed” with an enhanced male organ which he would use to spread pain and horror throughout the world. The fate of the Warlock’s victims is pretty explicitly described in the book, and it’s shocking in a lurid sort of way. The film is rated R, but such MPAA constrictions don’t hold to literature… and there seems to be a greater deal of horror at work. Horror fiction has always had the freedom to push envelopes way, way further than film — and Garton knows that. A quick death — even a scary one — wasn’t going to hit us in the gut the same way as… well, being raped to death by The Devil’s Member.
The character of Redferne is also altered slightly: In the film, he’s played by the intense Richard E. Grant, a funny and multifaceted actor who starred in dour British comedies like HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING and WITHNAIL & I. He is also, however, a lanky, thin man, not known for a bodybuilder’s physique. The filmmakers seem to have wanted Redferne to appear much larger, as he spends the film draped in enormous fur coats, which increase his physical stature. In the book, with casting no longer an issue, Redferne is allowed to be, essentially, William Wallace: He’s an enormous Scot, good-hearted but imposing, who looks as if he can actually toss a caber. Indeed, the physical differences between the Warlock and Redferne make for a better visual juxtaposition in the book — the Warlock is a thin, sharp-featured man dressed in black; Redferne is an enormous, hefty, robust strong man. Their physicality is an instant power dynamic.
The story itself more or less plays out the same way as in the book, and the climax is the same… but the thrill of a novelization is to finally intellectualize those things. We have the emotions and the story from the film, but by making it literary, we now have the words for it. Ray Garton has embellished WARLOCK very nicely, making the horror more horrific, and the hero more heroic. Used paperback editions of this book are available on the second-hand market (most novelizations go out of print almost immediately), and fans of the film would do well to track it down.
Where else can you read about the Devil’s Member?