Cast a Deadly Spell
is a 1991 horror/noir movie made for HBO. It was directed by Martin Campbell and written by Joseph Dougherty.
It's 1948. The plot follows Hardboiled Detective Harry Phillip Lovecraft
, in a fictional universe where magic is real, monsters and mythical beasts stalk the back alleys, zombies are used as cheap labor, and everyone, except Lovecraft, uses magic every day. Yet, cars, telephones and other modern technology also exist in this world. There's some implication that magic only recently gained widespread use for whatever reason. Lovecraft is hired to recover the Necronomicon, stolen by persons unknown — although their motives probably aren't: the book contains the rituals needed to awaken and summon the Outer Gods. Complicating Lovecraft's investigation is his former partner, now a crime boss, who is also looking for the book.
A sequel, Witch Hunt
, was released by HBO in 1994; Dennis Hopper replaced Fred Ward as Lovecraft. It more directly parodies the 1950s Red Scare with a counter-revolution against magic use.
Cast a Deadly Spell provides examples of the following tropes:
- Affably Evil: Connie
- All Myths Are True: Everything from Unicorns to Yog Sothoth.
- Apocalypse Cult: The Big Bad plans to use the Necronomicon and a virgin sacrifice to summon Yog-Sothoth and the rest of the Cthulhu Mythos deities, which would devastate the world.
Lovecraft: What kind of world?
Hackshaw: A world of the unburied dead, and a sky dark with ashes. A blasted, maimed planet.
- Award Bait Song: "Why Do I Lie?" by Darlene Koldenhoven.
- Badass in a Nice Suit: The bad guys all wear such nice suits...
- Blank Book: The fake Necronomicon.
- Brown Note: Tugwell writes one up in an attempt to assassinate Lovecraft.
- Bury Your Gays: Mickey and Larry/Lilly.
- Campbell Country
- The Chanteuse: When we first see Connie Stone, she's singing a song in Harry Bordon's nightclub.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Detective Grimaldi's romantic interest for Olivia eventually becomes useful when she is offered as a sacrifice for Yog-Sothoth, but is then refused when the monster realizes that she is no longer a virgin.
- Chewing the Scenery: Hackshaw
- Diesel Punk
- The Dragon: Tugwell, to Bordon.
- Dungeon Punk
- Eldritch Abomination: Attempting to summon Yog-Sothoth, who in turn will summon the rest of the Outer Gods.
- Evil Former Friend: Bordon used to be Lovecraft's partner when they were on the police force.
- Evil Is Not a Toy
- Faux Affably Evil: Bordon
- Femme Fatale: What would a Film Noir pastiche be without one? It's Connie.
- Groin Attack: To a gargoyle. And it works!
- Hardboiled Detective
- Hollywood Voodoo
- Hot Witch: Hypolita Kropotkin
- Just Desserts: Hackshaw is eaten by the creature he summons.
- Kitchen Chase: After a restaurant owner tries to put a written curse on him, Philip Lovecraft goes after him into the kitchen to return it. The curse manifests when a demon comes out of a pot on a stove. Lovecraft joins forces with a cook to defeat it.
- Lovecraft on Film
- Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot
- Nice Hat: This being the '40s, most everyone wears nice hats.
- Occult Detective: Somewhat subverted in his refusing to use magic.
- One Steve Limit: Averted. Both Lovecraft and Bordon have the same first name, Harry, but Lovecraft prefers to go by his middle name, Phil, relegating his first name to merely an initial on both his business cards and office door.
- Our Demons Are Different: And man, are they ugly.
- Our Gargoyles Rock: Hackshaw employs an animate stone gargoyle as a spy and occasional assassin.
- Our Vampires Are Different: Mostly they hang out in West Hollywoood.
- Our Werewolves Are Different: They're the reason Da Chief hates full moons.
- Our Zombies Are Different: Strictly Type V's here.
- Paper Master: Tugwell
- Perp Sweating: Lieutenant Bradbury does this to Lovecraft when he won't cooperate with him.
- Pretty in Mink: Connie has a mink coat.
- Public Domain Artifact: The Necronomicon.
- Running Gag: Phil accidentally giving people Mrs. Kropotkin's business card for her dancing school rather than his own.
- Save the Villain: Lovecraft tries to save Hackshaw when he gets grabbed by Yog-Sothoth at the end. His grip slips.
- Scary Black Man: Being a zombie makes it even worse.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Insert the word "magic" in there somewhere as well, and you have Lovecraft in a nutshell.
Connie Stone: Dammit, Phil, everybody's gotta compromise!
Lovecraft: That's what I keep hearing.
Connie: And what makes you so special?
Lovecraft: What makes me special is I'm my own man. When I started out I said there were things I'd do and things I wouldn't do. A lot of guys start out like that, and a lot of them sell out along the way. But the more who fall, the easier it gets. "See, look, everybody compromises, everybody cheats, everybody uses magic." So they empty their ideals out of their pockets and get down to the job of sticking it to their neighbors before they stick it to them, because that's that way it's done. To all of which I say nuts. My collar may be a little frayed, and maybe I need a shoeshine. But nobody's got a mortgage on my soul. I own it. Free and clear.
- Searching the Stalls: As Mickey is trying to escape Tugwell in the train station, he goes into the bathroom and tries to hide in the last stall. Tugwell uses a magic spell that lights a fiery trail to him and blows him out of the stall.
- Lovecraft calls a gargoyle "Lon Chaney."
- Also, Lovecraft's former police chief is named Bradbury.
- And Harry Phillip Lovecraft himself is named after a certain horror writer whose influences can be detected in this story.
- Smug Snake: Bordon and Hackshaw, since their plan horribly fails at the end.
- Spanner in the Works
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Connie's defence of her life takes on this edge after Lovecraft's Screw the Money, I Have Rules! speech:
Connie: I'm not gonna apologise for my life.
Lovecraft: I didn't ask you to.
Connie: I'm happy the way things are.
Lovecraft: Glad to hear it.
Connie: You gotta look ahead. You can't drag around the past. There's nothing you can do about it!
Lovecraft: Sounds like you got a real good grip on things.
Connie: [Breaking] Dammit, Phil, why'd you have to walk back into my life?
Lovecraft: Why'd you walk out of mine?
- Too Spicy for Yog Sothoth
- Urban Fantasy
- Utility Magic
- Virgin Power: Olivia uses her "power" to hunt Unicorns.
- Virgin Sacrifice
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Lilly Sirwar/Larry Willis
- You Have Failed Me: Bordon to Tugwell.