It's 1948. The plot follows Hardboiled Detective Harry Phillip Lovecraft (Fred Ward), 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 Harry Bordon (Clancy Brown), now a crime boss, who is also looking for the book.
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...
- Big Bad: Amos Hackshaw masterminds the first with his apocalyptic schemes.
- Blank Book: The fake Necronomicon.
- Brown Note: Tugwell writes one up in an attempt to assassinate Lovecraft.
- 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
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Lovecraft asks if Lilly met Mickey at "a fag party."
- Diesel Punk: 1940s technology with Lovecraftian magic.
- Does Not Like Magic: Lovecraft refuses to use magic because it conflicts with his own moral code, a form of Screw the Money, I Have Rules!. It seems to be of the Faustian bargain subtype, judging by his "nobody's got a mortgage on my soul. I own it. Free and clear" line.
- The Dragon: Tugwell, to Bordon.
- Dungeon Punk: Lovecraftian magic with 1940s technology.
- 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: Lovecraft's take on magic.
- Evil Sorcerer: Amos Hacksaw, a sorcerer intent on sacrificing his daughter to summon the Old Ones so he can become a god.
- Fallen Hero: Bordon, he used to be Lovecraft's partner before turning crime boss.
- Fantastic Noir: Film Noir but instead 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.
- Faux Affably Evil: Bordon
- Femme Fatale: What would a Film Noir pastiche be without one? It's Connie.
- Gayngster: Another Film Noir staple. Mickey and Larry fit the bill.
- Griping About Gremlins: They cause problems in vehicles, just like "real" gremlins. Their design is an obvious homage to Joe Dante's films.
- Groin Attack: To a gargoyle. And it works!
- Hardboiled Detective: Lovecraft, complete with narration.
- Hollywood Voodoo: The opening scene has a voodoo doll as a murder weapon. Voodoo-style zombies are also used as cheap labor.
- Homage: The gremlins are obviously based on those from the film Gremlins.
- Hot Witch: Hypolita Kropotkin.
- Jailbait Taboo: Lovecraft chides Grimbaldi over his affair with Olivia (she lost her virginity to him), who's only 16, explicitly calling her jailbait. She brushes the matter off-he's more worried that his wife will find out.
- 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
- Magical Barefooter: In the opening scene of the first movie, one can see that Hypolita Kropotkin goes barefoot. She is also a Hot Witch.
- MayDecember Romance: Olivia is 16 years old and proclaims that Cleopatra succumbed to passion at 14. Grimaldi is an adult police officer.
- Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: A stolen book leads to a plan to destroy the world.
- Necronomicon: The MacGuffin. It wouldn't be a Lovecraftian tale without it.
- Nice Hat: This being the '40s, most everyone wears nice hats.
- Occult Detective: Lovecraft is specifically chosen because he doesn't use magic.
- Our Demons Are Different: A big slug-thing with a long, insect-like tongue.
- Our Gargoyles Rock: Hackshaw employs an animate stone gargoyle as a spy and occasional assassin. It's Immune to Bullets, but not a Groin Attack.
- 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: Zombies are shipped in from the West Indies to serve as manual labor and muscle. They last about three months before they rot away.
- Paper Master: Tugwell.
- Perp Sweating: Lieutenant Bradbury does this to Lovecraft when he won't cooperate with him. We also see him doing this to an uncooperative werewolf.
- 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.
- People makes jokes about Phil's loud tie.
- Mrs. Kropotkin takes every opportunity to bemoan the fact that if she had any sense, she'd be packing up and heading to Miami.
- 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 Magic, I Have RulesConnie 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 the 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.
- Smug Snake: Bordon and Hackshaw, since their plan horribly fails at the end.
- The Sociopath: Amos Hackshaw, a sorcerer who is willing to sacrifice his own daughter and summon the Old Gods to destroy the world so he can become a god in return.
- Spanner in the Works
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Connie's defence of her life takes on this edge after Lovecraft's Screw The Magic, 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
- Un-Sorcerer: Lovecraft, who has sworn off the use of magic.
- Urban Fantasy: 1940s Los Angeles with magic.
- Utility Magic: People are seen using magic to light their cigarettes and retrieve files.
- Virgin Power: Olivia uses her "power" to hunt Unicorns. Also, the Old Ones can only be summoned by using a virgin as part of the ritual.
- Virgin Sacrifice: The Big Bad's plan requires one.
- Weaksauce Weakness: As Lovecraft demonstrates, zombies may be strong tough, but they're easily out-maneuvered through lateral movement.
- White Magic: Kropotkin the witch landlady specializes in it."I have henbane, mandrake root, Eye of Newt... and Mercurochrome."
- You Have Failed Me: Bordon to Tugwell.