The new film Wish Upon, from director John R. Leonetti, arrives in theaters this weekend, telling a story of a music box that grants wishes, but causes violence and death in exchange for wishes granted. It’s a classic set-up for a horror movie, and the idea of wish-granting as a source for horror has a long and honored history in film.
Horror film took the saying “Be careful what you wish for” to dark and disturbing places in several films, the most famous of which is probably the Wishmaster franchise. The painfully literal Djinn in the film always finds a way to bring about every character’s wish in the goriest and most creative ways possible.
But what about all the other horror and dark fantasy films that punish their characters by fulfilling their wildest dreams? This is a list of some of the best (and some of the forgotten) deadly wishes in horror history.
10. ABCs of Death 2
The segment was “W is for Wish”, and it starts like a Saturday morning cartoon commercial selling kids’ toys. It quickly shifts to horror and mayhem when two boys wish they could join the adventures of their favorite toy character.
The segment is directed by Steve Kostanski, a member of the Astron-6 production company who brought audiences The Void earlier this year, but this short has a sense of humor closer to the company’s other films like Manborg and Father’s Day.
It’s last on the list only because it’s two minutes long, but well worth hunting down.
9. Buffy the Vampire Slayer- “The Wish”
This series often had high-concept episodes, and this alternate timeline episode was one of the darkest. After Cordelia wishes Buffy never came to Sunnydale, she gets her wish and finds out what the town would be like without a Slayer.
Needless to say, it’s not good. Willow and Xander are villainous vampires, The Master is running the town, and Angel is a prisoner of the now-ruling vampire class. The episode gets especially dark when Cordelia is killed and all bets are off. If the person who caused the change is dead, who can change it back?
The episode introduces Anya, the revenge wish demon played by Emma Caulfield who becomes a regular in the series, and was one of the darkest moments of the series to that point.
In 1974, the same year that he created the modern slasher film by directing Black Christmas, Bob Clark teamed up with writer Alan Ormsby to make Deathdream (also known as Dead of Night). The story revolves around Vietnam soldier Andy, who dies in battle, only to be dragged back to the world of the living when his mother wishes he were still alive.
The wish isn’t without its problems, though. In order to remain alive, Andy must feed on the blood of others. It turns out that he returned as a vampire/revenant-type creature, and his hunger can only be cured by murdering people and draining their blood.
The film is an indictment of the Vietnam war and a dark observation on the crumbling state of the American family. Director Clark was a skilled journeyman director so flexible in his skills and style that his resume contains this film, Black Christmas, A Christmas Story, Porky’s, and Baby Geniuses!
7. Gate II: The Trespassers
For all the nostalgic love that gets thrown towards Tibor Takacs’ 1987 film The Gate, those same people never mention his less enjoyable but still interesting 1990 sequel. Written by Michael Nankin, executive producer of The Exorcist TV series, Gate 2: The Trespassers brings back Louis Tripp as Terry, who opens the Gate once again.
This time, however, all that comes through is one of the Minions (the creatures from the first film, not the yellow, pill-shaped things from Despicable Me). Terry brings the Minion home, makes it a pet, and discovers that the Minion can grant wishes. The problem comes in when he discovers that consequences of the wish are bad news, and that his new friends have stolen the Minion to make wishes for themselves.
Stephen Dorff didn’t return for the sequel, though Tripp and Takacs remain; oddly enough, a VERY young Pamela Adlon (from Louie and Better Things) pops up in the film under the name Pamela Segall. Not a great film, but a fun sequel that might be worthy your time.
6. The Monkey’s Paw
Based on the W.W. Jacobs story, The Monkey’s Paw is the “bad wish” story to end all. It has been copied and parodied numerous times, including a very funny segment in one of The Simpsons’ early “Treehouse of Horror” episodes.
The premise is simple: a strange artifact (the titular paw) grants its owner three wishes. The poorly chosen first wishes ending up causing the death of a friend and his resurrection, leaving him in an undead state. The question then is, what to do with the final wish?
The movie updates the story to modern times and wisely casts Stephen Lang as one of the leads, an actor who brings gravitas to everything from Don’t Breathe to Avatar to the TV shows Salem and Into the Badlands. Surprising note: the script for the film was written by Macon Blair, star of Blue Ruin and writer/director of I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.
Sure, the movie isn’t exactly horror, and even the fantasy isn’t terribly dark, but come on! How can you make a list of movies about bad wishes and not include the one where a young Jennifer Connelly is so annoyed by her younger brother that she wishes the Goblin King would come and take him away? And then Jareth the Goblin King (played with effortless cool and charisma by David Bowie) actually shows up and does it?!
The movie is endless visual spectacle, from the set design to the creative characters to the clever traps and puzzles sprinkled throughout. The combined efforts of Jim Henson’s direction, David Bowie’s performance and music, Monty Python alumnus Terry Jones’ crackpot script, and the fantasy designs of Brian Froud make this an all-time fantasy classic.
And if we’re lucky, Fede Alvarez will be bringing audiences another story set in the Labyrinth world, so you might as well start refreshing yourself.
4. Leprechaun 3
Usually, by the time a franchise has hit its third entry, the mythology of the characters and the world are fairly well worked out. This is not the case for Leprechaun, in which each entry is usually about a leprechaun trying to find some gold, but always with new rules and ramifications.
And thank God for that, because the third entry was when Dead End Drive-In director Brian Trenchard-Smith joined the series for the first of his two gonzo entries. This one follows Warwick Davis’ leprechaun hunting for one specific gold coin that grants a wish to its possessor. That coin is in the possession of a young man in Las Vegas, so it leads straight into some fantastic set pieces.
Aside from Davis, there aren’t many famous faces, although Caroline Williams from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 does appear – she also gets a truly explosive death scene. Trenchard-Smith returned to the franchise for one of the more outlandish entries, Leprechaun 4: In Space, which delivers what it promises.
The most appropriate film to be on this list, Wishcraft is a strange hybrid of a movie. It is a horror film, but it has a strange sense of humor (the wish-granting totem is a bull penis), an unusual cast (Austin Pendleton and Meta Loaf?!), and a final act fight scene with a samurai sword.
The film plays as a high school variation on The Monkey’s Paw with a strong performance from Alexandra Holden, who almost a decade later would play the devastating lead performance in Lovely Molly.
The film’s script is sometimes clever, but feels like a by-product of the self-referential horror boom post-Scream. The strangest bit of trivia about the film is one that one of its directors is Richard Wenk, who wrote the Grace Jones vampire film Vamp back in 1986. Stranger still is the fact that Wenk has become a Hollywood commodity, working on the screenplays for the Expendables, Equalizer, and Jack Reacher franchises. A truly confusing question of how he got from there to here.
2. The X-Files- “Je Souhaite”
A comedy episode written by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, the story revolves around two dimwitted brothers who find a Djinn inside a rolled-up carpet in a secure storage shed. After they royally screw their own lives up, Mulder figures out what’s going on and finds the genie himself.
What follows is a clever subversion of the expected genie tropes. Mulder, versed in all the classic tricks of genie wishing, attempts to create a foolproof binding wish contract that solves all of the pitfalls and accidents of other amateur wishers; but the final results of the episode don’t turn out quite as expected.
The episode is smartly written with great comedy turns from Duchovny and Anderson, and a nice guest performance from Paula Sorge as the genie, a role originally written for Janeane Garofalo (her schedule didn’t work out).
1.Tales from the Crypt – “Wish You Were Here”
This is the film that brought EC Comics to the big screen and gave audiences their first filmic version of the Cryptkeeper. The bad wish story in this one, “Wish You Were Here,” was actually adapted from The Vault of Horror, ironically enough (only two of the five stories actually began in the Tales from the Crypt comic).
One of many Amicus studio horror anthologies, this one boasts a fantastic set of tales, all of which have the classic macabre twist endings, and “Wish You Were Here” doesn’t disappoint in that department. Actress Barbara Murray really sells her central performance as Enid, and the direction by longtime cinematographer Freddie Francis is spot-on.
Interestingly, the last thing that director Freddie Francis made before he died was an episode of the HBO series Tales from the Crypt called “Last Respects.” The episode was a variation on the story of The Monkey’s Paw, another tale about the dark results of wishes. He came full circle with Tales from the Crypt before he passed away.
So be careful what you wish for, yeah?