In Los Angeles, in 1948 magic is universal. Everyone uses it, except for Harry Philip Lovecraft (Fred Ward). Lovecraft is a private detective who solves cases the old-fashioned way. Lovecraft’s distaste for magic stems from his ex-partner, Harry Bordon (Clancy Brown), who decided that using magic to become the city’s most ruthless gangster was where he wanted to be. In addition, Harry took away Lovecraft’s girlfriend Connie Stone (Julianne Moore).
Mickey Locksteader (Ken Thorley) delivers to Harry an ancient book known as the Necronomicon or the Book of the Dead. With this book an occultist can create a portal from this world to the next and bring forth the Old Ones. After Mickey is paid and leaves Harry realizes that the book is a fake. He sends his minion, Tugwell (Raymond O’Connor) and his pet zombie (Jaime Cardriache) after Mickey. Tugwell kills Mickey before finding out where the real book is.
Meanwhile, Lovecraft is hired by Amos Hackshaw (David Warner) to find the Necronomicon. It seems that the book originally belonged to him before his former chauffer, Larry Willis (Lee Tergesen), stole it as revenge for being fired. Willis was fired because Amos thought that he was paying too much attention to his underage daughter Olivia (Alexandra Powers).
Lovecraft’s investigation leads him to Mickey, which leads him to the Dunwich Club, a night club run by Bordon and where ex-girlfriend Connie is the singer. When Lovecraft searches Willis’ apartment he finds a pamphlet about a new housing complex called Vista Bonita. At the development he learns about a woman named Lily who is posing as Mickey’s sister. When Lovecraft tracks down Lily, he finds that she is really Willis in drag and Willis has the real Necronomicon. From then on, it’s an easy connection between Willis, Mickey, Bordon and Amos Hacksaw.
Time is running out for Bordon. He must have the Necronomicon by the full moon in order to open up a portal and let the Old One in. He also must offer a sacrifice, a virgin. This is where Bordon’s daughter, Connie comes in. The ancient one gets Connie; Bordon gets to rule a scorched Earth and Amos gets to be a god.
“Cast a Deadly spell” was released in 1991 and was directed by Martin Campbell. It is a noir horror fantasy film that combines the noir genre with Cthulhu Mythos. In essence it is magical noir. The film was released directly to television by HBO. A quasi sequel was done in 1994 called “Witch Hunter” starring Dennis Hopper as detective H. Philip Lovecraft.
The plot may be just a touch predictable but it’s the ride that counts. Noir touches are tinged with fantasy. In noir there is usually rain, in fantasy it is raining blood. The cinematography, dialogue, acting and general feel of the film are all fantastic. It is full of gargoyles, gremlins, runes, zombies, an oatmeal monster, a white witch, a werewolf, a unicorn (there is also a credit for a unicorn wrangler), not to mention all the noir tropes interwoven into the story. The combination of noir and Cthulhu Mythos results in some well-crafted humor, especially the hardboiled kind.
In addition to the main character being H.P. Lovecraft, the police detective, played by Charles Hallahan, is named Detective Bradbury.
There has been some criticism of the film for the treatment of the transvestite character as well as the zombies all being black. Some call it out as racist and homophobic. It is well known that Lovecraft was a racist, classist, anti-Semite, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, and just about any other prejudice you can think of. If you can overlook Lovecraft as a person, you should be able to appreciate his craft.