Angeles, 1948. Everybody used magic. Except, of course, for
that hard-boiled, chain-smoking, mechanical-rationalist private
dick H. Phillip Lovecraft, played by Fred Ward.
Cast a Deadly Spell is an HBO made-for-television journey into the pulp side of H.P. Lovecraft and the dark side of Bewitched. It's a stylish film noir world with a smart script by Joseph Dougherty, sleek direction by Martin Campbell, and sweet production by Gale Ann Hurd. In this L.A., magic is the way of the future and cheap hoods in expensive suits are master sorcerers. It's a place where unicorns jump across country roads, monsters rise out of soup, werewolves get the third degree from the cops, zombies come six to a crate just like bon-bons, and your landlady is a Licensed Witch (Calif. #8773246).
The shamus called Lovecraft is hired by eternal baddie David Warner to find a book stolen from his librarycould it be, oh, say . . . The Necronomicon?
Sure it is! You were expecting maybe TV Guide?
Gumshoe Lovecraft discovers that the nasty real-estate mogul is going to use the terrible tome to open the gate to the usual gang of blind idiot gods: the Old Ones, Yog-Sothoth, Cthulhu, et al. But this interdimensional opening has a twist Lovecraft (the author) never thought of: it needs a virgin to complete the ceremony, a virgin who just happens to be David Warner's daughter. (A virgin in L.A.? Now that's a real weird fantasy . . .)
Appropriate to late 1940s L.A., the Old Ones are summoned to a real estate development called Vista Bonita. Even more fitting, the earth under the development cracks, letting a really nasty Cthulhu-ish thing burst forth to claim the virgin, who apparently has been fooling around without her father's knowledge. So the beast takes the father instead and returns home to San Andreas (fault, that is), closing the gate and keeping the world safe for another 666 years.
Cast A Deadly Spell has no direct connection to any specific Lovecraft story; it's more of a pastiche of HPL run through Raymond Chandler's Underwood. A lot of praise has to go to Joseph Dougherty's script (he also produced that yuppie classic thirtysomething); it really catches the flavor of an archetypal detective yarn, giving Lovecraft great Chandlerian comebacks like:
"The lady will have a scotch sour."
"Suppose I've changed my drinking habits?"
"I'd get you a sour anyway, just to watch you eat the fruit."
"Do you know how long the Old Ones have waited for me? Centuries, millennia!"
"How long is that in dog years?"
"Who said you could sit down?"
If your tastes include a story full of hard detectives, soft dames, and Lovecraftian demons, Cast A Deadly Spell is well worth a view.