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“Witch Hunt” is proof that no matter how talented your cast, producers, writer, and director are, a good film is never a guarantee.

Witch Hunt

Private detective H. Phillip Lovecraft investigates a murder in an alternate 1950s where everyone uses magic except Lovecraft. Let’s dig into 1994’s WITCH HUNT, directed by Paul Schrader!

As I See It

Using magic to swap out Senator McCarthy’s Communist Witch Hunt isn’t necessarily groundbreaking or original, but it is tongue-in-cheek enough to elicit a sneer.

There was so much promise in this film. From the cast to the man behind the camera, I had really high hopes of this being a true gem lost to time. Within four minutes, however, the ineptness of some of the supporting cast made my eyes roll into the back of my head.

I had to keep with it. There was too much quality potential.

Unfortunately, if you’re like me, you saw the name Paul Schrader and expected something gritty. What you’re going to get is more polished than you can imagine. If I would compare this film to one of Schrader’s earlier projects, which he wrote, this would be a department store mannequin compared to the overused blow-up doll that is Taxi Driver.

Nothing in this film centers it in reality, which you might say it shouldn’t since magic is a central point of the plot.

However, the brilliance of Schrader is intrinsic. He’s able to bring out the unclean areas of humanity.

Schrader is not the only one who seems out of place.

Dennis Hopper was in True Romance and Speed just a year before this film. The late, great Hopper stated once upon a time that this was “…the strangest film I’ve ever been in.” Damn Straight, Hop.

The special effects are something out of a kids’ TV show. It plays like a more adult Who Framed Roger Rabbit without any charm.

I wanted this to be amazing. It wasn’t unwatchable. That’s the best I can give.

Famous Faces

Dennis Hopper (H. Phillip Lovecraft) wrote, directed, and starred in the ultimate rebel film Easy Rider with Peter Fonda and Terry Southern. He’s worked with Coppola (Apocalypse Now), The Duke (True Grit), Tony Scott and Tarantino (True Romance), and David Lynch (Blue Velvet). But, most importantly for this genre gang, he worked with Tobe Hooper as ‘Lefty’ in my favorite installment of the macabre series The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, TCM 2!

Penelope Ann Miller (Kim Hudson) was Gail in Carlito’s Way and Joyce, Arnold’s love interest, in Kindergarten Cop.

Eric Bogosian (Senator Crockett) had an uncredited role in The Stuff and was featured in Dolores Claiborne, the other Stephen King adaptation starring Kathy Bates.

Julian Sands (Finn Macha) passed away last year while hiking Los Angeles’ Mt. Baldy. A tragic end to an underrated character actor. He played Shelley in Ken Russell’s Gothic, the titular role in Warlock, and Yves Cloquet in David Cronenberg’s adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ impossible Naked Lunch.

Debi Mazar (The Manicurist) has a lot of titles to her credit, but it’s her role as Rex Manning’s assistant, Jane, in a personal favorite, Empire Records, that sticks out.

Clifton Collins Jr. (Tyrone) has been working for way longer than I realized. You may recognize him as the third (fourth if you count Rocko from the first film) saint in Boondock Saints II or as El Lazo in the HBO series Westworld. He’s always good.

Alan Rosenberg (N.J. Gottlieb) was in a film that I watched way too much as a kid: The Wanderers. He jumped ship from the “good guy” gang to The Baldies as Turkey.

Terry Camilleri (Minister) only played a small part here as the minister overseeing Gottlieb’s mini-funeral, but he can’t go by without being mentioned. The Ziggy Piggy himself, Camilleri played Napoleon way before Joaquin in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Of Gratuitous Nature

Depictions of misogyny and corruption in Hollywood are accurate. It’s just too dopey to be offensive.


There are obvious nods to personal heroes or writers that Joseph Dougherty seems to have an affinity for. Lovecraft, Bradbury, and Kropotkin, to name a few. I love that sorta thing, and I never get tired of seeing “hidden” references like that.

Also, a score by Angelo Badalamenti! Come one! This should have been a home run. The frequent David Lynch collaborator is able to pull the strings of discomfort like so few composers can.

Ripe for a Remake

The retro opening felt like it could have been made last year. That nostalgic way of storytelling doesn’t seem to ever go out of style, but I’m not sure there is anything here worth continuing beyond the characters, which would need some real substance to even make it worth it.


This is a soft sequel to another HBO movie, Cast A Deadly Spell.

Where to Watch

Witch Hunt won’t be one you can track down in physical format. I’m not sure you’ll even find it streaming. I couldn’t find it on Max. You’ll probably have to resort to YouTube like me.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 1.5

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