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Bad Magic (1997)

Directed by Mark and John Polonia
Salt City Home Video VHS

Recently, I was shocked to learn that eating ice cream before bed every night is not considered healthy. So I started running. And surprise! I hated it. Mostly because after running .25 miles, it felt like I was carrying a Smart Car full of Jonah Hills up five flights of stairs while wearing a gorilla suit.

But time goes on. Last week, I was at the end of a three mile run. At the top of a hill, I realized that I felt good. So good that there was enough power inside of me to conquer a world full of villains, both physical and emotional. I wished that I could bottle the feeling and give it to everyone that I cared for.

As it turns out, that’s not an impossible wish — all you have to do is watch Bad Magic.

Renny can’t get over the death of his brother Amos. Amos was shot in cold blood by a gang called The Red Claws, who look like team members of the paint department at Home Depot. Renny declares, “The calling on of demonic forces to aid one in a mission or to reach a goal, or even revenge — this is where I come into the dark games.” Renny travels from New York to an unspecified beach where the sound of steel drums never stops playing. He visits Dr. Topanga’s Novelty Shop, where Dr. Topanga teaches Renny in the ways of voodoo. We know this because there was a credit in the beginning of the movie that said, “Voodoo Consultant by Dr. Ishmeial Atuki.”

Back at home — AKA a room with black sheets for walls, a desk, and a potted plant — Renny summons a demon named Blahkeeblahkay. Now Renny is ready to take revenge on The Red Claws. Death by voodoo doll! Death by the undead! And, in a cinematic first, death by toilet paper. But what happens when Blahkeeblahkay needs to collect the fee for his services? And what happens when no-fi superhero Mark Polonia has sex with the world’s most least convincing prostitute?

Bad Magic is an invigorating, shot-on-video dream-blast that breaks new ground in side-stepping reality. It’s a raging storm of rubber monster masks, flannel shirts, plastic machetes, and questionable wigs. The pace moves so fast that it feels like we’re watching everything happen from the passenger window of a car as we drive by at fifty miles per hour. We can’t catch all of it. But what we do see makes us want to drive by again. It’s the same feeling we get after ransacking an old video store for tapes, or devouring the $1 bins at a comic book store. We’re fulfilled, but we want to go back. And we always do.

That’s a rare feeling. When we watch movies like Back From Hell and Deadly Trigger, we ALMOST get it. But those movies don’t quite make it. We’re chasing an experience — a moment of genuine discovery. We want to find the one-in-a-bazillion movie that can tip the scales in our lives from “just getting by” to “attacking the world with unfettered passion.” Bad Magic is one of these movies. Just like like A Night To Dismember, High Kicks, and Blonde Death. But Bad Magic isn’t part of this elite power-force because of the surface-level kicks. Like those movies, there’s another factor at play that makes our love run deeper.

In this case, it is POLONIA POWA.

By 1997, teenage trash-horror sensations Mark and John Polonia had grown up. They left behind the psycho-sexual animosity of Hallucinations and Splatter Farm, and learned from the slice-of-life meanderings of Saurians. For me, there’s no scale of “best to worst” when it comes to a Polonia movie. If their names are on it, I’ll find something to appreciate. I admire their unbeatable work ethic and dedication to what they believed in. My advocacy for Polonia Brothers movies will only expire when I do. Bad Magic is an apex of power in the Polonia’s massive filmography, one that was only closed by John’s passing in 2009.

Maybe it’s because the Polonias were hired hands on this movie. Maybe it’s because they didn’t shoot more than 65 minutes of footage. Whatever the case, Bad Magic is a psychotropic rampager that feels like it was thrown together in two hours on a Saturday afternoon. That fun-fueled urgency is part of the reason why it’s so great. But it’s also the synth-pop-meets-funk-fusion-meets-Hallmark Channel soundtrack. And the inexplicable shifts in tone. And special effects that look like they were created on a Commodore 128 computer. Sure, the origin story behind Renny’s voodoo powers is a little boring. But every origin story is boring. Have you ever read the first issue of The Incredible Hulk? Who cares!

In the near future, Mark and John Polonia will be our generation’s answer to Herschell Gordon Lewis, Doris Wishman, and Ray Dennis Steckler. Bad Magic proves it.

I’m going to celebrate by eating some ice cream.