If this blog is going to be known for anything, it will be known for reviewing low-budget, B-film quality crap cheaply centered around Arthuriana. Fantastic, right? I know.
I am not one to disappoint my audience, so let’s continue our medieval movie nights with Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders, a film that, I assure you, is none too mystical.
Written and directed by Kenneth J. Berton, this late nineties crap-fest has the look of a children’s movie, but I assure you, it is anything but. But, we will get into that later. For now, let’s discuss the movie.
So, it begins very oddly—with an old woman getting drunk and using a Ouija board to contact her dead husband. I have to say, such a premise sounds neat for a comedy, but not sure it works for much else, aside from awful horror. Unfortunately for her, this is not a comedy, and her husband’s spirit is pushed aside by a stronger spirit. Cut to the chase, the spirit kills the woman by setting her house on fire. Macabre.
Since the description for Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders is the great wizard himself traveling to the future to open up a shop, perhaps this opening serves to illustrate how he will get into the future? Maybe this woman is somehow in contact with a spirit that Merlin was battling? Good guess but PSYCH, this opening has nothing (technically…) to do with the movie we are watching.
After the woman is killed, the camera pans out to reveal that it was actually a horror movie being watched by a little boy. Before we can learn the fate of the woman, the power goes out. And all though the little boy is sad, I am not. That movie sucked. Regardless, he is sad, so his grandfather tells him a story, a story based on a screen play that he wrote back in the day. A story about Merlin. That’s right, not even six minutes into the movie and we have already a story-within-a-story. Think The Princess Diaries, but bad.
So, the story that the grand-father tells is the actual plot of the movie we were promised. Great! A rather round-about way to get us there but all films have filler, so whatever. Drink your shit smoothie and try not to barf.
The ACTUAL movie opens up with Merlin magically setting up his shop. It isn’t clear on whether he is renovating a run-down part of an alley or magically transposing his shop into some street, but he chants, waves his hands, and stuff appears. Neat.
Also, there is this hoodlum milling about. More on him later.
Transition to day time, and we see a little boy– I want to quickly run a tangent here and say that the boy here looks like the child on the VHS poster but that child is clearly a little girl; did they dress the little girl as a boy?– and his mother walking past the store. The boy is entranced by the store and wanders into it when his mom is preoccupied with her friend who can’t seem to get pregnant. Inside the store, the boy meets a woman named Zurella, Merlin’s wife, though I swear that Merlin calls her “mom” at several points. Anyway.
Nothing much happens when the little boy is in the shop. Not until his mother (and her friend) goes in after him. Talk happens. Largely boring talk. The woman who can’t get pregnant finds a stone and wishes upon it to have a baby. Meanwhile, her husband, who is an asshole critic from a BIG time newspaper, is unconvinced of Merlin’s magical abilities. In an effort to convince him, Merlin gives him his spell-book.
The pair go home and, of course, the mean critic riffles through the book. He tries out the various spells and things don’t go as expected. It turns out, that using magic drains one of their life-force and causes premature aging—a nifty idea! The only way to reverse the aging is to make a rejuvenation potion and to do so he has to have some of his wife’s blood…
Now, I am going to stop here and say that the part of the film with the critic trying out the spells is the part of the movie where you realize that this is not a movie for kids. To name the creepy things that happen, he (1) summons a demonic spirit which appears in the mirror as Satan, (2) force feeds his cat an elixir to try and turn it into a familiar only to have it viciously attack and nearly kill him before the cat itself is roasted to death, and (3) forcefully extract blood from his barren wife for an anti-aging potion only to have it backfire on himself and turn him into a baby, a baby that his wife, who desperately wanted a baby, is more than happy to care for.
Yeah… creepy, weird, mildly Freudian.
After this point in the film, the spell-book returns to Merlin. We can just ignore all the things which would logically happen from a grown man, and a well-respected one at that, vanishing, and the next day his wife has this several-month-old infant. Let’s just ignore that. But, you know what we will not ignore? That hoodlum. You know, the one from forty or so minutes ago? That one.
Now this guy comes into play and steals a toy monkey from Merlin. This toy was given to Merlin by Morgana as an obvious attempt on his life. Why Merlin doesn’t have good home security from all that magic is beyond me, but hey, who am I to question the practices of a time-traveling mage?
So, I am not going to get super-in-depth on this part of the movie. Suffice it to say, that the monkey causes things to die via clapping his little instruments. It falls into the hands of a little boy for his birthday and shit goes south fast. Despite the dad trying his best to get rid of the toy, it, in true horror movie fashion, finds its way back every time. This culminates with the family dog dying and the entire family itself nearly being killed.
Thankfully, they survive, if only by the skin of their teeth thanks to Merlin teleporting himself to the house and stopping the toy before it claims another victim.
Now, this part of the movie feels super out-of-place. Merlin is only in a few scenes as he searches for the toy while the narrative itself is just wholly removed from the narrative of the first one. When I watched this part, I wondered if this movie was actually a re-release of an aborted television program shoehorned into a “film” as a way to sell it, like the program I reviewed some time ago, Arthur of the Britons. It wasn’t until I wrote this review that I found out the story behind this junk.
Why the movie feels disjointed is because the film is actually two movies squished into one. As everyone’s favorite “research” website reports,
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merlin%27s_Shop_of_Mystical_Wonders) “The second segment of the film is a recut version of The Devil’s Gift, a 1984 film made by the same director [Kenneth J. Berton]. Large elements of the original film’s storyline are missing, and segments with Merlin are added to show him pursuing the toy monkey. The original film’s dark ending, in which the monkey kills the entire family, is replaced with Merlin arriving just in time.”
In fact, it is not just the second half which is “The Devil’s Gift.” Remember that opening sequence with the medium talking to her dead-husband? I’m willing to bet that was more of this re-cut movie– after all, we see the same toy monkey. That would explain why that opening scene existed in the first place and why the second half felt so odd.
As Wikipedia says, much of the actual movie—Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders—simply doesn’t exist (though this is a statement that can be applied to both films, to be honest). Take out The Devil’s Gift material and you are left with a sub-par short film. A film that, let’s be honest, misses its mark; the VHS cover suggests that Merlin’s Shop is a children’s fantasy adventure, but even that is not true. Most of that short-film is dark hoopla concerning the A-hole critic. The child featured on the movie’s cover and briefly at the start, is only in the movie for the first ten-minutes or so and even then, doesn’t have a single line of dialogue (probably because they had a rush to swap genders, for some reason, marketing, probably).
My best guess is that the budget wasn’t there to make that movie and the director decided to cut his losses and just insert in his own Devil’s Gift crap; either that or he thought that his shitty “horror” movie was just so good he couldn’t bear to deprive the world of it. Honestly, it is almost a shame because the idea of a young boy/girl helping Merlin spread awareness of magic against the encroaching threat of technology and science, is an interesting premise. I’m not saying that, that movie would have been very good, but it would have almost certainly been better than this dreck.
The musical score is almost nonexistent while the acting is as cheesy and over-the-top as it is needlessly drawn out; seriously, the actor who played Merlin—but all of the cast, really—have this tendency to ham up their lines by taking long pauses and gaps or over emphasizing certain words. It feels comically misplaced. With bad writing and weird tones, Merlin’s Shop just is something that no one should see if they are looking for an entertaining movie.
In the end, Merlin’s Shop is not worth watching except in the way that all B-Movies are worth watching—ironically and with an adult beverage by your side or with good friends laughing and jeering at the film.