Judge Patrick Naugle was possessed by the spirit of Gooey Louie.
When you open the door to the unknown, there's no telling who will drop in…or who will drop dead.
When well-to-do twenty-something Brandon Sinclair (Stephen Nichols, Days of Our Lives) brings out the Ouija board at one of his parties, he has no idea what he's about to unleash. Working class prankster Jim (Todd Allen, Django Unchained) and his hot-as-an-oven girlfriend Linda (Tawny Kitaen, Bachelor Party) are unwittingly pulled into the Ouija's powers, when a sprit starts to overtake Linda. Assumed to be the spirit of a young deceased boy named David, it slowly becomes obvious that whoever—or whatever—has control of Linda is far more malevolent. As she starts to change—becoming mean, swearing excessively, and looking like death warmed over—it becomes clear this is no ordinary Ouija board. If Brandon, Jim, and Linda want to make it out alive, they'll need all the help the can get from our earthly realm and the great beyond!
One of the rites of passage as a young kid is to toy around with a Ouija board, usually at a sleepover. A group of children pretending that spirits from beyond the grave and communing with them is innocuous good horrorific fun that offers heebie-jeebies without any real consequences. The Ouija board was creepy and eerie, but everyone fell asleep knowing they were safe and sound…OR WHERE THEY?! No, they probably were, since most of the boards were made by the same game company that produced Monopoly and Jenga.
Kevin Tenney's Witchboard takes the idea of the supernatural Ouija board and twists it into a scary movie that's never quite as horrific as it wants you to believe. The biggest problem with Witchboard is it's '80s trappings. The film features a lot of hairspray and some of the worst fashions of the decade, combined with horror that's light on actual…well, horror (unless you count falling drywall on a construction site fear-inducing). Witchboard has all the elements of Z-level '80s moviemaking at its finest or worst, depending on your nostalgia level.
Performances aren't just all over the map, they are the map. Character moods swing like a fast moving pendulum. One moment good-natured jokes are being tossed around, then someone suddenly lashes out for no apparent reason. Actually, I take that back. There is often a reason, it's just there's no finesse in getting from emotion A to emotion B. It's as if the director said, "Every one, pretend like you have zero control of your emotions!" Todd Allen, Stephen Nichols, and "Cherry Pie" music video vixen Tawny Kitaen all show little-to-no acting prowess. For an example of how not to cast a film, look no further than Kathleen Wilhoite (Road House) as the psychic medium "Zarabeth," who looks like a punk rocker, acts like a mentally deficient Punky Brewster, and has all the endearment of Freddy Krueger running his razor fingers over a chalkboard.
Gore-hounds seeking spectacular special effects will need to look elsewhere. While Witchboard is touted as a horror movie, it's unbelievably light on the blood and guts. Sure, there are a few passable death sequences and a smidgen of fake blood, but surprisingly flaccid when it comes to practical effects. Considering the budget was only $2 Million, it isn't hard to understand why. Witchboard is ripe with potential for violent mayhem, but lets us down at every turn.
I guess on some level it's entertaining (at 2:30 in the morning, with a case of beer), but not nearly as fun as other films of its ilk, including Tenney's superior Night of the Demons. Nostalgic feelings go a long way when it comes to movies like this, but if you didn't see it as a 12 year-old, you'll be sorely disappointed.
Witchboard (Blu-ray) is presented in 1.85:1/1080p HD widescreen, and although the transfer is far from perfect, this is most likely the best the film has ever looked. Colors are evenly saturated, black levels are solid, and there aren't a lot of defects to be found in this nice filmic image. There isn't a lot to report on the DTS-HD 1.0 Mono track except to say it's clean and clearly heard. Fidelity and dynamic range is nearly non-existent.
In terms of extras, Scream Factory has put some time and effort into giving Witchboard the love it doesn't really deserve. We get two commentary tracks (one by director/writer Kevin Tenney and actors Stephen Nichols, Kathleen Wilhoite, and James Quinn; the second by Tenney, executive producer Walter Josten, and producer Jeff Geoffray); new interviews with Kevin Tenney, Tawny Kitaen, James Quinn, and others; a vintage "Making of Witchboard" featurette; some behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes; a few TV promos; a photo gallery; and a theatrical trailer. Also included is a standard def DVD copy of the film.
Witchboard must've had a few fans, since two sequels were produced—Witchboard II: The Devil's Doorway and Witchboard III: The Possession. Even so, it's still a cinematic turd that just won't flush.
Forever vanquished to the hereafter.
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