Because witches don't tan…they burn!
When her brutish boyfriend puts his ham fists on her, Annie runs off to join her friends at their beachside coven. Seems Stevie and Rose are into black magic, or at least into filming it for a college course project. When they paint a pentagram and call upon the spirit of Lilith to start a rock concert tour featuring predominantly female artists, the deceptive seeds of wickedness are planted and bushy hedges of hate erupt, in a nice topiary pattern. Soon, the house be haunted with the spirit of this long dead supporter of lesbian pop stars and well, some rather mundane scares occur. A Manson inspired blood scrawling across the wall seems to magically reappear every time Billy Mays shows up to apply a fresh layer of Oxyclean on it. And the nubile young house honeys keep finding errant ethereal presences spying on them as they sleep in their skimpy nightwear (go figure). But when Burke, the falsely accused assaulter, shows up to explain that his bad touching of Annie was all a hoax and that little Miss Blondie may be whacked off her warlock, he ends up choking on his own inability to accept music with a definite feminine alternative lifestyle bent. But more importantly, is he telling the truth? Are Lilith and her freak fair a figment of Annie's insane imagination? Or did these witches of Nosepick actually conjure up a force heretofore unknown among surf bunnies? Either way, it appears that the third time is an episode of Charmed in Witchouse 3: Demon Fire.
It's hard to fault someone with intentions as supposedly noble as J.R. Bookwalter. True, he has been and continues to be an independent film huckster the likes of which is rather unique in the year 2003. He has gladly sunk his talents into less than stellar product and has associated himself and his company (Tempe) with any organization willing to make any kind of movie for a buck. And yet he is a firm believer in old-fashioned Hollywood ideals, like the "suggestive" theory of horror. He strives to make films where the terror comes from a combination of ambient factors, not just over the top bloodletting or gore. He builds tone, looks for subtlety, and accentuates creepiness, not nausea. And yet, how do you honestly support such a position when it results in a movie as routine as Witchouse 3: Demon Fire? There is something to be said for a movie that tries an understated approach to scares, but when the result offers nothing but atmosphere and professionalism, you have to honestly ask what's the point? Is a horror movie that doesn't frighten still effective? Is a work about witchcraft successful when it doesn't offer insight number one regarding the craft? Can one still make a movie as low on cheap thrills as Witchouse 3 and honestly expect it to shock and chill? The answer, quite frankly, is no. Bookwalter may want to return to a kindler, gentler notion of horror as a manner of misdirection and the perception of dread, but in this modern society of quick cuts, rapid eye movement, and overloaded visual feasts, there really is no need for such cinematic short shrift.
Calling this Wicca for Weetards would be an understatement. It's more like The Crucible as re-imagined by the cast of Blansky's Beauties. The setup is halfway decent; we definitely sympathize with Annie as she takes a jarring right cross from the supposed love of her life, but then after the final plot twist and reveal, we are left wondering what the opening beating was all about. Was it Annie preparing her plot? A McGuffin for the film audience? A sick, subtle way of introducing spousal abuse to the storyline? And who or what is Lilith and her evil presence. Sure, there was a Witchouse 1 and 2 to regale us with information on this spellcaster with a face that could reset concrete, but we don't know why calling her up from the depths of Hell leaves her is such a rotten mood. If she is supposed to serve the one's who hail her, she does a pretty piss poor job of it. Not to be spoiling such a stellar work of cinema, but Annie gets very little out of her crystal ball cell phone call to this broom jockey while Stevie seems to reap all the wrathful benefits. Unclear black magic motives aside, we are also left wondering about the whole "Witches Burn" catchphrase in the film. Since we never see a witch either engrossed in, or even discussing the concept of, fire it's hard to determine its import. Now, if we were treated to a regular Brunhilda barbeque with dozens of she-devils thrown on the hibachi, we might find the concept intriguing. But just like the rest of this understated, undersold, and underblown bug spunk, Witchouse 3: Demon Fire merely suggests the horrible. And while that may be a righteous calling for a modern moviemaker, it definitely results in good old conservative boredom.
One thing can be said about Tempe Entertainment—they surely load up their off-title DVDs with a myriad of bonus content. Witchouse 3: Demon Fire has three commentaries (that's right, three!), a behind the scenes featurette, a look at outtakes and bloopers, a special segment that follows lead actress Debbie Rochon around the sets, a look at J.R. Bookwalter's teenage filmmaking skills, interviews, galleries, trailers, and insert essay material. It's just too bad that more time and attention couldn't have been focused on the image. The anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen image has some major pixelization and compression issues. The majority of this film is either set at night or dusk and the telltale gray of too much information occasionally clouds the picture. Also, approximately one hour and ten minutes into the film, the layer change occurs and each time the reviewer watched this film, the movie froze and had to be restarted using the fast forward button. Still, while the image and technology may be a little messy, the sound is wonderful. Bookwalter had a new 5.1 Dolby Digital surround mix created, and it gives all channels and speakers an otherworldly, spooky workout. Voices, noises, and other atmospheric sound elements are used to great effect here. But it's that extra material that launches the disc above its mediocre movie roots into a borderline must-own entity. Of the three commentaries, Bookwalter with star Debbie Rochon's is the best, as it offers the most backstage anecdotes and explanations. Of the other two, stick with the more technical offering by the production crew. It avoids the backslapping and general clueless disharmony offered by the actors' narrative. This cast just can't quite get over themselves. The additional behind the scenes material, shot on different mediums and for different purposes, truly rounds out the DVD package into an accurate portrait of the making of this no-budget movie. It's just too bad that Witchouse 3: Demon Fire wasn't better. If this had been an all out assault, utilizing gallons of blood and extreme tricks to sell its scares, it would be a welcome addition to the direct to digital market. As it stands, it's as frightening as an episode of Bewitched. Unless, of course, your talking about Uncle Arthur. Paul Lynde was one scary dude.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tempe Video
• Three Commentary Tracks
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