Friday, October 06, 2017

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #2: Witchboard

Six years ago, on this very blog, I reviewed Kevin S. Tenney’s ‘Night of the Demons’, and came to the conclusion that it was “a delivery system for boobs, blood and rampant swathes of what-the-fuckery”. Tenney’s previous film, made two years before ‘Night of the Demons’, was ‘Witchboard’ and it would be nice to say that seeds of the aforementioned aesthetic were being sown here.

It would be very nice to say that.

Hell, let’s at least try to make a case.

How does ‘Witchboard’ fare in terms of boobs? Apart from an overhead shot of Tawny Kitaen taking a shower – don’t get excited, Whitesnake fans, the shower’s running hot and the steam obscures everything of interest – not really.

Blood? Some, but the kill scenes are stingily apportioned throughout a 97-minute movie that seems to last a lot longer. Granted, there is a death-by-sundial scene that ups the ante and briefly arouses the interest, but on the whole there’s not much going on that you haven’t seen in a billion other shabby shockers.

Rampant swathes of what-the-fuckery? Ah, this is where ‘Witchboard’ really misses out. Whereas ‘Night of the Demons’ has such demented moments as a tube of lipstick disappearing into a woman’s nipple, or the entrance to a funeral parlour suddenly morphing into a brick wall the moment the weird shit goes down and the protagonists try to escape, the best ‘Witchboard’ can do is a few dream sequences that are all billowing curtains, fog machine, huge staircases and even bigger hair.

Also, ‘Night of the Demons’ has Amelia Kinkade as the ultimate bad girl demon while ‘Witchboard’ has Tawny Kitaen as a dopey housewife. With big hair.

Part of me wants to wrap up this review with a quick “so watch ‘Night of the Demons’ instead and you can happily tick the Kevin S. Tenney box on your checklist of trash viewing” epithet – and I’d be entirely justified in doing so under any set of critical parameters – but goll-darnit, I set out to write a review of ‘Witchboard’, so a motherloving review of ‘Witchboard’ is what you’re getting. Like it or not.

(The Agitation of the Mind: putting the reader first since 2007.)

‘Witchboard’ opens with a ten-minute sequence at a party thrown by entitled white girl Linda (Kitaen) and her bit-of-rough working class boyfriend Jim (Todd Allen). Most of the guests are Linda’s ivy league friends; only a couple of Jim’s construction site buddies stop by. Tensions run high from the outset, mainly due to the presence of smarmy rich boy Brandon (Stephen Nichols). Backstory: Jim and Brandon grew up together after the latter’s parents took Jim in because his parents were alcoholic fuck-ups; Jim aspires to go to med school but drops out; Jim and Brandon fall out over Linda. None of the characterisations by the three principles even comes close to selling this melodramatic poop.

Anyway, back to the party: Brandon is holding court and acting like a douchebag, Jim is hitting the JDs like Lynchburg is about to go into receivership, and Linda is exasperated by the pair of them. As a result of a big theological debate between Brandon and another party guest – said individual disappears after this scene, never to be seen again – Brandon pulls out a ouija board and –

Yep, I know what you’re thinking: how does one of these things logically bring us to the other? I don’t know either. I’m guessing that the script notes went something like this:

1. Big theological debate.
2. ???
3. Ouija board
4. Scary shit
5.Rest of movie

Using the same reductive technique, “rest of movie” subdivides to:

5a. Rip off ‘The Omen’ a bit
5b. Wacky medium
5c. Road trip/bromance
5d. Love conquers all finale

Yep, I know what you’re thinking: what the fuck is with 5b and 5c? I’ll answer those questions one at a time. Brandon, intuiting that Linda has been using the ouija board unsupervised, enlists the help of medium Zarabeth (Kathleen Wilhoite) to investigate the weird goings-on at Jim and Linda’s place and, if necessary, kick out any evil spirits. Zarabeth duly shows up in a goth-cum-witch-doctor ensemble that has to be seen to be disbelieved, acts all goofy-creepy, and throws out dialogue alternating between surfer/slacker and motherfucking P.G. Wodehouse. Seriously: who addresses all and sundry as “dude” then departs with a fey “TTFN” [ta-ta for now]? Zarabeth is basically the creation of filmmakers who decided to appeal to the John Hughes demographic with a goth character but fundamentally misunderstand both goths and John Hughes fans.

In respect of the road trip/bromance, events force Linda offstage and while she recuperates Jim and Brandon go cruising the byways and highways to research the life (and death) of the spirit Linda has summoned, and rekindle their friendship as a result. They visit libraries, try to find people using a telephone directory, find help at an esoteric second hand bookshop, and go prowling round a graveyard at night because this film was made in 1986 and the world was only a decade off having them go on the internet and find everything out and still hate each at the end of a 90-second montage and ten minutes would have been shaved off the running time.

Sarcasm notwithstanding, the road trip is easily the best part of the film, even though it’s no surprise to note that when the chips are down and Linda’s very soul is at stake, the guy who lost her stops being a dick and goes the distance while the guy who has her still behaves like a douchebag. Or maybe it’s a deficiency in Tenney’s script that Brandon was an okay guy all along but he had to act the big wanktard in the party scene in order to kick start the plot.

But we’re down to semantics here. ‘Witchboard’ presents a boilerplate but not unentertaining way of passing 97 minutes. Nichols’s performance is acceptable; everyone else’s isn’t. It’s nicely shot and not all of the effects are bad. The title is a non sequitur. Board, yes; as in ouija. Witch, no. There’s shag all to do with witches or witchcraft here. I wondered briefly whether Tenney was trying to capitalise on the ‘Witchcraft’ franchise, but the first of those particular opuses wouldn’t debut until two years after ‘Witchboard’.

This isn’t semantics, however. If you’re going to call your film ‘Witchboard’, then throw in a little witchery.

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