Monday, January 27, 2014

WITCHBOARD (Scream Factory Blu-ray) - It's a WeeJaa of a Good Time (not WeeJee)!

As a kid we owned a Ouija Board from Parker Brothers. We’d try to scare each other at sleepovers. Our Catholic friends used to tell us the Devil lived inside it (they’re priest told them!) and would have nothing to do with the damn thing. Generally, we moved the planchette to our own selfish whim usually trying to scare the goodie two shoes in the room. Between that, pronouncing the name of the board incorrectly and combining our scare tactics with a solid, anticlimactic game of  Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board, we pretty much exhausted the spooktacular parlor tricks at our disposal. Sometimes we might follow up our inside creep-outs by playing Ghost in the Graveyard (a game of tag, played at night involving some morbid consquences) but ultimately we’d turn to watching Creepshow and telling my sister that we were going to cut my mother’s head off and put it on a cake (no mothers were ever harmed). But back to the Ouija Board. It never worked for us so we used it for our own novelty gag, and to that end it was successful. My first experience with the movie Witchboard was during its exquisite TV marketing campaign. When that announcer’s voice, deep with sultry creep, said Witchboard, I’d lose my shit and still lose my shit to this day. It’s a favorite trailer of mine. It’s a damn great title for a movie, a campy but scary movie and one that deserved everything right and proper that Scream Factory did with its upcoming release.

Synopsis from Scream Factory:

It’s called a Ouija Board and it’s been used for thousands of years to communicate with the souls of the afterworld. For beautiful Linda Brewster (Tawny Kitaen, Bachelor Party), it brings the playful ghost of a dead ten-year-old boy. But when the friendly spirit develops a sudden taste for violent murder and demonic possession, Linda’s boyfriend (Todd Allen, Django Unchained) and her former lover (Stephen Nichols, House) must race to destroy the ferocious portal of the damned.


This is Kevin Tenney’s first feature, and while it may have a certain camp, humor (unintentional at times) it’s also quite terrifying with strong performances from Todd Allen, Tawny Kitaen, Stephen Nichols and Kathleen Wilhoite. Sure there are moments that feel over acted and even some dream sequences that you’ve seen a million times since 1986 that feel like forced jump scares, but that’s part of the fun of enjoying an 80’s movie. You feel entertained and you get a chance to laugh before a proper moment of violence and dark strange imagery. There are some moments of genuine suspense, and you may even find yourself a bit curious as to whether you should breakout the old board and give the “game” a go. Maybe you’ll find your own gentle spirit, David.

Witchboard has some classic kills though not many.  Death by sheet rock. Death by hatchet. Death by sun dial. … yes… DEATH BY SUN DIAL!  Each one looks great, and the big bad spirit that everyone thinks is the polite little dead boy turns out to be Malfeitor. This character is a creepy and still frightens me as much as he did when I was a kid. See how some of these effects were carried out and on such a light budget, brings home that economical quality of Witchboard while showing how an ambitious filmmaker with some good ideas and surrounded by a good effects team can create solid effects work out of a minimal budget.

This is a Scream Factory release so you can expect the works. The artwork is traditional with stills used as  inserts inside. This is not a “collector’s edition” and thus no slipcover or special artwork. The biggest fail was not to include an image of a Ouija board inside and provide a tear out cardboard planchette in the packaging. This release comes as a Blu-ray DVD combo pack. Note: 1080; HD Widescreen 1.85:1 with DTS HD Master Audio Mono for the Blu-ray. Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1 Dolby Digital Mono for the DVD.  To say it is the best it has every looked is an understatement and may be this year’s Prison (Prison was one of my top 3 Scream Factory releases of 2013).

The extras are a powerful tribute to the creation of Kevin Tenney and company. They deserve to be enjoyed by living long fans and newbies alike. There’s an audio commentary featuring writer/director Kevin Tenney and actors Stephen Nichols, Kathleen Wilhoite and James Quinn and also a separate audio commentary with Tenney and producers Walter Josten and Jeff Geoffray. The interviews with Tenney, Kitaen, JP Luebsen, James Quinn, Walter Josten and Todd Allen are informative and tell the story of a young filmmaker making his first film with a fresh cast of relatively new faces to the horror scene who created some very powerful characters. The disc includes a vintage making of Witchboard feature created during the 80’s (not to be missed!). This thing is all 1986! Theatrical trailer, TV Spots (my favorite) and a still gallery. Kenney’s comments on his own work are perfect lessons for young, independent filmmakers. Between the extras on this disc and the Night of the Demons release, he is quickly becoming one of my favorite director’s both as a commentary provider and in terms of movies he has created.

Scream Factory’s release of Witchboard comes on the heels of Witchboard 2 being released from Olive. Together they would make an excellent set with both disto companies, Scream and Olive, putting out solid releases. The renewed interest in Tenney’s work comes at a time where practical effects are being re-explored and appreciated by independents and Hollywood alike to attempt to gain a new sense of realism and reconnection with an audience that loves entertaining, well thought-out horror. Some would classify Witchboard is poor 80’s nostalgia fodder with low production value and destined for the dollar bin, but I would say that those viewers haven’t watched this movie, looking this rich and clear or without their jelly bracelets tied around their neck. There are plenty of scares to enjoy.

Breakout your Parker Brothers board and maybe even your hammer/hatchet, but don’t dare call it a Weeeeejeeee board or Stephen Nichols will flip his luscious locks at you.

-Doc Terror

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