AUGUST 16 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : WITCHBOARD
I loved this movie when it came out back in the 80s. Being I was 15 at the time I admit that the part I remember most was a certain shower scene featuring the Whitesnake video girl, Tawney Kittean.
I had the vhs during my college years but somehow it got lost during one of my many moves. Recently I had opportunity to pick up the dvd release that came out a few years ago and finally sat down and watched it again. I must say this one really holds up even though it is 20 years old! It is the best time I have had watching a horror flick in recent memory. As soon as it was over, I immediately put it back in the case and on the stack of movies for this month's drunken movie night, as opposed to putting it on the dvd shelf or worse yet, in the trader stack next to Dark Corners and The Host. I always find myself bringing up rewatchability when doing one of these reviews and this one really has it. The directing is excellent, (of course I am a mark for Kevin Tenney's films anyway!) and outside of a few scenes where the special effects didn't quite hold up, it still looks and sounds great. Speaking of the music, Kevin's brother Dennis once again provided the songs, including some great 80's alternative numbers.
The story appears to center around Linda, a woman who, with her current boyfriend Jim, hosts a party at their house. Her ex happens to bring his Ouija board along and apparently the spirit of a 10 year old boy takes a liking to the woman and decides not to leave her alone. The main character is actually Jim and the big classic 80's plot centers around Jim's inability to care or feel emotions for those close to him. More specifically it is the plot that two childhood best friends become hated enemies over a girl and have to put their differences aside to save the girl. I hate to just regurgitate the plot for you so I will just leave it with go pick this one up for yourself and enjoy it.
AUGUST 16 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : WITCHBOARD
An evil spirit inhabits a big-haired woman through a ouija board.
I put this one to the top of my list because I had heard that it had an undercurrent of homoeroticism between its two male leads, and it kind of does, but it’s also a deliriously ridiculous movie with its own charms. Plus it stars a woman named Tawney Kitaen, which, well… I’m not sure I know what to say about that.
The movie opens at a party that also serves as a golden cavalcade of unforgivable hair. It’s almost shocking. It would seem that Tawny [her character is Linda, but we’ll continue to call her Tawny] is married to Jim, this alcoholic loser construction worker [with a heart of gold, natch], and Jim has this bitchy hatred of their other friend, Brandon, who looks like John Boy Walton with a mullet. Brandon has brought his precious ouija board to the party, and he wants to convince everyone that it works, but to do so he needs someone that is pure, i.e. doesn’t drink or smoke, which means Tawny. Apparently Tawny and Jim are in one of those all-too-rare marriages in which a person who doesn’t drink or smoke is involved with a chain-smoking alcoholic whose idea of decorating the living room is creating a pyramid out of his used beer cans. Anyway, so they contact this spirit, David, who gets pissed at Jim for his snide remarks, and disrupts the party, causing Brandon to somehow forget his prize ouija board and leave it at Jim and Tawny's house.
As it happens, Tawny is pregnant, and she gets dressed up in lingerie to use the board and contact little David again. There has been talk earlier about how people are reincarnated, and after a brief sojourn in the afterlife, can CHOOSE who their parents would be upon their return. Why so many people then end up with such hideously mismatched parents is left unexplained, though I suppose it could lead to a popular bestseller: Why Good Reincarnated Infants Choose Bad Parents, or The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Reincarnated-Parent-Choosers. But let’s face it, we know that this theory is bunk by the simple fact that Sam Elliott is not my dad. Actually, I have often thought about how pleasantly different my life would have been if Willie Hutch were my dad. Anyway, Tawny asks this David spirit if he wants to be her baby, which I also thought a bit rushed, as she barely knows this spirit at all, but apparently there’s an open-door policy on her womb. Maybe if I wasn’t so guarded and withdrawn, and could learn to love, truly love, I would be more open to inviting spirits I’ve only just become acquainted with into my body.
Well, Tawny learns the hard way that if you leave your spiritual cervix open to just anybody, you really never do know who’s going to pop by, and they just may have their eye on the silver. Some nasty spirit inhabits her, and she starts changing, most notably in that she suddenly starts swearing a lot, which she apparently never did [don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do ya do?]. She delivers an excellent insult to Jim when he startles her, and he says “Sorry, maybe I should wear a bell around my neck” and she replies “Why don’t you just rattle your fuckin’ head around?” Ow!
So John Boy [Brandon] convinces the acting-challenged but still alluring Jim that they need to invite a medium over to exorcise the spirit. He says that spirits are essentially like molesters in that they come on all nice and offer you candy before they turn on you and start demanding [metaphorical] face-fucking, to which I say well, Tawny DID leave the barn door swinging open. Anyway, they invite over Zarabeth, this medium who is clearly inspired by the wacky medium in Poltergeist, it’s just that this time she’s an 80s chick in the Cyndi Lauper vein who cannot disguise her painful unfamiliarity with how to pronounce all the 80s Valley-speak she is required to toss off. Zarabeth actually gets quite a juicy part here, and her time on screen is quite a breath of fresh air. Eventually, however, she’s impaled. I don’t know, I find it’s best not to get too attached to zany secondary characters in horror films. We had already lost one here, by the way, in Jim’s friend at the construction site, who he is clearly chivalrously sheltering as he tries to flee the J. Geils Band.
Anyway, soon Jim and John Boy are spending an inordinate amount of time together, and connecting to the long lost “friendship” they once shared. I have written in my notes: “Everything is wrong about Brandon,” because not only does he look like a half-melted candle with a face on it, he cannot act and his character is hideously misconceived. It’s tempting to imagine what more a sock puppet might have brought to the role, but you know, you go into a movie with the actors you have, not the ones you might want at a later time. The two guys decide that they’ve “got to do [the ouija] right,” which in this case means that they MUST do it directly below a precariously-stacked bunch of barrels, with NOTHING else around for miles. That’s doin’ it RIGHT, fellas! There’s been talk of a homoerotic undercurrent to this film, and it DOES seem to be about two guys reconnecting but for the fact that this woman has come between them. Really her entire posession just serves to get the guys to acknowledge their long-lost feelings for each other, and for Jim to learn to feel. They do spend quite a lot of time on each other, and they do give long, lingering glances to each other, such as the one below. Hmmmm. It does give one pause.
Turns out they’re not talking to the little boy spirit after all, but to Evil. That’s right, it’s spelled out twice… they are talking to Evil. Of course this is a bit like saying I’m having a conversation with fastidiousness or a give-and-take with punctuality, but whatever. This evil is the spirit of a mass murderer who lived in the house that Jim and Tawny share, way back in the day.
Now I’ve done a little research and it seems that Tawny Kitaen [pronounced “Kit-ayne”] rose to stardom as “that chick” from various Whitesnake videos, and was married to David Coverdale, the lead singer. The Big Hair: Explained. She later became addicted to prescription painkillers and appeared on ‘The Surreal Life.’ Fame is a fickle mistress to those with “Adjective Noun” constructions to their name.
Tawny finally achieves a measure of greatness toward the end, when she is fully possessed, her leonine locks are unleashed, and she gets to be an all-out vengeful bitch. She does not convince as a prim and pure housewife. We then have the world’s shittiest special effect appearing at the climactic shot [dudes, do you want people to laugh at the most important moment?], followed by an explicit homage to the ‘falling down the stairs’ sequence from Psycho. It ends with a shitty 80s-rock song called “Bump In The Night.” You know, I could never really sense what the big deal was about Nirvana, but this song made it clear that rock and roll was TRULY DEAD during this period, and that made me appreciate their achievement.
The trailer contains an amusingly overwrought voice-over. The DVD also contains a commentary, which I didn’t listen to, though I would like to know how anyone could possibly defend this. It’s definitely fun, and contains MORE than its fair share of hilarious 80s moments. I would totally pay to see a movie about a haunted Rubik’s cube or some shit.
Probably. Especially if you love 80s period detail, including what may be the most dizzying array of appalling hairstyles ever assembled.
AUGUST 16 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : WITCHBOARD
Tightly wound and newly single Paige (Dolenz) moves into a loft in order to draw and find herself. She eventually comes across an old Ouija board and plays it on a regular basis. The next thing you know, she begins to wear sexy cut-off shorts (NICE!) and folks around her start dropping dead (NICER!). Why won’t people just stick to drunken “Twister”?
This sequel to the surprise video hit "Witchboard" anteed up on everything that was slick visually and technically about the first one, but took a step back in terms of content. Having said that, I still had a horror blast while watching it.
Witchboard 2’s main assets were its involving mystery, its cute lead chickadee (Aimee Dolenz is a fox!), its creative kills, its fly directing and its swift pace. Kevin Tenney had a bigger budget to play with than he did with the original here and it showed via the slick ass production values. The stunt set pieces were mucho impressive (all about that car scene) and the tight visuals were taken a couple of stabs further than its forefather. A note on the potent images if I may: Tenney went all out here, giving the film a gorgeous glossy look that charmed the jock-strap off of me.
I was also overjoyed to see that the atmospheric spirit POV shots that I relished so much in the original were taken to the next level in this follow up. Man, can Tenney wrap his camera around anything or what? All about that “spirit through the keyhole” shot. NICE! Another device that was used in "Witchboard" and that was jacked up here were the dream sequences. I know dream bits are nothing novel in genre films, but I still dug them here like Boyardee loves his ravioli (that’s some badass ravioli BTW…I love that shite!). We get a slew of them this time around and they totally upped the “mystery” aspect of the narrative while sporting impressive set designs and eerie atmosphere to boot. Want fries with that?
On the downhill slope, although lead gal Paige (Dolenz) was endearing, the occasional “off” dialogue made her look bad. Paige’s transition from a prudish dame to a bobbling cleavage sexpot also happened way too fast to be credible. The original "Witchboard" did a better job at communicating the gradual change. Then, there was the answer behind the mystery. The flick had me reeled in throughout, but when the rabbit finally jumped out of the hat, I was let down. The motive behind the madness was fairly weak (kind of silly actually). If they would’ve at least shown us more via flashbacks as to what happened, maybe I might've bought it. Lastly, I didn’t appreciate the villain’s Freddy Krueger-like one-liners during the end confrontation. It took away from the edginess of what was going down and were quite unnecessary.
Overall though, "Witchboard 2" was a gnarly and very easy watch and should satisfy fans of the original. There’s a charm about this picture-- it’s classy, scary, yet at the same time, somewhat cheesy. I always wind up going back to it when craving a sweet bon-bon. ARROW: Will genre fiends like this sequel? OUIJA: If they went coo-coo for the first one, they damn should!
Not much red gravy in this bowl, but the violence kept me in the game. We get a burned up dude, a person getting crushed by a wrecking ball, some bloody stabbings and a kool pickaxe lesson.
Ami Dolenz (Paige) was a cutey-patootey and she handled her character’s many levels adequately. I liked her even if the so-so dialogue played against her at times. Laraine Newman (Elaine) was a tad annoying as the chick still hung up in the 60’s. She did an okay job and at least, she was nowhere near as grating as that psychic Zarabeth chick from the first one. Timothy Gibbs (Mitch) played the tough-as-nails cop very well. He gave a subtle and charismatic show. John Gatins (Russel) rang phony to me on many occasions, his character was also too un likeable. Julie Michaels (Susan) had lots of presence, was very believable in the role and sizzled like a 12-pound steak. Too bad some of the corny lines also made her look bad at times.
See Ami Dolenz in a tight nightgown, see Ami Dolenz in her undies, see Ami Dolenz.
Tenney got more room to flex his visual muscles here. He injected lots of otherworldly atmosphere via sharp angles, amazing spirit POV shots and gripping slow motion. His damn boo scares got me most of the time too! Great job again duder!
The creepy score by Dennis Michael Tenney (who also did the one for the original) was used again here and was still very effective. I loved the melody and those creepy moans gave me the freaking willies.
The two first Witchboard movies are, in my opinion, underrated genre treats. Too bad Kevin Tenney didn’t helm the lousy third one. Although I’m giving them the same rating, I did dig the original more. Having said that, this follow up didn’t let me down...it’s basically a bigger budgeted remake of the first and it delivered all that I loved about Witchboard, but in higher doss. Sure, some of the characters lacked and the dialogue was occasionally shoddy, but I guess that’s the price you pay for all the kool shite this board put out. Get some compadres over the pad, watch 1 and 2 back to back, have a couple of Buds, order some pizza and thank me in the morning.
Todd Allen, who played Jim in the original, has a cameo here as Jim the garbage man. Linda is even mentioned (the lead chick in the first). Tenney’s winking at us. Silly rabbit.