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Blu-Ray/DVD Review: WITCHBOARD (1986)

The Doctor | 28 January 2014 | DVD/BluRay Reviews, Movie Lounge | | 0 Comments   

83080_frontWITCHBOARD (1986)
BY
SHAWN FRANCIS

I was seventeen and in high school when this movie came out. I remember the commercials on TV vividly. I seem to recall this friend I had named, Paul, saw it before I did and he said the ending was better than Highlander (1986). Yes, you heard that right. For those who have never seen Highlander, it’s basically a fantasy action movie. For all those who have never seen Witchboard, that movie is not. Regardless it didn’t stop Paul from uttering it. Frankly, I’m not really sure he ever saw Highlander. If he did, I’m certain he would not have said something so utterly ridiculous. And that’s not bashing either film. Highlander and Witchboard are two of my favorite movies from the 80s. The ending to Highlander is basically a sword fight, the death of the bad guy and an FX extravaganza of weirdness where the “good guy” becomes mortal (maybe), yet with strange powers (maybe). It’s a long involved plot, but you get the picture. So, seeing as I had never seen the latter but had already seen the former, Paul’s absurd statement had me intrigued.

I can’t recall who I eventually saw Witchboard with, but when I did I knew Paul was either full of shit, had been high or drunk when he made that statement, or… I don’t know. I remember coming to school the next day, telling my best friend about the movie and telling him Paul had no clue what the fuck he was talking about.

The next time I saw it was when it hit VHS; my mother rented it one night and we watched it in my room.

Kevin Tenney captured lightening in a bottle twice with this his first movie and his second, Night Of The Demons in 1988. Here he weaves a ghost story, a slasher flick and a mystery and each component works perfectly. It all begins at a small soiree Jim (Todd Allen) and Linda (Tawny Kitaen) are throwing at their house. She invites ex-boyfriend and Jim’s former best friend, Brandon Sinclair (Stephen Nichols), who happens to have an interest in the paranormal. Bringing his ouja board along he tells everyone he’s been talking to a dead 10-year-old kid on a routine basis through it and demonstrates for everyone how the board works.

From then on Jim and Linda are slowly tormented by this supposed child ghost, which takes the form of creepy POV ghost shots and trivial precognition, but things turn deadly when Jim’s friend dies in a seeming accident on the construction job they were working and Linda begins to get psychically manipulated by the spirit. More death results when Brandon invites a psychic (Kathleen Wilhoite) over to get rid them of the little shit. This is where the slasher aspects and the mystery angle start to really unfold. She gets a sense of something about the ghost, but doesn’t live to tell it as she is slashed across the throat by a hatchet and pushed out the window of her apartment, landing impaled on a sundial on her front lawn.

For those who have never seen this movie I will refrain from revealing anymore. It is genuinely creepy and has a nice ending that would have been a huge downer had that epilogue not been attached. Not that I have anything against downbeat endings. The ending on Highlander is terrific and the ending on this movie is also terrific, but for different reasons. To date this is also the best movie ever made about the ouja board. As of this writing Universal is currently in production on their own ouja board movie simply titled, Ouja. It’s aiming for either a PG or PG-13 rating.

Casting was brilliant, too. Kitaen was somewhat notable from her previous role in Bachelor Party (1984) but she became more noticeable from her appearances in any music video White Snake did. Nichols was soon to become famous too as Patch on Days Of Our Lives, which he played from 1985 to 1990, then again from 2006 to 2009.

There were two sequels made—Witchboard 2: The Devil’s Doorway (1993) and Witchboard III: The Possession (1995). Kevin Tenney directed the first sequel but another director helmed the third one. I saw both and felt neither lived up to the first movie.

Witchboard finally hit DVD back in 2004 from Anchor Bay Entertainment, incidentally the same month they released Tenney’s Night Of The Demons. Both movies have since been out of print for years but are now back in circulation with brand new remasters and on blu-ray even. Witchboard streets on February 4th through Shout! Factory’s horror sub-label, Scream Factory in a DVD/Blu-ray combo.

The 1080p 1.85:1 anamorphic high definition transfer is head and shoulders above the Anchor Bay version; on par, I would say, with Scream’s newly remastered Night Of The Demons, which I also recently reviewed. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is clear and crisp as well.

There are subtitles and they’re English only.

As for extras you get two commentaries. The one from the 2004 DVD has been ported over which consists of participants Director Kevin Tenney, Executive Producer Walter Josten and Producer Jeff Geoffray. The second commentary is new and consists of Tenney and actors, Stephen Nichols, Kathleen Wilhoite and James Quinn. Missing is Tawny Kitaen and Todd Allen, with Kitaen it was scheduling conflicts, no idea why Allen couldn’t be there. Compared to the cast commentary on the new Night Of The Demons (1988) combo, this one is a bit livelier and gets MST3K hysterical at certain points.

Like the Night Of The Demons combo the crème of the crop of the extras is the new documentary, ‘Progressive Entrapment: The Making Of Witchboard’ (45:41). New interviews with the cast and the filmmakers that goes from conception to release, very thorough and very entertaining.

The second most interesting extras are these six featurettes—Making Of Witchboard (6:54), Cast Interviews (20:00), On Set: With Todd Allen & Stephen Nichols (19:56), On Set: With The Making Of Witchbaord (19:59), Life On The Set (20:13), and Constructing The World Of Witchboard (21:14). They’re all vintage video taken during production. You get interviews with the three principal actors, Director Tenney, Executive Producer/Producers Walt Josten and Jeff Geoffray along with some “fly-on-the-wall” videos (some stand alone, some mixed in with the interviews) of life on the set. I liked these interviews the best for they’re raw and not like the polished talking head stuff you’d get nowadays. You can hear the questions being asked, there’s background noise, and the actors come off feeling more like real people.

Finally you get some Outtakes (6:18), roughly 214 behind-the-scenes/promo stills spread out across two featurettes—Behind The Scenes Gallery (13:52) and a Promo Gallery (3:37), and the movie’s Theatrical Trailer.

Scream Factory’s Witchboard combo is the last word on this cult classic. Not put your ouja board down and go out and buy it! Carlos Malfeitor will psychically manipulate you into doing it anyway. Why resist?

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