Witchboard 2: The Devil's Doorway Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Olive Films
Written and directed by Kevin S. Tenney
1993, 99 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on October 15th, 2013
Ami Dolenz as Paige
Timothy Gibbs as Mitch
John Gatins as Russel
Laraine Newman as Elaine
Christopher Michael Moore as Jonas
Julie Michaels as Susan
Marvin Kaplan as Morris
Sarah Kaite Coughlan as Carla
Paige is newly single, looking for a fresh start and believes moving into an artist’s loft will inspire her own creativity. Her quirky neighbors include Elaine, the hippie landlady who owns the building with her husband Jonas and brother, Russel. As Paige unpacks, she discovers a Ouija board in the closet and opts to goof around with it, but is surprised when a restless spirit named Susan asks for help. The ghost begins haunting Paige’s dreams and influencing her behavior in waking life too. The more time she spends with the board, her bashful demeanor begins to grow more provocative. Paige’s ex-boyfriend Mitch is an overprotective cop who tracks her down and begs her to take him back, but she now has her eye on Randall. Susan claims to have been murdered, so Paige asks Mitch and Russel for assistance solving the crime. Following a series of freak accidents, the guys are convinced there is something sinister going on and will have to protect Paige from both the Ouija and herself.
Writer/ director Kevin S. Tenney (Night of the Demons) returns to the wonderful world of Ouija with this fun followup to his 1986 debut Witchboard. Back in his element mixing horror and comedy, Tenney is clearly having fun with the original concept while incorporating some of his signature camera moves. The story is fairly straightforward, but with a few missing pieces that stick out under moderate scrutiny. Most innocuous is the strange absence of supporting characters, including Paige’s fellow tenants and boss, frequently referred to yet never to appear on screen, suggesting abandoned subplots. The people we do meet suffer script-induced red-herring motivations in order to keep the mystery alive until the final moments, making their behavior erratic. The main script-based problem, however, is the lack of rules concerning the powers and limitations of the spirits and the Ouija board. Susan may or may not be lying to Paige in order to gain the strength to exact revenge on those who wronged her, but in at least one instance the ghost assumes control of a vehicle being driven by someone who has never met Susan or had any contact with the Ouija.
Tenney’s penchant for dynamic imagery is prominently featured as he works closely with cinematographer David Lewis (Night of the Demons 2), passing the camera through giant keyholes or into moving vehicles to explore all possibilities in a scene. The duo makes solid use of the Steadicam rig to portray a vision of spectral movement reminiscent of the Evil Dead franchise. Tenney also knows how to get the best performances from his talented cast. Ami Dolenz (Pumpkinhead II) stars as Paige, a conservative “good girl” slowly succumbing to the will of the Ouija, first depicted in a series of sensual dreams. As the spiritual influence takes hold, she becomes a more assertive character willing to stand up for herself both socially and professionally. Her shift in wardrobe is abrupt and humorous as the demure accountant switches first to a sexy black funeral dress followed by Daisy Duke booty shorts for a moonlit grave digging expedition. Dolenz plays the whole endeavor straight and is a real sport for committing to some of the goofier aspects of the script and should be commended for her efforts.
Timothy Gibbs (11-11-11) and John Gatins (Leprechaun 3) form the sides of the love triangle as Mitch and Russel respectively, both hoping to win Paige’s heart. Neither seems inherently bad, but Mitch does have a temper and Russel a secret, yet these are not deal breakers in themselves. Gibbs is suitably heroic and ruggedly handsome as a leading man and is likely the least suspicious character in the film. Gatins is the more sensitive type and shares a great chemistry with Dolenz, and I continued to pull for them as a couple until the finale. Gatins would go on to find success as the screenwriter of such films as Real Steel (2011) and Flight (2012). The always-welcome Laraine Newman (Invaders from Mars) provides a bit of comic relief as Elaine, not as funky as the original picture’s Zarabeth, but a fun character given a bit more depth as the film plays on. Julie Michaels (Jason Goes to Hell) is the vengeful Susan, the gorgeous ghost with the most. It speaks to her talent as an actress that she leaves such an impression despite limited screen time. Michaels has gone on to enjoy a lengthy career as a stunt woman and now serves as stunt coordinator for both film and television projects.
Witchboard 2 has a much lighter tone than the original film and moves at a faster pace, making for a more entertaining experience. This is not a swipe at part one, a movie I enjoy, but rather to say this sequel tweaks the formula and will likely satisfy a broader audience of genre fans. The Witchboard series does not really offer gratuitous nudity and is not known for an iconic villain, but the creativity in the presentation keeps things interesting. In 1995, Tenney returned to the franchise a final time with his script for Witchboard III: The Possession, but did not direct. I honestly did not expect a trilogy from this material, but given the strength of the premise it will likely receive a contemporary reboot and, if we are lucky, Tenney will continue to call the shots.
Video and Audio:
Witchboard 2 is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and receives a surprisingly solid transfer featuring vivid colors and deep blacks. If pressed to find something negative to say about the picture, I would merely be nitpicking some shortcomings of the original source materials. This is such a step up from the earlier releases that I cannot seriously knock the company’s efforts.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track is impressive in range and delivers a nice amount of punch during the intense supernatural moments of the story. The music and effects tracks are well-balanced and never drown out dialogue levels.
Writer/ director Kevin Tenney is joined by actors John Gatlin and Julie Michaels for a delightful audio commentary that finds the three participants happily reflecting on their work just in time for the film’s 20th anniversary. The track is laid back and conversational and fans will definitely enjoy the stories, as there is a steady stream of information shared about the production.
A pair of deleted scenes running just under three minutes adds little to the film and it is easy to understand why they were cut, but since the content is referenced during the audio commentary, it is nice to have them included.
A vintage Behind-the-Scenes featurette (8 minutes) offers a mixture on set rehearsal footage with cast and crew interviews.
A pair of home video trailers joined by a trio of television spots promoting the arrival of this sequel offers a look at the marketing campaign.