Witchboard Blu-ray Review
Written and directed by Kevin Tenney
1986, Region A, 98 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on Feruary 4th, 2014
Tawny Kitaen as Linda
Todd Allen as Jim Morar
Stephen Nichols as Brandon
Kathleen Wihoite as Zarabeth
Burke Byrnes as Lt. Dewhurst
James W. Quinn as Lloyd
Kenny Rhodes as Mike
Ryan Carroll as Roger
Rose Marie as Mrs. Moses
Linda and her (current) boyfriend Jim are having a party where Brandon (her ex) is demonstrating the powers of the Ouija board. With Linda's help he contacts the spirit of David, a 10-year-old who died many years ago. Jim scoffs at this hokum and things get weird when the board flies out of Brandon's lap. Tensions quickly escalate, with the two men ready to fight, which leads one to wonder why Linda would bother inviting her snobby ex to the party in the first place. The next day, Linda discovers that the Ouija has been left behind and she attempts to contact David on her own. Fun Fact: Not all spirits are as friendly as Casper and one of these spectral jerks slips in and tells her what she wants to hear while trying to possess her soul.
As Linda experiments with the Ouija, her personality begins to change. Brandon figures out what is going on and tries to warn the stoically skeptical and unbelievably hairy-chested Jim. Fearing he is out of his element, Brandon contacts Zarabeth, a punk rockin' medium who brings hope and humor to the proceedings, but unfortunately the evil forces are stronger than expected and refuse to leave peacefully. A series of bizarre accidents build to a few horrible deaths and the police believe Jim may be the culprit. If Linda is to be saved from eternal damnation, Jim and Brandon are going to have to set aside their differences and work together for the woman they both love.
Witchboard is a product of the 1980s, released in the wake of various slasher flicks and monster movies, but it takes a different path and focuses instead on the supernatural. Not everything works, but there is a sincerity in the storytelling that keeps this film fun. Writer/ director Kevin S. Tenney (Night of the Demons) delivers a fairly solid story that dares to spend time on character development, something relatively unheard of in modern horror tales. The script is well-written, but there are a few bumps in the delivery. As a first-time director, he manages to tell a dramatic story with paranormal elements while maintaining a non-threatening tone, but contemporary audiences may be put off by the deliberate pacing of the first act.
Perhaps most impressive here is the work of cinematographer Roy Wagner (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors), who frequently keeps things interesting with his use of elaborate camera moves, specifically those involving the supernatural POV stalker sequences. The final shot of the film is particularly impressive and, according to the commentary, was given its own day on the schedule in order to achieve the shot safely. The picture also features strong production design and a nice level of art direction generally absent in low-budget cinema. There are not a lot of terrifying moments in Witchboard, but the few to be found are greatly assisted by Dennis Tenney's score.
The cast does a fine job overall, Tawny Kitaen (Gwendoline) is gorgeous and vulnerable as Linda, the unfortunate victim of extreme '80s fashion and malevolent board games. Todd Allen (Pinocchio's Revenge) and Stephen Nichols (Days of Our Lives) are dealt an unfortunate hand as actors, given that their characters Jim and Brandon respectively, are either unemotional (Allen) or wear their heart on their sleeve (Nichols) and thus appear either wooden or over-the-top in performance. These two play former best friends – broken up by a woman – but feel more like scorned lovers, as they share stronger chemistry with each other than with Kitaen. Honestly, Jim and Brandon are so prone to violent outbursts that it is hard to believe any woman would put up with either of them. A fun fact culled from the documentary on this disc: Kitaen was dating suave ladykiller O.J. Simpson during this production. Maybe Linda would be attracted to angry men after all.
Kevin Tenney has gone on to enjoy a successful career as a filmmaker, and though he continues to work in various genres, it is nice to revisit the horrors that started his filmography almost three decades ago. While not the scariest movie you are likely to see any time soon, Witchboard is certainly one of the more entertaining and occasionally goofy horror films that you may have missed.
Video and Audio:
Witchboard is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks pretty good for its age and budget. The print is in respectable shape with minor damage, but features strong colors, deep blacks and natural-looking flesh tones.
The default DTS-HD MA 2.0 track is surprisingly decent and even makes good use of the surrounds when they're needed. Dialogue remains clear and free of distortion, and music cues add additional punch. English subtitles are available for anyone in need.
Scream Factory really goes all out with this release and includes all of the previous DVD supplements and creates some additional fun, too.
Starting things off are two commentary tracks featuring Kevin Tenney with various members of the cast and crew. Both options are entertaining and informative and worth a listen.
Next up is the all-new documentary Progressive Entrapment (45 minutes) that follows the standard talking-head reunion-piece format, but moves at a nice pace and snags an impressive number of on-camera participants.
The original Making of Witchboard (7 minutes) featurette from 1987 gives a glimpse behind the scenes of the production with assorted interviews.
An additional set of cast interviews (20 minutes) offers more time with the actors and some of the more interesting on-set footage from the shoot.
Up next are four vintage behind-the-scenes featurettes that run a whopping 80 minutes altogether and focus on members of the cast and crew. On Set with Todd Allen and Stephen Nichols (20 minutes) gives promo time to the male leads while On Set with the Makers of Witchboard (20 minutes) focuses on the director and producer. Life on the Set (21 minutes) and Constructing the World of Witchboard (20 minutes) focus on assorted crew members as they work on location.
A collection of outtakes (6 minutes) offer the standard screw ups audiences would expect from a gag reel, but fans don't usually receive this treat from an '80s horror film.
The original theatrical trailer is included along with a behind-the-scenes photo gallery (that includes more than 100 stills from the production) and a promo gallery of various Witchboard posters and marketing material.
A DVD copy of the film is also included.