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  Witchboard Watch out for that Ouija!
Year: 1986
Director: Kevin S. Tenney
Stars: Todd Allen, Tawny Kitaen, Stephen Nichols, Burke Byrnes, Ryan Carroll, Gloria Hayes, Kathleen Wilhoite, Rose Marie, Clare Bristol, J.P. Luebsen, Susan Nickerson, James W. Quinn
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 2 votes)
Review: At a party hosted by Linda Brewster (Tawny Kitaen) and her obnoxious, inebriated boyfriend Jim (Todd Allen), the latter’s onetime childhood friend turned embittered love rival Brandon Sinclair (Stephen Nichols) produces a Ouija board. It happens smarmy, bouffant-haired yuppie Brandon is the world’s unlikeliest spiritualist. He wows the crowd by making contact with the spirit of a dead ten year old boy. Whoa, way to bring down the party mood, Brandon. Next time why not entertain us with your collection of concentration camp photos? Happily, Jim is such an asshole even a ghost can’t stand to be in the same room with him. His sarcasm so enrages David the Spirit Boy, it exacts inexplicable revenge against Brandon by slashing the tires on his car, proving even dead kids can be dumb kids. The morning after, Linda unwisely dabbles with the Ouija board unleashing a supernatural evil that kills one of Jim’s co-workers at the construction site and continues to terrorize the young couple.

Type the key words “vapid Eighties horror movie” into a search engine and there is a good chance Witchboard will pop onto your screen. Quite how this stilted, slapdash, almost painfully inane offering proved successful enough to warrant two sequels is frankly a mystery. Maybe it was down to the snippet of shower scene nudity from Eighties rock video icon Tawny Kitaen. Aside from a couple of cult film roles including Euro sexploitation fantasy Gwendoline (1984) and the early Tom Hanks vehicle Bachelor Party (1984) and a future gig in Sam Raimi’s long-running television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (where she played the heroic demi-god’s mother!), Miss Kitaen’s enduring claim to fame would be her scantily-clad cavorting in all those videos for hair-metal poseurs Whitesnake. Usually atop a sports car of some kind. No such agile antics here, though a handful of fog-shrouded dream sequences suggest then-boyfriend David Coverdale is about to start warbling.

Kitaen is not the greatest actress in the world but acquits herself fairly well, largely because she essays the one vaguely sympathetic character. Meanwhile ostensible hero Jim emerges less-than-engaging, an abrasive drunk former med student turned disgruntled construction worker with a bizarre penchant for jump scares. Seriously, count how many times this man startles some unsuspecting co-star. His love rival turned reluctant ally Brandon is a similar misconceived protagonist: a flash yuppie atheist spiritualist who resembles a renegade member of Duran Duran yet inexplicably morphs later on into Shaggy from Scooby-Doo with his bug-eyed reaction to numerous false scares. While the resulting supernatural shenanigans seemingly serve as an allegorical test of Jim and Linda’s relationship, the real crux of the film is actually the vaguely homoerotic clash between Jim and Brandon, even though it is resolved in a fairly offhand manner.

It is symptomatic of the fumbling, haphazard nature of the film overall. The plot segues from anaemic soap opera dramatics into sub-Omen style freak deaths, though largely avoids graphic violence and displays a snarky, tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. Witness wacky police detective Lieutenant Dewhurst (Burke Byrnes) who, aside from hounding Jim like a poor man’s Colombo, displays an odd obsession with magic tricks. He even practices juggling while awaiting news of Linda’s recovery in hospital. Also Kathleen Wilhoite pops up as a punk rock spiritualist, straining so hard to seem zany her would-be shock exit comes as a relief. Witchboard marked the debut of writer-director Kevin S. Tenney, who would go on to helm another Eighties horror favourite, Night of the Demons (1988) before becoming a DTV genre staple. Much as the plot can’t quite figure out what it is supposed to be, Tenney’s direction proves similarly inconsistent. His slack staging saps suspense from several promising sequences yet the climax proves suitably tense and impressive, including one character’s climactic crash-and-plummet through a window. Seven years later, Tenney struck back with Witchboard 2: The Devil's Doorway (1993).

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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