#1  
Old 11-26-2011, 11:23 AM
Witchcraft (1988)



If you spent a lot of time in the horror section of video stores in the 90’s, there’s a 99.9% chance you encountered this series. There were 4 video stores in my town way back when, and one in the next town over, and EVERY one of them carried this franchise. With every new year came a new sequel on the shelves and I would always ask myself what the hell these movies were like, although I had a pretty good idea (history proved me to be correct) I’d be lying if I said the cover art didn’t intrigue me just a bit. Eventually I caved in and rented all that were available at the time. Since that fateful day I’ve danced with the series a few times. It’s become my personal Troll 2 if you will. Widely considered to be one of, if not the worst series in horror, but to be honest, I’ve seen MUCH worse, often from the same production company, Vista Street Entertainment (expect more reviews for films produced by them in the future). Yeah, they’re bad, but they’re dumb fun, nothing more, and I get a kick out of them. In a depraved way, they sort of make me nostalgic for the preverbal “good old days” of hanging out in video stores and being curious about all the eye catching stuff I’d see on the shelves.

As the film opens, we're witnessed to a man and a pregnant young woman being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night by a crazed mob carrying torches. This is obviously 1600's Salem, Massachusetts. They're taken from their home and burned at the stake. Interjected are scenes of a woman in a hospital during labor. We're then introduced to Grace (Anat Topal), who has just had her first child, William. Her husband John (Gary Sloan), thinks it good for them to spend some time at his overacting mother's (Mary Shelley, I'm not kidding, that's who she's credited as) house, while Grace get's back on her feet and regains her strength. Right off the bat Grace beings getting very creeped out by Elizabeth and her surroundings. She beings having dreams of seeing John and Elizabeth performing what appears to be acts of sacrifice at an alter outside the house. She's mysteriously drawn to the attic of the house, where she finds a painting of two people wearing your typical 1600's colonial attire who, the more she looks at it, resemble John and Elizabeth. She also starts to see two people who also happen to look like John and Elizabeth, wearing your typical 1600's colonial attire in a large mirror in the same room. If that wasn't enough, when her priest comes to visit baby William, he falls ill, for some reason develops huge boils on his face, and eventually commits suicide, she gets mysterious slashes on her wrists, and her best friend Linda (Deborah Scott) gets decapitated. Grace eventually discovers the truth about John and Elizabeth, their "history", and ultimately, their sinister motives.

So it begins. The first entry in the infamous, longest running, probably most vehemently hated series in horror. This franchise is known mostly for it's sex scenes, and well, more sex scenes. That being said however, if you go into this expecting pure sleaze, your libel to come out pretty disappointed, and quite surprised, as this film has no sex scenes or nudity to speak of. This honestly looks like the filmmakers were attempting to make a legitimately good horror film. Did it work? Well… sometimes. Witchcraft's biggest offence is that it's incredibly slow moving. There are seemingly long periods of time where nothing really happens, so when something does (like the things I listed in the plot summery) the effect is something along the lines of too little too late. This movie is only around 90 minutes but it feels much longer. The script doesn’t really go in depth when it comes to certain details either. Take the priests suicide for instance. Grace is obviously broken up real bad about it, and John says at one point "I know how much the father meant to you". But that's about all the explanation we get. It's implied that Grace used to be a drug addict before she met John, so maybe the priest had helped her along with things like that? I don't know, I guess what I'm trying to say is that maybe it would have been a more impact death had we been given somewhat of a back story. Speaking of the priest, I always find it funny that he falls so violently ill and gets those ridiculous boils when he didn't even really see baby William, hell he hardly goes near him. Once Grace comes across the painting and the reflections in the mirror, it's really not that hard to figure out exactly what's going on and who John and Elizabeth really are. The sense of mystery is lost, although there really wasn't a ton to begin with, but you get what I'm saying? There's also a stock creepy mute butler character named Ellsworth. Yes, Ellsworth. He actually plays a big role in the climax of the film but for fucks sake ELLSWORTH? They really couldn't think of a more original name? Anyway... Due to the low budget most of the visual effects come off as pretty comical and very dated. Stuff like projections into mirrors, digital flames, things of the like. Even for 1988 they look kind of funny, but there’s not a ton of them. I guess Spera knew they wouldn't look so hot so he used them sparingly. During the opening burning at the stake it looks like they just spread some mud on the two actors faces to make them look nice and crispy. It's not really horrible looking though. Economical to say the least. The priest's boils look alright though.

Witchcraft is not without it's positives. The dream sequences are very well done and do succeed at creating a creepy atmosphere. Most of the locations were ideal for this type of story. The house looked effective enough especially during the above mentioned dream scenes. I also really dug the attic Grace keeps going back too. Attics in general are creepy, right? Add a bunch of cobwebs, and throw some white sheets over everything. Made for a cool setting I thought. The film is well shot, so I have to give Rob Spera credit for that. The opening credits sequence is pretty awesome, with the switching back and forth between the burning and the birthing, plus the music during the opening rules. It's just juiced-up snyth music but it's great. On a humorous note regarding the opening credits, original is spelt "origional". Anat Topol was a pretty good choice to play the lead as Grace. She's likable enough that we're sympathetic to what's happening to hear, at least I was. She also has a cute accent and isn't bad to look at if I do say so myself. Gary Sloan doesn’t exactly come off as the best husband in the world. I guess he was trying to set the audience up for what was to come, but still he could have tried to be a bit more likable in the events leading up to the finale. Still though, he does a good job, take it seriously. Then there's Overactus Maximus, Mary Shelley as Elizabeth. I get it, you're supposed to come off as ominous and weird but man, tone it down woman! Although it's clear she was enjoying playing that part, she hams it up WAY too much. Deborah Scott does the "best friend" part with ease, I could buy her and Grace being besties. The rest of the cast does alright with their minor parts. Alexander Kirkwood actually looks like he could be a priest and Lee Kissman was believable as the mute butler. Obviously he has no lines but he is a creepy looking fellow. For a series that's notorious for it's shitty acting, you really can't complain that much about it in this first installment.

I know I’ve been much kinder to this film than most reviewers. Truth be told, Witchcraft is not a terrible film. It's just not a great one either. It's just kind of there in the middle. It obviously made Vista Street Entertainment some good coin in rentals, enough for it to become the studio's flagship series. Again, it’s common knowledge (to people that have never even seen a film in the series I might add) that as the series went on, the sex and nudity took center stage, and that actually became Vista Streets calling card. Like it or not, Witchcraft does have a place in the annals of horror history, being the first in the longest running series of direct to video films, 13 as of 2008. I guess if you've got nothing else going on check it out for that reason alone. It's an alright time passer, although the sequels are far more entertaining, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

Last edited by HannibalGuy; 07-28-2012 at 01:29 PM..
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  #2  
Old 11-27-2011, 09:17 AM
You should review the sequels. I have yet to see any of these, but as mediocre as this sounds it doesn't sound like a bad way to pass the night. I can't believe the actresses' name is Mary Shelley! Wtf!?
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  #3  
Old 11-27-2011, 06:18 PM
I knew you would hit this series eventually. I won't ask you to review the sequels because that's like asking someone to castrate a puppy. I remember renting Witchcraft back in the day. I was super pissed. Obviously, I was expecting softcore porn of the sleaziest variety.
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  #4  
Old 11-27-2011, 06:31 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by countchocula View Post
I knew you would hit this series eventually. I won't ask you to review the sequels because that's like asking someone to castrate a puppy. I remember renting Witchcraft back in the day. I was super pissed. Obviously, I was expecting softcore porn of the sleaziest variety.
And yet you demand that I review the second Crystal Force movie.

I think I know a bit too much about the series at this point. It's probably not healthy but it's my own personal Troll 2. It actually dosen't become full blown softcore until part 5. If I do review any of the sequels, it'll probably be that one. I simply do not have the descriptive skills to explain the entire franchise.

Last edited by HannibalGuy; 11-27-2011 at 06:48 PM..
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  #5  
Old 11-27-2011, 08:22 PM
This series sounds more and more interesting by the comment.

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  #6  
Old 11-27-2011, 09:23 PM
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Originally Posted by MisoGenie View Post
This series sounds more and more interesting by the comment.

Only an elete few have made it through all 13 films and lived to tell.

In all seriousness, it's widley considered to be the worst horror series ever. Personally, I've seen MUCH worse, often from the same production company.

Last edited by HannibalGuy; 11-27-2011 at 09:28 PM..
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