Reviewed by: Jamey Hughton
Kevin S. Tenney
What's it about
An evil spirit (posing as a nice spirit) torments a young woman through a Ouija board and eventually tries to possess her; teaming up to stop it are the woman’s boyfriend and her ex, who introduced her to the board.
Is it good movie?
WITCHBOARD uses many low-tech practical “effects” to generate scares, so if you’re expecting demons on screen spilling buckets of blood, you should watch EVIL DEAD 2 again (which was in theatres the same time as this in 1987, coincidentally) . Demonic content can give me the creeps, but this movie is a pretty tame one especially compared with something as freak-inducing as THE EXORCIST. Nonetheless, director Kevin S. Tenney is pretty good with the “jump scare” and has strong instincts behind the camera, and turns what easily could have collapsed into total stupidity into a mildly diverting horror film. Unfortunately, the film’s simple and old-fashioned techniques, while sometimes effective, do not provide much fireworks for the story, which seems to keep promising something more that it never quite delivers. There’s a lot of talk and not much get-up-and-go.
It helps that the actors are far easier to tolerate than in a lot of typical 80s shlock. There’s no masterful work going on here, but the leads are well-directed by Tenney. Tawny Kitaen proved to be lucky casting for the filmmakers, when the then-unknown actress appeared in a few Whitesnake music videos just before the release of WITCHBOARD. As Linda, who becomes addicted the board through her conversations with “David” (he supposedly died in an accident at age 10), Kitaen is nice to look at and ain’t too bad an actress. Todd Allen plays Jim, Linda’s unsympathetic but eventually heroic boyfriend. Additional cast members become corpses when the spirit begins to mutilate those around Linda and Jim, but no death scene is a real standout.
Even if it’s never truly scary due to the constraints of the low budget, WITCHBOARD does distinguish itself through the flair of the director and its surprisingly character-driven agenda. Tenney was fresh out of film school, and apparently eager to show off his skills, which are in evidence here during various cranes and dollies that look (for the most part) slickly impressive. Tenney’s screenplay is not quite as successful. It goes a long way to flesh out the history between Linda, Jim and Brandon, but it doesn’t yield much of a result, despite some honest efforts. It would help if there was a memorable showdown or set piece, or something, even for a climax here. Mostly, it’s just a lot of scenes featuring a planchette moving on a Ouija board. Terrifying? Not so much.
Video / Audio
Video 1.85:1 Widescreen Presentation
Audio Dolby Digital Surround
Commentary with Writer/Director Kevin S. Tenney, Executive Producer Walter Josten and Producer Jeff Geoffray A terrific commentary with three guys dishing out a lot of love while remembering a film that was obviously a very big part of their lives at the time. Informative and fun to listen along with, although it goes without saying that you’ll appreciate it more if you’ve ever been a fan of this film.
The Making of Witchboard I feel like I watched half the damn movie again. This is 23 minutes long, but a HUGE portion of time is spent showing scenes from the movie itself. Otherwise there are interviews with cast, a few crew, and some outtakes at the end. Looks to have been made at the time of the film’s first release in 1987.
There’s also the Theatrical Trailer and two TV Spots, pretty standard stuff.
WITCHBOARD is a pretty soft horror entry that doesn’t really realize the full potential of its concept. It is certainly competently made and at times admirably old-fashioned, but it’s nothing exciting or memorable.