The Test of Time: Witchboard (1986)

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: Kevin Tenney
Starring: Todd Allen, Tawny Kitaen, and Burke Byrnes

I’m not an expert on much. I know pizza. I know Batman. I know a lot about Columbo and the Coen Brothers (I do have a book on them). However, I’d like think I know my horror movies. Obviously, I haven't seen every horror movie ever made, but damn it, there can't be too many left that I haven't at least heard of...especially from the 1980s.

But thanks to our very own Arrow, I found myself something new. Something from my favorite time. Hell, I didn’t even recognize the DVD cover from a childhood spent browsing generically named local video stores. Just because I haven’t heard of it doesn’t mean shit can’t be good, but can it stand against the Test of Time? Under the examination: Witchboard.

Is this love?

THE STORY: Like any good party, you need a few things for a potentially excellent time: booze, music, chairs, lights, and a good old-fashioned board game. And that’s what everyone’s favorite 80’s rock girl Tawny Kitaen (Linda in the movie) knows too. Here, she invites a few friends over, including rich dick Brandon (Stephen Nichols), who Linda’s boyfriend Jim (Todd Allen) hates. Oh, and in his spare time Brandon also communicates with the dead, specifically a dead 10-year-old boy named David. After the party, Linda can’t get enough of the Ouija board. She thinks she’s still talking to dead David. But is she? Bad things start to happen and people end up dead.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: For a movie that reeks of 1986, there’s a lot that still holds up, and it’s not their clothes or their hair. What does still work comes from the story itself, which is surprisingly some good shit. At first things aren’t that interesting as we’ve seen this set-up a thousand times before of rumors of a spirit and no one believing in it save for a few folks. The longer the movie goes, however, the deeper the story, the mythology of the spirits and the Ouija board gets. In place of a simple ghost story, we try to understand what's happening thanks to Brandon's knowledge of all this (he even corrects with the proper pronouncing of the Oui / ja). He cares for Linda and doesn't want anything to happen to her. Even better is the medium he brings in to help. In place of your usual whack, we're given a sarcastic punk girl who delivers every cliched 1980's phrase ("mondo tough") and even speaks in text talk. She ends up one of the best things about the movie. 


Witchboard is a slow build, but not in a bad way. The spirit seems nice enough at first, even helping Linda find a lost ring in the drainpipe. When things start to happen like the death of Jim’s buddy at their construction site, the movie lays off the goof. Even rich dick Brandon comes full circle. He takes his Ouija board seriously and immediately becomes concerned about Linda. I’m not sure if he ends up the hero, but he becomes interesting at least by the end. Oh, and the rough gore helps too. Since its a slow flick, when shit happens its effectively disturbing.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Witchboard starts a bit painful if watching it for the first time cold. As I mentioned before, I had never seen or heard of this one, and it didn’t win me over at first. The characters all seem standard issue, the rich prick versus the blue-collar bully. Even worse, their dialogue sounds stiff and the actors don't help it much in their delivery of it ("I don't care what you call it, dude.") When characters answer rhetorical questions, they respond with the kind of exposition that junior high creative writing students know how to avoid. After a while, it just becomes part of the style (think the oddball dialogue of Repo Man, but not so much). But that's cool because the movie takes on a kind of stupid yet witty tone. The movie could have used better pacing in spots and lacks quality scares. There's some in here, but it could have been much more effective.

Evil and hot!

THE VERDICT: One of the best things I discovered watching this is that the idea of an Ouija Board movie (McG was delevopling one a few years back with a rumored $100 mil budget) adaption actually sounds feasible (that idea is now dead and reportedly Ouija is already in the can coming soon). It's an idea that sounds plain stupid but director/writer Kevin Tenney already made that idea, and made it quite well.

I'm sure many folks won't get over the pacing issues or the sure dated quality of the picture, but Witchboard still holds up in my book. A classic, maybe not. But a movie worth watching, you bet. 





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