The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



I can't review Witchboard, being released in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack on Feb. 4 by Scream Factory, without relating a personal anecdote. I've never believed in the paranormal, but when I was in college, I had some friends who'd begun tinkering around with a Ouija board. Determined to prove to them that it was nonsense, I agreed to give the thing a shot. (“So, did Parker Brothers cut some sort of deal with the afterlife where the deceased could only talk through their boards?” I sarcastically asked.) We began talking to a “spirit” who said a series of bizarre, nonsensical things. I suggested that perhaps one of my friends was actually manipulating the planchette. Just as I did so, it began moving in a figure-8, so fast that none of us could keep our fingers on it. Then it abruptly – and violently – flew across the room. Do I think we were in contact with some sort of demon? No, I'm still a skeptic when it comes to the paranormal. That said, I cannot logically explain what happened that night, and I vowed never again to go near one of those damn boards. I tell you this because, for whatever rough edges it contains, Witchboard is a movie that freaks me out just a little bit.

Tawny Kitaen plays Linda, a young woman caught between her current boyfriend, Jim (Todd Allen), and her ex, Brandon (Stephen Nichols). During a party, Brandon brings his Ouija board and shows everyone how he can communicate with the spirit of a young boy named David. He accidentally leaves the board there, and Linda takes the liberty of trying to contact David on her own in subsequent days. What she doesn't realize is that she has actually opened the door for a malevolent demon to come through. She begins to fall into “progressive entrapment,” i.e. the early stages of possession. Several people around her die in strange accidents. Jim and Brandon, friends turned bitter rivals, must now work together to save Linda, and possibly themselves. Kathleen Wilhoite brings comic relief as a punk rock medium who gets involved in the process.

Witchboard was written and directed by Kevin S. Tenney, and it does a pretty decent job of playing on Ouija board creepiness. The very idea of them – that one can somehow talk to the dead through a magic piece of wood and a plastic pointer – has always been kind of eerie, even as it's simultaneously ludicrous. It taps into the sense of the unknown that so many of us find unsettling. Witchboard offers a succession of twists and turns, as the characters realize not only that something evil has been let loose, but that getting it to go away may be near impossible. The plot is often quite clever in how it orchestrates sudden deaths or moments of shock. Everything builds to a dramatic conclusion and a final shot that is just perfect.

Where the film stumbles a bit is in the performances. Kitaen and Wilhoite are both effective here; Allen and Nichols, on the other hand, come across a bit stiff. There are subplots about how Brandon still loves Linda, and about how Jim may not really be able to love anybody. Those ideas are never as meaningfully conveyed as the film would obviously like. Another (minor) fumble is in the visual effects, which are at times cheesy. But that's not a major deal since this was a low-budget production made some 28 years ago.

All in all, if you've ever found Ouija boards even the least bit scary, Witchboard will tap into something in your psyche. While by no means top-tier horror, it's nonetheless original and amusing.

Blu-Ray Features:

Scream Factory's Blu-Ray (out Feb. 4) looks and sounds terrific; as always, they've done a nice job with the release. You also get a good selection of supplementary material, including two audio commentaries. The first is from director Kevin Tenney, along with stars Stephen Nichols, Kathleen Wilhoite, and James Quinn; it focuses on memories of making Witchboard. The other is a little more technical in nature, and features Tenney with executive producer Walter Josten and producer Jeff Geoffray.

“Progressive Entrapment” is a 45-minute retrospective documentary packed to the gills with information. Tenney talks about how certain shots were achieved, most notably a stunning sequence in which the camera follows a victim as he falls out a window. Kitaen, meanwhile, talks about the uncomfortableness of shooting nude scenes. We also find out that she was dating O.J. Simpson during the shoot, and that he would occasionally hang around. This led some of the crew members to play a prank on the couple, which is recounted in detail. Almost all of the major participants in Witchboard appear in “Progressive Entrapment,” making it a valuable and entertaining document on the film.

Also on the Blu are vintage behind-the-scenes footage/interviews, the theatrical trailer, some TV spots, and a couple of still galleries. It's a worthy collection of materials for the film. Scream Factory has delivered a product that will please Witchboard fans, and likely earn some new ones.

For more information on this title, please visit the Scream Factory website.

Witchboard is rated R for sequences of violence, nudity, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.

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