Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Horror,Mystery,Thrillers Movie Review of ‘Witchboard’ (1986)

Movie Review of ‘Witchboard’ (1986)

A more apt title for 1986’s Witchboard would be Witchbored, as this low-budget horror distraction from the 1980s promises a lot more than it delivers. The flick was written and directed by Kevin Tenney, who was fresh out of film school at the time and who lacked the abilities to create a genuinely effective chiller. Hence, while the idea of evil spirits communicating through a Ouija board holds potential for a top-flight genre offering, Witchboard flat-lines all the way through, with its wooden acting, dull chatter, laughable special effects and sloppy storytelling. Even the most avid horror enthusiast will struggle to enjoy this one.

At a party one night, suave law student Brandon (Stephen Nichols) introduces his peers to a Ouija board that he often uses to communicate with spirits. Using the board with former girlfriend Linda (Tawny Kitaen), Brandon contacts the spirit of a 10-year-old boy named David who was killed in an unfortunate accident three decades years prior. Brandon inadvertently forgets to take his Ouija with him, and Linda begins using the board on a frequent basis, growing increasingly obsessed. As she continues to communicate with David, Linda’s behaviour drastically changes, which alarms her live-in boyfriend Jim (Todd Allen). Linda uses the board alone, which makes her susceptible to being used by an evil spirit as a portal into the real world. It soon becomes clear to Brandon that Linda is falling into “progressive entrapment,” meaning her body is being used as a door between worlds and she may end up becoming possessed.

Tenney visibly strived to focus on character development and slow-burning suspense, spending the majority of the picture observing the main characters and their interactions. Problem is, all of the build-up lacks fizz; it’s overall too flat, and there’s not much in the way of skilful tension building. The script is also fairly sloppy. For instance, Brandon and Jim set out to find David’s parents at one stage. The phone book does not list them, but they soon discover that that the pair actually died a fortnight prior. How were the parents eliminated from the phone book so quickly? Does the community publish a new directory every few days? The acting is a mixed bag, as well. Nichols is suitably charismatic and watchable as Brandon, but Allen is average at best. And about 40 minutes in, we’re introduced to Kathleen Wilhoite who’s embarrassingly over-the-top as a psychic named Zarabeth. It’s an interesting postmodern depiction of a medium, but Wilhoite takes it way too far. There’s also a detective played by Burke Byrnes, who achieves precisely nothing.

It may be unreasonable to expect top-flight special effects in a cheap ’80s horror, but Tenney tried too many things that he lacked the budget to properly accomplish. For the most part, the film is low-key and relies on a fear of the unknown, but the climax crumbles hopelessly, culminating in an unintentionally hilarious sequence involving the Ouija board flying through the air and someone falling backwards out of a window (some of the most obvious green screening in history). Plus, the Ouija board antics never look entirely believable – the planchette takes many unnecessary gyrations, and it never looks creepy or believable enough, especially since it takes all of two milliseconds for the spirit to arrive and start making contact when there should be tense build-up. The score by Dennis Michael Tenney is extremely chintzy and seldom effective, too. The music is distinctly ’80s-esque, but not in a good way; it sounds more cheap than chilling. Furthermore, Roy H. Wagner’s cinematography is basic at best. There are a few POV shots in the vein of Evil Dead, but they do not amount to much, and the shadow of the cameraman is visible a number of times.

A few mildly effective set-pieces notwithstanding, Witchboard is pretty much a bust, an amateur-hour horror outing which squanders its limitless potential. It even closes with the proverbial “one last jump-scare,” a moment that’s horribly cheesy and predictable. A more skilful set of filmmakers could have done something outstanding and horrifying with the same premise, which makes the final product here all the more disheartening.Witchboard has become a bit of a home video cult favourite, but for this reviewer’s money it deserves to remain obscure.

4.1/10

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