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Witchboard (Blu-ray Review)

WitchboardWhen I was growing up, Ouija boards were a terrifying thing.  It wasn’t like today.  More and more people believed in just not messing with them as they were tools of witchcraft and made people uneasy just seeing them.  Originally titled “Ouija”, Witchboard was the horror film that came along and played on all of those fears.  It’s a film that when I saw it as a kid just kind of confirmed with me not to ever f*%$ with one of the boards.  It was that kind of supernatural element that got under your skin with just a thought even well after the film’s credits have rolled.  Yes, The Exorcist had used the board as a factor in the film, but Kevin Tenney’s film wanted to make the board an entire focus on its horror and not just and one and done kind of thing.  Oh and did I mention that Witchboard also stars 80s super hottie and co-star(along with Dave Coulier) of America’s Funniest People Tawny Kitaen!

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Film 

Jim and Linda are having a party one night in which they’ve invited Brandon as a kind gesture.  Brandon is Jim’s former best friend and Linda’s ex boyfriend.  Tensions rise very high between Jim and Brandon because both of their love for Linda has drawn them apart.  Brandon begins discussing Ouija boards at the party and decides to demonstrate his recent communications with a spirit going by the name David.  Some eerie things happen, but it ends in a feud between Brandon and skeptic Jim.  Jim leaves, forgetting his board to which Linda begins experimenting with.  Odd things begins to happen, Linda starts slowly getting possessed and a few bodies start piling up and Jim and Brandon must put aside their differences and discover what is at the bottom of this spirit named David.

First off, wow, I did not remember how SUPER DUPER 80s this movie was.  It just oozed with it in sight and sound.  But it also played very much to the fun and character of this movie.  I don’t think Witchboard is going to scare any adults or teens in this day and age.  The horror aspects of the film are a bit dated and aren’t exactly commanding scares anymore like it used to.  However, show it to a kid 10-12, leave a Ouija board randomly laying around your house for them to find after, and they might have trouble going to sleep for a while.

To me, though, horror films aren’t always at a loss, even if they’re not very scary.  Plus, over the years, I’ve pretty much desensitized myself to a lot of it through giving myself a passioned upbringing on it.  But there are many other aspects horror can have that can totally satisfy someone even in they’re not scared.  There are many other avenues a horror film can score in like its gore-factor, comedy or even a certain idea getting explored.  I think Witchboard totally holds up with some other things in other areas.

Witchboard still works for me because of its attention and care it’s taken with its characters.  This is the story of a love triangle and repairing a damaged friendship using the Ouija board and horror elements as a mean to tell the story in a much more fun and interesting way.  And the characters themselves are pretty fun too, especially some of the side characters highlighted but a small but scene stealing role from Kathleen Wilhoite as the punk rock psychic medium.  This is a film that follows more in the “fun” realm for me, where I can use some of my 80s nostalgia (Rad! This movie has Tawny Kitaen AND she gets naked!), but also really like the story told and visuals onscreen to really enjoy the movie.

Watching Witchboard now, it almost feels as if it may have inspired some ideas in movies that would come years later.  Easily, this feels like it’s a prototype for the Final Destination series.  Using a phantom killer and kind Rube Goldbergian devices with which to kill people and have it look like an “accident” or suicide.  Also, the story is very much one of those “dead child contacts from beyond the grave to have the mystery of their death solved” type vibes.  A storytelling method that would be used years and years later in films like Stir Of Echoes and The Ring.

So, 18 years later, Witchboard doesn’t bring the terrors it once did, but its fun to see retrospectively where they were and how they probably worked back in 1986.  It’s a creative and very imaginative movie that still can be appreciated even if you’re not tensed up and hiding in a blanket.  I do think though, that this is one of those classics that you can safely show your children at the appropriate age and enjoy them watching in fear, only to ask them if they want to try a Ouija board out following their viewing.

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Video 

The 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoding produces a picture that has Witchboard looking the best it ever has in its 1:85.1 frame.  It’s not going to blow minds, but there are moments of brilliance in this picture.  There’s some soft areas in the picture hampering sharpness, but that’s all in the source.  Most of the time the film is very strongly detailed, from carpet fringes to strands of Tawny Kitaen’s mane.  Skin tones and textures are also well done.  The print they used for this transfer is also very clean and doesn’t appear to have any distractions or damages to it, just a nice healthy layer of grain kept intact.

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Audio 

Witchboard’s kicking 80s them song jams in a 2.0 DTS-HD MA track.  Yes, its no 5.1, but sometimes with Scream Factory titles, this track feels more true and comes across a lot better.  This one shouldn’t make you miss it.  It’s full and the effects come in and strike as they were intended.  The dialogue is all good and clear as well.  And the score soaks it all up very nicely.  Its not one of their more booming track, but its definitely an above average one.

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Extras 

Make no mistake, this may not have the coveted Collector’s Edition label on it, but this thing is jam packed with hours of bonus material.  That said, while this looks like a lot, its really not as much as it appears.  The majority of the featurettes are repetitive as you have a Vintage Making Of featurette and then the rest features just all the unedited footage from it.  The new documentary and 2 commentaries however are top notch and I would probably score this disc very high on them alone.

Commentary With Cast And Crew – Kevin Tenney, Kathleen Wilhoite, James W Quinn, Stephen Nichols gather to watch and discuss the film on this all new commentary for this release.

Commentary With Writer/Director Kevin Tenney, Producer Gerald Geoffray And Executive Producer Walter Josten – A vintage commentary ported over from a previous release of the film.

Progressive Entrapment: The Making Of Witchboard (HD, 45:41) – An all new lengthy featurette chronicling the film from Kevin Tenney making films in college to the legacy of the film.  It has all the main cast (including Tawny) and crew who worked on the film.  This another fantastic piece by the Red Shirt production team!

Vintage Making Of Witchboard (HD, 6:54) – A bunch of on set footage and interviews from shooting the film.

Cast Interviews (HD, 20:15) – Vintage on set cast interviews from the shoot, with full scenes from the movie in-between interviews.

On Set With Todd Allen And Stephen Nichols (HD, 19:56) – The full interviews from the ones with the actors seen in the previous vintage featurettes.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:35)

On Set With The Makers Of Witchboard (HD, 19:59) – Full interview footage from the interviews with the makers seen in the previous vintage featurettes.

Life On The Set (HD, 20:13) – All the rest of the vintage “Making Of Footage” uncut and in its full form.

Constructing The World Of Witchboard (HD, 21:14) – Even more raw and full footage used in the “Vintage Making Of” featurette, this one focusing on creating sets and special effects.

Outtakes (HD, 6:18) – This footage is all seen in the “Vintage Making Of Witchboard” featurette.  I guess some could be called “bloopers” but it really didn’t seem like it was the intent of this reel to me.

Behind The Scenes Gallery – 164 photos of behind the scenes, cast & crew parties and premier party photos.

Promo Gallery – 42 stills of posters, promo stills, theater marquees and promo events in support of the film’s release.

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Summary 

Scream Factory gives Witchboard a stunning Blu-ray debut with great video, audio and supplemental material.  The new 45 minute mini-documentary with all new interviews following the film’s production and legacy is worth the price of this disc alone, but oh yeah, you get the movie too!  There’s a lot of repetitive vintage behind the scenes video supplements, but they do make for a ton of content.  This release is sure to make fans and collectors alike incredibly happy.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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