Friday, April 27, 2018

#2,499. Witchery (1988)

Directed By: Fabrizio Laurenti

Starring: David Hasselhoff, Linda Blair, Catherine Hickland

Line from the film: "They've got a lot of legends about this island. Witches and rainbows and shit"

Trivia: Producer Joe D'Amato originally hired Luigi Cozzi as the movie's director who at first was involved in pre-production, but ultimately left after realizing that he wasn't allowed to make any script changes

I was a little hesitant to sit down and watch director Fabrizio Laurenti’s Witchery, mostly because it’s listed as a sequel to 1988’s Ghosthouse, a movie I have yet to see. It’s never a good idea to watch a series out of order, but it’s been my experience with Italian-produced horror of the ‘70s and ‘80s that many so-called “sequels” were labeled as such solely to cash in on the success of an earlier movie, and share few (if any) similarities with the characters or storyline of the “original” (Case in point: Fulci’s 1979 Zombie was released in his native Italy as a follow-up to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and the only thing those two classics have in common is their title creatures). 

With that in mind, I figured I’d give this 1988 film a whirl. 

Besides, Witchery stars Linda Blair (as an expectant mother) as well as a pre-Baywatch David Hasselhoff, each locked in a life-or-death struggle against the forces of evil. Would you pass up a chance to see a showdown like that

Paranormal researcher Leslie (Leslie Cumming) has traveled to a remote island off the coast of Massachusetts, where, centuries earlier, a pregnant woman accused of being a witch met a grisly end. Aided by her photographer boyfriend Gary (Hasselhoff), Leslie spends several days exploring a dilapidated hotel (the very building in which the alleged sorceress died), all the while hoping to uncover the secret of what really happened all those years ago. 

Leslie’s investigation is temporarily put on hold, however, when the Brooks family: Freddy (Robert Champagne) and his second wife Rose (Annie Ross); Freddy’s pregnant daughter Jane (Blair); and the couple’s young son Tommy (Michael Manchester), travel to the island to inspect the hotel, which they’ve just purchased from the previous owner. Rose wants to transform the old place into a modern-day Inn, and has brought interior designer Linda Sullivan (Catherine Hickland) along to get an idea of how much the renovations will cost. 

This simple outing takes an unexpected turn when the boat that carried the Brooks family to the island abruptly disappears. With no way to contact the mainland, the group must spend the night in the hotel. 

But they aren’t alone: a mysterious Lady in Black (Hildegard Knef) has been living in the old building for quite some time, and plans to use her new “guests” to summon a demon from hell, in the hopes it will help her correct the errors of the past. 

Also released as Evil Encounters, Witchcraft, and, in Italy, La Casa 4 (The House 4), this 1988 film has a few noteworthy scenes (the opening sequence, a flashback to the alleged witch’s death, gets Witchery off to a strong start) and a decent amount of gore (one unsuspecting victim has their lips sewn shut, and another is nailed to a cross). In addition, the abandoned hotel (according to IMDb, the movie was shot on-location at an actual building in the coastal community of Scituate, MA) proves the perfect setting for this particular tale, beautiful enough to put you at ease yet at the same time creepy enough to serve as “ground zero” for a battle between good and evil. 

Alas, Witchery is a hit-and-miss affair: aside from Hasselhoff, Blair, and Knef (eerie as the Lady in Black), the performances are pretty dismal; and the story takes some confusing turns along the way (a subplot about closing – or maybe it’s opening – the three doors of hell didn’t make much sense, and there’s a demonic rape scene that’s as bizarre as it is befuddling). And I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for Linda Blair: 15 years after The Exorcist, and the poor girl was forced to endure yet another possession sequence! 

Still, even with its less-than-stellar elements, fans of ‘80s Italian horror will get a kick out of Witchery, which offers just enough chaos and gore to be entertaining. Everyone else may want to tread lightly.