It seems to be a theme this year that the movies' production histories are likely more interesting than the movies themselves. Witchboard is a basic bitch of a video store also-ran, but its opening scenes simmer with promise. We meet one character in the middle of an atheist rant, which was clearly supposed to draw the ire of 1986 audiences, but which would get many upvotes in Reddit-infested 2014. But then we see our sexy starlet, Tawny Kitaen, still yet to achieve Whitesnake video fame. But she must be a real jerk to makeup and hair people, because why else would they make her look like a John Waters villain?
Kitaen's distant-mirror hotness is a synecdoche for the dated nature of Witchboard. It would be laughable to cast a sexy babe now and dress her up like Naomi from Mama's Family or an Estonian maid. But it would also be absurd to use synth-pop as bumper music for a newscast. Or just expect audiences to accept that someone can pitch a ouija board off a balcony directly into a small trash can below. The eighties were truly a different time.
Uh oh, we haven't even talked about the plot yet. I sure hope this one paragraph can cover it! Kitaen is the main vertice in a love triangle, torn between sexy smug atheist/ouija expert Brandon and underachieving wiseacre Jim. After a ouija session at a party, she starts spending more time with the board and a purported child-ghost named David. But things are not as they seem and they lead to what you'd expect, possession. The film doesn't meander far from well-worn paths, except when it goes way the heck astray, as in the scene below with a comedy psychic. Wow, the same stupid decision that sank Insidious has a long history.
Witchboard is pretty bland, but there are some kicks to be had. Sometimes the film swerves into fun bad-movie territory, like when Kitaen has to punch through a glass door to escape hot water. Or when the demon forces her to dress up like a ska enthusiast. I also really liked Stephen Nichols as Brandon. In a movie where one could easily sleepwalk through a performance, he really brought energy and thoughtfulness to what he did. Generally, though, this is a product of its era, the late eighties being a time when horror movies were an investment and capital was the currency, not creativity.