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Witchboard (1986)

Shout! Factory
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/4/2014

All Ratings out of


Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/20/2014

Although it doesn't always seem like it, all movies begin with an idea (Note that I didn't say a good idea). Sometimes these ideas are broad and could be applied to anything -- boy meets girls. Sometimes they are very specific and narrow -- bus can't go below 55mph. In most cases, the idea involves a person or a place, something which could interchangeable or adapted as the script is being filmed. But every once in a while, we get a movie which is based on one, single thing. Something which will serve as the catalyst for the rest of the film. And when this is done the first time, everyone asks, "Why didn't I think of that?" Most people of a certain generation are familiar with Ouija boards, so a movie based around one sounds like a million dollar idea. And thus we have Witchboard.

Witchboard opens at a party being held in the home of Linda (Tawny Kitaen) and Jim (Todd Allen). Their old friend Brandon (Stephen Nichols) is at the part, to which he's brought his Ouija. He demonstrates how he communicates with the spirit of a deceased boy named David. Jim, who used to be close to Brandon, scoffs at this. When Brandon leaves, he forgets to take his board. Linda sees it the next morning and begins to experiment talking to David. Soon, weird things begin to happen, and people die. Brandon learns that Linda has been using the Ouija and, hearing about the incidents which have taken place, attempts to help her. However, the occurrences go beyond his novice knowledge and soon Jim and Brandon must put aside their differences to save Linda's soul.

To say that Witchboard is a product of its time would be a grave understatement. This is definitely an 80s movie. Some movies have a certainly timeless feel, but Witchboard does not. The most obvious culprit here are the costumes, from Linda's party dress to the bow in her hair to Brandon's preppy look, this serves as a time capsule to some fashion regrets. But, we also get that in the tone of the movie. Nichols was a mainstay on daytime soap operas in the 80s and he brings that sort of over-the-top melodrama to the movie, making every scene feel like a (daytime) Emmy moment. The emphasis put on relationships here certainly could have been dialed back a bit, as I would have preferred to see more Ouija and fewer intense scenes between Jim and Brandon.

If you really look at Witchboard, the entire things feels like a throwback. At a time when the slahser cycle was dying down, but still existed, Tenney went for broke with a full on supernatural thriller. And while the movie feels somewhat cliched at times (especially when watching it today), it's unique feel does give it a sense of unpredictability. When Brandon whips out the Ouija board at the party, we know that bad things are inevitable, but what happens and the order in which they happen is somewhat surprising. I can't say that the film is ever scary or suspenseful, but there are some good jump scares and the villain has a somewhat creepy demeanor. It's unfortunate the ending is sort of a letdown. It's obvious what the film was going for, but it comes off as silly, as opposed to exciting.

Despite the fact that she's continued to work over the years, just say "Tawny Kitaen movie" to a Generation Xer and they'll say Bachelor Party. (Well, they will.) Press them on this topic and Witchboard is bound to come up. I can still remember seeing the commercials for the movie during its limited theatrical run and it was a mainstay of video stores which spawned a sequel. Yes, the movie feels dated, but I can't think of another horror film which has placed the Ouija board squarely in the center of the movie and played it straight. (This idea was obviously picked up in Paranormal Activity.) Witchboard may be cheesy at times, but it does show that supernatural horror was alive in the 80s.

Witchboard never explains why a ghost would blow a tire on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Shout! Factory. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 32 Mbps. The image is sharp and is relatively free from any defects from the source material. We do get some slight grain here, however. The colors look pretty good, although some are muted, and the image is a tad dark in some shots. The level of detail is acceptable, but it could easily be argued the image is soft. For a film of this age, the depth is good. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The musical score sounds fine and it never drowns out the dialogue. We get a few noticeable stereo effects here, but the bulk of the audio action comes from the center.

The Witchboard Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring Writer/Director Kevin Tenney, Producer Gerald Geoffray, and Executive Producer Walter Josten. "Progressive Entrapment: The Making of Witchboard" (46 minutes) contains comments from Tenney and the producers who talk about how the film came together and the casting process. We hear from the primary actors as well, who discuss their characters. There is no behind-the-scenes footage here, so it's through the interviews that we learn about the production and the film's rececption. "Vintage Making of Witchboard" (7 minutes) is a featurette from 1986 which offers some on-set footage and archive interviews with the cast. We also learn that the film's original title was apparently "Ouija". "Cast Interviews" (20 minutes) plays like an extension of the previous extra, as it provides interviews from the set and several clips from the film. This cavalcade of vintage interviews continues with "On Set with Todd Allen and Stephen Nichols" (20 minutes). "On Set with the Makers of Witchboard" (20 minutes) brings us an interview with Tenney and Geoffray. "Life on the Set" (20 minutes) is simply a reel of random video of the crew at work on the film, while "Constructing the World of Witchboard" (21 minutes) shows a lot of guys working with scaffolding. We get a 6 minute reel of OUTTAKES. The THEATRICAL TRAILER is included here. "Behind the Scenes Gallery" offers over 150 stills from the production, while "Promo Gallery" shows us posters and other promotional material.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long