Welcome to another Friday Nightmare Reviews, wherein I tell you what you could be doing instead of scrolling through the internet, looking through yet another ten second tutorial video that, through the magic of clever editing, makes everything they do look like it will take no time and be so goddamn easy. Of course, anyone who has tried such things is usually greeted with the grim reality that nothing is ever that easy and honestly, most of the stuff they make or do takes hours of tedious leg work. You know what else takes hours of tedious leg work? Filmmaking.
I know this is kind of obvious in some ways but in a lot of ways, it’s not. It’s a lot like any job where you don’t get to see the cogs in motion. There’s a lot to take into account, there’s a lot to be responsible for and even more that can go wrong, especially when you’re working with a decent size cast, which doesn’t even have to be that many people. This is all assuming that you’ve got all your initial cogs in order too. Having a decent script is usually a key component, as is making sure that the story makes sense and isn’t riddled with cliches and stupid stereotypes that you didn’t intend to have in there. There’s also making sure that your have someone at the helm who knows how to make the stuff on the written page into a movie. There’s more skill to that than you might think and if you’ve seen as many bad movies as I have, you are familiar with the wide gulf of difference between a good director and a less good one. Then there’s the actors. You can have great people behind the camera and a terrific script at your disposal but if you have someone who can’t convey any emotion or can’t nail an accent or can’t seem to figure out what to do with their face when they aren’t speaking, it can blow the whole illusion.
All of this is in service of preparing you for the fact that tonight’s movie isn’t good. Like, it’s as bad as I’ve seen in a while. So far this year, I’ve had a large chunk of movies that I’ve reviewed that have been all kinds of awesome and I’ve been spoiled as fuck. Even when the movies weren’t going to win any Oscar nods, they were still pretty damn entertaining and the one that I can think of that I’ve seen that wasn’t great was just kinda boring. That was all I had to really deal with thus far and I was getting pretty cocky. Then I decided that it had been a while since I had travelled down my favorite nostalgia road in search of something new that wasn’t an old favorite. What I’m saying here is that I have no one else to blame but myself for the fact that I watched 1986’s Witchboard. Well, I also have the great pandemic of 2020 to blame as well but that didn’t make the decision to sit down and waste over and hour and a half to this film that might have been better spent looking into the void.
I’m being unfair but I’m also getting ahead of myself. The thing is, this film is full of interesting curiosities, assuming that you’re wanting to sit through the whole of the movie to see them. If we’re being a little more fair here to the filmmaker, according to what I can find online about it, this was a project that Kevin Tenney (whom we’ve seen here before with his film Night of the Demons!) had started writing while he was still in film school. I will also give him credit that he did do a lot of background checking and tried to inject something more interesting and realistic into the plot. Unfortunately, like I’m finding in a lot of eighties films, he also decided that adding a weird humor element was a good idea too. For the record, Tenney isn’t the only one who’s guilty of this, as we’ve seen in The Happening with Hot Dog Man and his weird aside that no one asked for and the whole speech takes you out of the moment to ask how you got there in the first place. This is indeed how this film tends to tackle characters that I can only call quirky because that’s the only label that kinda fits. But speaking of characters, let’s get to them and see what they’re all about.
After pulling us through the most yuppie eighties party that you can imagine to get us through the credits, this film doesn’t waste any time and introduces us to our three main characters right away. We start off with Brandon, played by Stephen Nichols who is barely a familiar face here, having last been seen in “a blink and you’ll miss it” style scene in House. Here, Nichols is far more visible as he posits how there is no god but there are definitely ghosts and he can prove it with his ouija board and please don’t mispronounce it as that would be so gauche! Playing foil to the discount version of a John Hughes villain is a character I’m assuming we’re supposed to like named Jim, played by Todd Allen. Where Brandon is snooty and has that smarmy kind of vibe to him as he discusses theology, Jim does the whole jealous boyfriend who works a blue collar job dance. When Brandon insults him and makes snide remarks about how Jim’s father was an alcoholic before him, we get to meet the achievement they’re trying to unlock, Linda, played by Tawny Kitaen. If that particular name is ringing all kinds of bells and whistles for you, you might be more familiar with her because of her legal issues more recently when she was charged with spousal abuse of Chuck Finley. Or maybe you remember her from her minor role that she played in the Hercules series with Kevin Sorbo. Or maybe you might recall some little music video that had her dancing around on some cars to the backdrop of an epic synth line that is likely now stuck in your head. Unless you were born after a certain year, you have probably already picked up the hints that she was indeed the woman who danced her way into infamy on David Coverdale’s cars in Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” video. Fun fact for you all, this film that we’re talking about was actually shot first but the two were released at basically the same time. I’m not kidding when I say filmmaking is hard and tedious. (Bonus fun fact: For a dollar a month on my Patreon, you get bonus rant/assessment of said Whitesnake video because…just why??? If you want to read that, it will be available for an extra dollar and you too can ask with me why that video just is.)
So back to the film in progress. The original title of this movie was supposed to be be Ouija but seeing as the filmmakers figured that Parker Brothers didn’t want their wholesome spirit portals to communicate with the dead and possibly other entities that lurk beyond the realm of the living being linked to being able to communicate with nasty things that might possibly lurk beyond the realm of the living, they changed the name to Witchboard. Lacking any other real notable female presence at the start (fret not, she’s coming), we’re left with no witch but thankfully Brandon steps up to plate. Trying to hit on Linda, he has her use the board with him and Jim, being the good, likeable person he is, makes stupid drunken remarks throughout and eventually pisses off both Brandon and the spirit. The end result is nearly a fight and the ouija board is forgotten at Jim and Linda’s home.
Once the dust has cleared, Brandon attempts to get a hold of Linda because he wants his ouija board back to impress some other yuppie friends that he has coming at the end of the week and asks her to bring it to her class coming up. Linda, being a rich and well developed character, ignores that while she’s sorting the mail but perks up when she hears that she’s got a doctor’s appointment for later in the week. Upon finding out that the ouija board is still there, she decides that the best course of action is to play with it because these things never end poorly and apparently she’d never heard of the movie The Exorcist before. This immediately sets the wheels in motion as our first kill is on the way. The spirit of the board is supposedly a little boy who died at the age of ten and starts trying to help Linda, telling her where to find a missing piece of jewelry and, in one of the more effective scenes of the film, confirming for her what she thinks the doctor is going to tell her at her appointment. Put a pin in that moment because I really do want to praise this later for what it did and this is a great moment that shows you that for all the failings of this film, the writer did have some skill and under a bit better guidance and a bit of tightening, this would have been an excellent element in the movie.
One of the less effective elements of the film is how obviously evil the spirit is right from the start. Between shots of it keeping Linda busy, we see it fucking with Jim, hiding his tools and setting up for a death that we can see coming about three miles away. You would think that this means that this film really hits the ground running but, alas, it less runs and more escalates everything and then just kind of stands still for a while. One Jim’s friends dies, he and Linda get into a bit of a fight and then they’re over it within about five minutes. Get used to this because it happens rather often. Something happens, there’s almost suspense and then there’s nothing for a few minutes before we move on to the next set up for something else to happen. Throughout all of this, Linda acts a bit bizarre but mostly, her interactions are just her being delighted to be working with the ouija board. Jim, on the other hand, oscillates between being a funny(?) guy and being a bit of a dick. Seeing as neither of these two are going to be much help in getting the plot from point A to literally any other point, we have an introduction and a return.
The introduction comes at a funeral, where all the memorable meetings tend to happen. This person is none other than our law and order guy, a detective whose name isn’t really important because he kinda just comes in to hassle Jim at weird and inopportune, insensitive times. Like at a fucking funeral. You see, our detective is there to let Jim know that people are concerned that the death of his friend, a character so well developed that I totally can’t remember his name either from the two scenes that he’s in, might not have been an accident and by the way, isn’t your hammer with an ax on the end of it missing? I repeat, this guy gets his formal introduction at what is meant to be the first major kill of the movie. This would have been a bit of a tall order in a regular film with a seasoned director at the helm but Tenney and friends didn’t have to handicap themselves further by trying to make said detective a comic relief character. If you thought to yourself that Jim’s humor was edging into the unaware of itself cringe territory, just you wait until Mr. Detective hits the scene!
While the introduction of the cop element tries to get the plot to move beyond the whole Linda plays with the board and Jim acts confused and annoyed and ultimately ignores everything dynamic, we’re left with our old smarmy third wheel to save the day. Brandon comes back into the picture to say that Linda isn’t giving back his toy and he is concerned that she’s not using it properly. If we’re being a bit more fair, however, he’s also showing an awful lot more pathos now and we’re left to wonder when he became a different character between the jerk we met at the beginning and the guy who comes to save the day. Jim, being less than likeable, doesn’t take him seriously and becomes belligerent until he gets a call that the board has finally decided to up its game and stages one of the funniest scenes in the film. Linda, on the other hand, was less than impressed that it decided to get ketchup all over the kitchen and has decided we’ve reached the more terrifying part of the film.
From here, Jimmy boy has decided that maybe there’s something more going on with Linda than the kind of thing that might require prenatal vitamins and reluctantly allows Brandon to bring in one of the most baffling things you’ll see in this movie and that includes a detective who talks about Las Vegas magic shows at a funeral. Brandon, the guy who at the top of the movie was talking about how there is no god, has brought the most stereotypical creation to ever come out of the eighties to Jim’s house and is claiming that this girl, Zarabeth, is not only a psychic medium but also the best in SoCal. After a few absolutely cringeworthy scenes of Zarabeth being incredibly obnoxious, we finally get to the heart of the matter, trying to contact the spirit of the board and sending it on its merry way. Zarabeth says that this ten year old boy spirit would’ve been a nasty one to have to exorcise and no one thinks anything of it as everyone goes home and our cannon fodder psychic gets exactly what you know is on the way. I would say more but truthfully, the film does more to spoil it for you than I ever could so if you watch the movie, just know that your first instinct is correct and why yes, she is going to die and that is how.
The plot’s still taking too long so Brandon decides to go about on a mission of his own, trying to figure out what turned our supposedly ten year old spirit into a raging murderer and try to set things right. After a mild encounter where we see Kitaen stretch her acting abilities wherein she’s scared and swaying around the room, Jimmy boy gets scared and decides to go with Brandon to figure everything out. There’s some hijinks, some spooky graveyard treading and some bromance but alas, eventually they decide that for the men, there can be only one and you end up with only a single gent coming back to find out what’s become of Linda and her love affair with her board.
So where to start. Again, I want to put it out there that this was something that was a pet project from the filmmakers’ days in school and in a lot of ways, it shows. There’s entirely too much comic relief in here and that would be one thing if it were funny but mostly, it’s just this strange hybrid of cringe and absurdist humor that completely just baffles you and makes you wonder when the movie decided it was done trying to scare you. And it probably won’t scare you because among the other missteps in this film is the lack of trust in the audience. There’s some moments in here that are well set up but it’s like the filmmakers were afraid of leaving anyone behind so they never miss an opportunity to really pound home the obvious, lest there be any instances of any nuance whatsoever. The ending shot is a perfect example of this. I won’t spoil it but the last line of the movie is a question and the camera lingers on specific image that tells you the answer. And then something moves very quickly to make sure that you realized that the thing that you’re staring at is indeed the answer and don’t you forget it. And it’s also the biggest sequel bait that you’ve ever seen so be prepared for that one.
There’s also something that has to be said about the actors. The main two guys are okay but, as I’ve alluded to, they aren’t given much to do throughout the film. In fact, their roles are so ill defined, at one point, I swore that the film was going to kill off Jim because he’d become so obnoxious and was accidentally giving off red shirt vibes while Brandon was completely changed from his first showing and starting to behave more like the leading man in the whole thing. And that brings us to the elephant in the room: the chemistry.
You can tell there was some attempt to flesh out these characters and give them something beyond the cardboard cut outs that they kind of are. They aren’t entirely hollow and in certain scenes, the two guys are actually showing off that they are capable of carrying those emotions and being something more than generic rivals. There was even a bit of a back story between the two male leads, having them address their bitter rivalry that broke up their lifelong friendship. The scene isn’t well done but there was genuine effort in there and it was something that established a way more interesting relationship between the two. While this dynamic was far more interesting to watch rather than their posturing before, it also kind of drove home how little chemistry either of them had with Linda. She’s supposedly the object of both their affections but you get more back and forth between these two guys than you do with her and them. And you don’t get a sense that Jim even really cares that much about her and in the few scenes that she says she loves him, he never actually responds to her with the same. Considering that there is a clumsy arch introduced where Jim is said not to have cried even at his own parents’ funerals, the closing of that particular story thread does little to prove that his one true love isn’t and always has been Brandon.
And that brings us to Ms. Tawny Kitaen and her stirring performance as the woman in the movie. To be honest, this is something that even for the time, they could have tried to build up a lot more. Linda does a whole lot of nothing but play with the board, get between the bromance and scream. There is a really interesting subplot that deals with whether or not she might be pregnant and this is something that would have been a great thing to explore. I don’t think this is something that should have been swept aside so easily but, if we’re being honest, it might have been a better plot thread if it had been in the hands of a better actress. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard to tell in this film if the performance is less than stellar or if it’s the fact that Kitaen is given so little to do. I will give the movie props that it didn’t just strip her naked and make her a sex prop. You do get a thoroughly ridiculous shower scene which could have been omitted entirely and it would have shortened the running time by a negligible amount but then you wouldn’t have gotten to see boobies so there you have it for why that exists. Still, it doesn’t even really stick out much because just like everything else in the plot about her, it’s just there. So much of the plot elements that Linda is a part of are just her doing things and being present or in danger. What’s worse is how much wasted potential there is in all of her scenes.
There’s the pregnancy thing which is just opened, used a bit for some dramatic effect and dashed off before the end of the movie and no one seems to care. There’s a scene where the spirit helps her find a ring that she lost and despite the fact that this could have been a great way to heighten the drama (the ring could have been a lost antique from her mother, the ring could have been one that Brandon gave her, the ring could have been a promise ring that Jim gave her and kind of wanted to get lost…the possibilities are all there and there’s lots!), the plot does absolutely nothing with this at all.
Should you watch this? Well, maybe? Be aware that this is really a popcorn watch at best and despite its best efforts, it isn’t always great at sticking the landing. Unlike movies like Eternal Blood, where there is a lot there and the filmmakers really reached to get at that potential, this one kinda stays in its zone and rides all the crests of the things you expect. It’s not the worst movie I’ve seen but it’s certainly not a very good one. I think it would be more entertaining if you couldn’t guess ahead of time where the misdirections are trying to lead you and have already figured out where they were actually going. That said, if you have a few people over and you’re looking for something that isn’t going to be too challenging and gives you a great sense of the fashion of the decade, this is as good a stop as any.
And with that, I thank you for joining me for another Friday Nightmare Review. Remember, there is a bonus review that you can unlock for a dollar a month over on Patreon wherein I talk about the video that made Ms. Kitaen famous. There’s also other exclusive goodies at different tiers that are available and you get the added bonus of all the site content earlier than everyone else. If not, especially in these weird and uncertain times, that is perfectly fine. I do appreciate everyone to comes to join me for another outing with the weird, wonderful or the wonderfully weird movies that I’ve managed to dig up. Until next week, keep your planchette disinfected, make sure that you’re sure of who you’ve contacted with your board, and keep your social distance from anyone whose jokes are below Dad level of bad. And may you all enjoy a good fright.