Ami Dolenz appeared in a few horror movies in the late eighties and early nineties, not the least of which was Witchboard 2: The Devil's Doorway, written and directed by Kevin S. Tenney (the man who gave us Night Of The Demons) as a follow up to the original Witchboard movie that he directed in 1986 (which was his directorial debut).
In the film, Dolenz plays Paige, a pretty young woman who is just about to move into a big loft apartment looked after by landlord Jonas (Christopher Michael Moore), his hippy wife Elaine (SNL's Laraine Newman) and her brother, a photographer named Russell (John Gatins). Despite the fact that Jacob makes a few creepy passes at her and that Elaine dots obnoxiously on her terrier, Doo, she moves in and looks forward to starting a new life as a painter while working her office job until that takes off for her.
Things go well enough to start. She and Russell hit it off and she and Elaine are able to be friendly enough. Things turn sour shortly after she finds an old Ouija Board in her closet, however. It tells her that someone named Susan is in the apartment and it would seem she is trying to communicate with her. Enter Paige's ex-boyfriend, a lunkhead cop named Mitch (Timothy Gibbs) who wants her back and is none too impressed that she's hanging out with Russell as much as she is. Since using the board though? Paige has started to change. No longer is she the meek, mild mannered girl next door. She's playing up her sex appeal and asserting herself in ways she never thought possible, not just in her personal life but her professional life as well. Around this same time though, bad mojo seems to descend upon the apartment building, starting with Jonas' death in the boiler room. From here on out, Susan and Russell, with some begrudging help from Mitch and all the privileges being a cop can offer him, try to figure out who Susan really is but what Paige discovers, she's not going to like and before it's all over a few other people will learn the hard way that playing with a witchboard doesn't come without its consequences.
This one plods along for the first half of its ninety-five minute running time without a whole lot really happening, yet somehow remains fairly watchable in spite of this. The chief reason for this is Ami Dolenz. She's not likely to ever win an Oscar for her work but even so, she's likeable enough. Not only is she very pretty but she's got what can realistically be described as sympathetic charm. We want her to start over, to quit the desk job she obviously doesn't like and to get away from grumpy Mitch so that she can do her painting thing. Laraine Newman fails to convince as the hippy who talks like a Valley Girl while Christopher Michael Moore is fine as her lecherous hard drinking husband. He's got a greasy, predatory vibe to him. John Gatins is likeable enough to make his character work and as things progress and the role of his character shifts he transitions well. Likewise, Gibbs as Mitch handles the evolution of his character across the arc rather adaptly.
There's no really deep character development here and her character is fairly one dimension, as are all the characters in the movie, but she's got a very likeable screen presence. Once the movie hits the halfway point the pace does start to pick up quite a bit. The movie flirts with sexiness but never goes particularly far with it and it offers up some fairly mild gore, probably earning its R-rating more for language than sensational or exploitative elements but the script does afford the opportunity for a few decent effects set pieces.
This one is very much a product of its time, a sequel geared towards cashing in not at the box office but in the rental store. The cover art (re-used on this release, thankfully) is eye catching and appealing to horror fans but once you get to it there isn't a whole lot of meat on these bones. Not that it's a bore or a waste, it's just unremarkable… but somehow watchable. It's plenty glossy, nicely shot, has a decent enough score and some appreciable atmosphere towards the end. Not a masterpiece by any stretch, but completely fine entertainment.
Witchboard 2: The Devil's Doorway looks pretty good on Blu-ray from Olive Films, framed at 1.78.1 in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. There is some minor print damage that can be spotted, really just some minor specks, but these aren't particularly distracting. Detail is better than you might expect with close up shots showing decent skin tones and solid texture. Colors are nicely reproduced and black levels are good as is shadow detail. Some shots are a little bit soft but this would appear to stem back to the original photography and not the transfer itself. There are no obvious issues with edge enhancement or noise reduction to note. All in all, the picture quality here is quite good.
The English language DTS-HD 2.0 track on the disc is well balanced and has a reasonable amount of depth and range to it but there is some minor distortion throughout the movie that, if you're susceptible to that sort of thing, is noticeable during dialogue scenes. Aside from that, and some won't even notice it, this is fine. It's not a super exciting mix but it seems an accurate representation of how the movie should sound.
Olive Films doesn't usually do much of anything in the way of extras but this release does include some extra features starting with a commentary track from writer and director Kevin S. Tenney who is joined by cast members Julie Michaels and John Gatin. This is an enjoyable track. It never gets too heavy or too deep but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that there's a whole lot more to this movie than there really is. They talk about some of the effects work, their fellow cast members, some of the story ideas that were tossed around and what it was like working together on set. Occasionally it turns into a bit of a love fest, with everyone noting how great everyone else was on this shoot, but there's a good, friendly atmosphere here that, when combined with the decent flow of information, makes this a solid track.
The disc also features a Behind The Scenes Featurette that runs just shy of eight minutes in length and which includes some cast and crew interviews and VFX bits and pieces. Aside from that? Two deleted scenes, three TV spots and a pair of Home Video Trailers that are actually vintage promotional spots meant to entice retailers to stuck the title on their shelves, which is kind of an interesting blast from the past for those of us who were raised during the VHS boom years.
Witchboard 2: The Devil's Doorway isn't likely to make anyone's ‘best horror movies of all-time list,' in fact, it's kind of dull and not all that interesting. Yet, there's something about it that makes it watchable enough. Maybe it's nostalgia, maybe it's that teenage crush on Ami Dolenz nagging away or maybe it's the wacky early nineties charm but either way, this is amusing in spite of its many flaws. Olive Films brings it to Blu-ray with a very nice transfer and a decent array of extra features as well. If you're a fan, this comes recommend (otherwise you'll probably want to rent it first).
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.