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Shout Factory // R // February 4, 2014
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 22, 2014 | E-mail the Author
Hey, it's pronounced wee-juh, not wee-jee, combining the French and German words for "yes". You put your fingers on the planchette -- the small piece of wood with the window hole -- and watch as it moves throughout the Ouija board to spell out messages from beyond this mortal coil. Spirits are notoriously bad spellers, though, and you can't always trust that they'll tell the truth. Ouija
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boards date back as whatever century BC, and...wait, where you are going? I haven't even told you about progressive entrapment yet!

Brandon Sinclair (Stephen Nichols), heir to one of California's greatest wine fortunes, won't stop droning on about the Ouija board he's lugged along with him to this party. It sounds like he's just reciting the first twelve paragraphs of Wikipedia's Ouija entry verbatim, only this is the mid-'80s and Wikipedia isn't close to being a thing yet. Brandon's incessant droning makes workin' class Jim (Todd Allen) want to call it Miller Time and kill a few brain cells, but his girlfriend Linda (Tawny Kitaen) is entranced. Brandon and his board introduce Linda to his buddy David. He's ten. He's precious. He's dead. He's...kinda vengeful, getting pissed enough at one point to blow out the tires on Brandon's swanky Cobra. In another movie, Linda would be terrified. C'mon, though, she's played by Tawny Kitaen. If she can deal with David Coverdale, she sure as hell can handle the ghost of a ten year old boy.

Anyway, Linda quickly becomes obsessed with the Ouija board that Brandon leaves behind, and it starts to consume every aspect of her life. She stops going to class. Hell, she barely leaves the house. She doesn't talk to anyone unless the conversation is glimpsed a letter at a time through a planchette. Brandon is concerned, trying to drag Jim on board to help him rid Linda's life of this curse. If they're not quick about it, this spirit could creep his way into this realm and seize hold of Linda's body. Speaking of bodies, there have been all sorts of grisly murders since this otherworldly force was awakened, and Lt. Dewhurst doesn't need a spirit board to target Jim as the most likely suspect.

If I'm not making Witchboard sound all that interesting, then...errr...umm...yeah. As much horror as I devoured in the '80s, I somehow didn't suffer through Witchboard till now, so I don't have any nostalgia to soften the blow. I appreciate atmospheric, character-driven ghost stories, but Witchboard gets it all wrong. It never establishes the sort of unnerving, creepy, suspenseful atmosphere it's aiming for. There's no looming sense of dread or even any solid jump scares. Neither the Ouija board nor the malevolent spirit it summons are especially menacing. Witchboard is a slow, tedious, talky movie with forgettable, generally uninvolving characters. Low body count. Generally forgettable effects work. The spirit wreaks havoc by turning a shower back on, closing doors at a marginally-faster-than-usual speed, and knocking a bunch of barrels over in slow motion. The performances are okay, even if the dialogue can be kind of tin-eared, and I found myself kind of digging the way estranged best friends Brandon and Jim reconnect after being unlikeable dicks for so much of the movie. There's the not-really-suspense of watching a word slooooowly being spelled out on the Ouija board even though you figured it out several letters back, and sometimes the ghost will misspell it and you'll have to start all over again. Kathleen Wilhoite as the punk rock psychic comic relief is kind of like chewing a fistful of aluminum foil. You do get a wholly
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and completely naked Tawny Kitaen in a shower scene, though, so there's that.

Someone, somewhere likes Witchboard; they hammered out a couple of sequels, after all, and Scream Factory sure went all out for this Blu-ray release. It looks pretty nice, sounds okay, and heaps on a bunch of extras, even if a lot of the bonus material is recycled too frequently or behind-the-scenes dead air. Maybe you discovered Witchboard on HBO when you were an impressionable, young tyke and are excited about catching up with it again on Blu-ray. Totally understand. I really can't recommend a horror flick this tedious and uninvolving to anyone sight-unseen, though. Rent It.

David? Can you hear me, David? Do you think this Blu-ray release of Witchboard looks pretty good? Yes, you say? Whew!

Sure, sure, the photography is gritty and grainy, there are all the usual struggles during optical fades and the like, and sometimes the image isn't quite in focus. Witchboard is generally where it ought to be, though. Its colors are nicely saturated, there's no heavy-handed filtering, and the AVC encode doesn't get in the way too much. Wear and speckling are kept to a bare minimum. Definition and detail hold up reasonably well, especially when the camera's pulled in pretty tightly. This Blu-ray release is a good bit more rough hewn than director Kevin Tenney's follow-up to this, Night of the Demons, but I don't have any major gripes.

Dual layer disc. 1.78:1 aspect ratio. AVC encode, if you were skimming a little too quickly there.

Witchboard is rockin' a 24-bit, two-channel mono DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, and...yeah, try saying that three times fast. It's alright, sounding pretty much like you'd expect a fiercely independent horror flick from the class of 1986 to sound. Dialogue generally comes through pretty well, varying in some scenes like that strangely thin, trebly stretch in the kitchen or whatever early on. Background noise is mild enough to be easily shrugged off. Some of the music and even Witchboard's tiny handful of gunshots sound a little more limp in the mix than I would've guessed. Some of the screams and more loudly shouted lines come through a bit edgy. Unremarkable but totally listenable.

Also along for the ride are a couple of commentaries and a set of English
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Like most of Scream Factory's releases, Witchboard is a combo pack, but you don't get any sexy, new artwork or a slipcover this time around.
  • Progressive Entrapment: The Making of Witchboard (46 min.; HD): This retrospective showcases interviews with writer/director Kevin Tenney, producers Jeff Geoffray and Walter Josten, cinematographer Roy H. Wagner, special effects coordinator Tassilo Baur, and actors Todd Allen, Stephen Nichols, Tawny Kitaen, Kenny Rhodes, J.P. Luebsen, James W. Quinn, and Kathleen Wilhoite. So, yeah, comprehensive!

    The whole thing pretty much plays like a highlight reel: hammering out the script as a class project at USC, commodity brokers cold-calling for financing, Kenny Rhodes still rocking that Steven Van Zandt bandana, the looming threat of legal action from Parker Brothers, a whole lot of stuff about stunts and lovingly crafted props, a prank pulled on O.J. Simpson during one of his visits to the set, and how you don't want to burn a pretty, naked lady in the shower with a fog machine. I'm not crazy about Witchboard as a movie, but I definitely love this look back at the making of the film.

  • Audio Commentaries: Writer/director Kevin Tenney and actors Stephen Nichols, Kathleen Wilhoite, and James W. Quinn stick around for a newly-recorded commentary track. It's a really quippy, really fun chat that tackles everything from '80s chest hair to rampant smoking to feminine ouija hands to a lost suicide. It's also really nice to hear Tenney and company snicker at how long it takes to spell stuff out on the Ouija board. Well worth a listen.

    The commentary carried over from the Anchor Bay DVD is equally essential. Writer/director Kevin Tenney is joined here by producers Jeff Geoffray and Walter Josten. They talk about ditching an opening sequence with an exploding boat in favor of a talky, exposition-heavy party sequence, the subtle changes to the Ouija board throughout the movie that I didn't spot my first time through, hard lessons learned about stocking craft services with plenty of doughnuts, O.J. Simpson's codename on the set, and how their inexperience often wound up working in their favor. This commentary is infused with a hell of a lot of personality that makes it a blast to listen to, and there's less overlap than you might expect with all the other extras on this disc.

  • Vintage Making of Witchboard (7 min.; SD): Interviews! A peek behind the scenes! Bloopers! The highlight of this short making-of featurette from 1985 is a look at the elaborate rig that was used for the memorable crash through the window.

  • Interviews (60 min.; SD): All of this material dates back to 1985 when cameras were still rolling on Witchboard. "Cast Interviews" is a reel of...well, you know, oriented around Todd Allen, Tawny Kitaen, and Stephen Nichols, with a lot of workprint footage spliced around in there. The three of 'em talk about stuntwork, the movie's emphasis on characterization and suspense, and how Kitaen isn't just playing some passive, eye candy girlfriend. "On Set with Todd Allen and Stephen Nichols" is a raw, extended version of their interviews. A lot of this you've already seen, but there's a little more into the research they conducted into Ouija boards and the like. "On Set with the Makers of Witchboard", meanwhile,
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    features snarky interviews with writer/director Kevin Tenney, producer Jeff Geoffray, cinematographer Roy Wagner, and...I forget who the fourth guy is. They touch on the quick recovery from early budgeting/scheduling disasters, shaping the look of the movie, lining up a world-class crew on a shoestring, and how long it'll take Witchcraft to emerge from its post-production chrysalis like a majestic butterfly. There's a lot of random footage of the crew at work too, setting the stage for what unfortunately is to come. Each chunk clocks in around 20 minutes each.

  • Even More Behind the Scenes Footage (41 min.; SD): There's a metric ton of B-roll stuff from the set, mostly while the crew is putting together the careening-through-a-window rig from the finalĂ©. "Life on the Set" spends twenty minutes slowly watching that unfold, along with quick comments from the crew and a peek at hair/makeup, craft services, and wardrobe. "Constructing the World of Witchboard" is more of the same. The highlight for me is a box of Grape Nuts and a shot of a blender. There might be more to write about here, but this sort of mostly silent, fly-on-the-wall footage makes my eyes glaze over after a while. Again, these are both right at 20 minutes a pop.

  • Outtakes (6 min.; SD): I'm not used to seeing vintage outtake reels, so that's kinda neat. Among the highlights are a cameraman taking a tumble in the hospital (lucky timing!) and a dog that really doesn't wanna bark on-cue.

  • Photo Galleries (HD): The main high-res photo gallery piles on somewhere around 168 images -- sorry, I lost count! -- and that's followed by more than 40 posters, premiere photos, marquee shots, and promotional bits and bobs.

  • Trailer (3 min.; HD): Last up is a high-def-ish trailer. Unusually, it's interlaced rather than the usual 1080p24 deal.

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