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Ghosthouse / Witchery
Shout! Factory unleashes, whether you like it or not, two of the ‘Casa' films made in the late eighties by Filmirage fast and cheap to cash in on various popular horror trends at the time. These aren't particularly good movies by any sane standard, but when you're in the right frame of mind for them they can both be a lot of goofy fun. Here's a look…
Martha (Lara Wendel of Tenebre) and her boyfriend Paul (Greg Scott) are off to solve a mystery when, after Paul finishes talking to a fellow HAM radio operator about the singer of Duran Duran, they hear a strange series of noises and screams. Paul's computer is able to trace the signal and it leads them to a creepy old house outside of Boston. After getting spooked by the strange, old groundskeeper named Varkos (played by Donald O'Brien of Zombie Holocaust), they meet up with two guys and two girls who are camping out there in their motor home.
It turns out that one of the guys is also a HAM radio operator (which explains how they were also able to find the signal) and that he has been broadcasting from the upstairs room. When Paul plays the tape he made of the strange sounds they heard, the whole gang begins investigating but soon enough, they start getting killed off one by one. The culprit? An evil clown and a ghostly little girl, who haunt the house based on some sinister events that occurred in it's past (that are shown in the movie's opening scene, thus taking pretty much all the mystery out of the storyline).
Filmed in Massachusetts by an Italian crew headed up by Umberto Lenzi (Nightmare City, Cannibal Ferox), this movie, made in 1988, has a couple of things going for it that make it worth a peek in the name of good, brainless fun. The kill scenes are nicely executed, reasonably original, and often quite gory. The eighties fashions are unintentionally funny (check out one of the campers to see a gent who could quite possibly be the most acid washed man in movie history!) and plenty of nonsensical dialogue will keep you chuckling even if it's for all the wrong reasons. On that level, the movie delivers. It is an entertaining film. However, Ghosthouse is not a good film.
Not even close.
There are plot holes in this baby the size of Uranus and it's impossible for anyone with half a brain to not notice them. Story devices are quickly brought into the movie for a scene or two and then just as quickly disposed of, never to be seen again. A perfect example of this is the devil dog that shows up twice in the film. It's never explained why this thing shows up and you won't likely ever figure out what it had to do with anything else that went on in this movie.
The score for the movie, by Piero Montanari (who also scored Joe D'Amato's Frankenstein 2000) is tedious, repetitive and grates on your nerves once you've heard the same cues four different times, and all more or less at random. As we all know, a good musical score can do wonders to build atmosphere and make stale direction (which is what Lenzi provides here) seem to be more competent than it really is. Sadly, that doesn't happen with this picture, and it's best enjoyed for its camp value than as a serious horror picture, and on that level it can definitely deliver some fun.
Directed by Fabrizio Laurenti, this second feature was also released in 1988 and it also happens to be set in Massachusetts where we meet a researcher named Leslie (Leslie Cumming) who is digging deep into the area's history of witchcraft. It seems some time ago a pregnant witch was executed for her crimes in the area and Leslie wants to know what's up with that. Along for the ride is Gary (David Hasselhoff), her perpetually horny photographer boyfriend who, at Leslie's insistence, is there to hopefully snap a shot of the supposed ‘Witch Light' that appears from time to time on the coastal island they're exploring.
The decide to hunker down at the small hotel on the island, the one owned by a famous actress who may or may have committed suicide on the premises, and get to work. They arrive just as a bunch of rich folks are there entertaining the option of buying the old place up. Made up of Rose Brooks (Annie Ross), her husband Freddie (Bob Champagne), their son Tommy (Michael Manchester) and pregnant daughter Jane (Linda Blair) and they're accompanied on this expedition by a real estate agent named Tony (Frank Cammarata), his son Jerry (Rick Farnsworth) and a foxy female architect named Linda Sullivan (Catherine Hickland). Note that there's a pregnant lady noted there… you can see where this is going, right?
So with the cast more or less established, weird things start to happen. Everyone winds up stranded on the island (thanks to a storm that no one ever actually sees, or hears, or witnesses) and so they spend a lot of time wandering around in the dark while a ‘Lady In Black' (Hildegard Knef) also wanders around, albeit with much more frightening (not really frightening at all) aplomb. Various characters get sucked through various portals, Leslie gets raped by a demon, and the Lady In Black (who we assume is the witch?) tries to come back by way of the reincarnation of Jane's unborn baby. OR maybe she's just going to possess someone. None of this really makes very much sense at all.
If Ghosthouse asks you to throw logic out the window, Witchery asks you to light it on fire and piss on it. The story zips along at a pace best described as off (sometimes brisk, sometimes plodding but consistent only in how inconsistent it is) and calling the storyline nonsensical is being more than charitable. This movie is DUMB, and yes, those capital letters are on purpose. Yet… it's watchable. Part of the film's entertainment factor comes from seeing Linda Blair play a pregnant lady who may or may not be possessed. Linda Blair seems to get possessed a lot in the eighties so you kind of expect it but here she gets possessed Italian B-movie style, so where we had terrifying makeup effects in The Exorcist we instead get bad makeup effects and goofy acting in Witchery. Really though, most people will be drawn to this for the bizarre presence of David Hasselhoff. He's a horny , horny man but so too is he a man who suffers some fairly gruesome tortures here. He coughs up blood and overacts as he gets put through the ringer. His presence here is just bizarre as he tries to dry hump his virginal girlfriend at every given opportunity, but it's that bizarre presence that helps to carry the picture.
Bonus points for using a Sesame Street tape recorded as an important plot device.
Both films hit Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. GhostHouse looks soft at times and would seem to have some DNR applied to it. Colors look nice but there's a suspicious absence of grain here. Witchery looks a bit better, more film-like, and again boasting nice color reproduction. Print damage is never really a problem for either picture with both transfers looking quite clean with decent black levels. These transfers aren't going to be your demo discs to show off your new HDTV, but they're watchable enough even if they do leave room for improvement. If you've seen these before, however, you'll certainly notice improvements over past releases.
Each movie gets an English language DTS-HD 2.0 track with optional subtitles provided in English only. There is some minor distortion here in there in the higher end of each mix but it's not really a big deal and odds are pretty good that if you're not listening for such things for the purposes of writing a review you probably won't pick up on it. Levels are properly balanced and there isn't any audile hiss. There's a reasonable amount of depth here for older, low budget features and all in all, the audio for each film is more than passable.
Extras are limited to static menus offering movie selection, chapter selection and a trailer for each feature.
Scream Factory's Blu-ray release of Ghosthouse/Witchery doesn't set new standards for the world of high quality home video releases but it's a fun double feature of two goofball horror pictures that offer up plenty of entertainment value to compensate for their lack of scares and logic. Not much in the way of extras here and the transfers won't floor you but again, this is a fun disc and as such recommended for those with an appreciation for this type of stuff.
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.