When I was a kid I watched a lot of movies, I still do, but as a kid television and movies were a major part of my life. Movies and television allowed me to escape that. It allowed me to go places outside of my reality. (Books, music and Video Games would later end up in that mix but that’s not what this is about.)
There were key movies in my life that helped to make me who I am today. Movies that I have loved from the moment the opening credit rolled and still love now. This blog series is about those, My guilty pleasures, my favorites, my escapes. Some were very popular, others not so much. Some of these will have some real life take-aways, others are just for fun.
Today we discuss a horror film that has stayed with me for much of my life. One I haven’t seen in nearly 20 years but has remained firmly entrenched in my brain. The film, Witchboard.
Today’s Key Movie:
A young woman mistakenly plays with a Ouija board by herself unleashing evil spirits into her life. Now she and her boyfriend must find a way to defeat the evil she has unleashed.
Why this movie?
With the advent of VHS, Horror in the 80’s was a plentiful. Walk into any video store in the late 80’s and you would find walls of low budget horror guaranteeing that you would find what you needed to fill your terror needs. In addition to the rise of VHS, the 80’s brought on a new wave of fear of the unknown, of ghosts, evil spirits and even demons themselves.
One thing that was both forbidden and desired as a kid was (to us) the most dangerous of devices, The Ouija Board. This dark communicator to the dead was the subject of many parent’s fears and many parties entertainment. In elementary and on we discussed it in hushed tones telling each other tales and half truths about what scary events surrounding this simple, and rather harmless, two piece game. Soon, this mystical board became the subject of films one of the first being today’s film, Witchboard. Sure, Ouija Boards had appeared in films and television for decades, even making appearances in movies such as The Exorcist, but rarely had it been the subject of the story itself. Witchboard changed all that.
When this movie was released it quickly became the subject of many kids and parents alike. It wasn’t just a horror film but warned of the dangers of the very board in it’s title. Rumors abounded that this was a haunted film that the very act of watching it would bring about evil spirits just like using the board itself. Among my friends it became a tale that even the use of a Ouija board on a screen could bring about an evil into your home. Needless to say, this only intrigued us more although, in the backs of our minds, we were also frightened at the prospect. It would not be long before I managed to get a copy of this in my hands and, one late night I watched a film that would be seared into my brain for the rest of my life.
You like it, but is it really a ‘good’ movie?
The thing that makes this film such delight is that it does not attempt to be more than it is. Writer/Director Kevin Tenney understood his limitations going in and, instead of trying to create an over-the-top gore fest as was popular at the time, he did all he could to instill fear using tone and simple storytelling. In this attempt, Tenney managed to create a very realistic and grounded film despite the low special effects budget. His use of the ‘first person’ camera for the spirit itself is clever and coupled with the incredible score he really manages to ratchet up the terror at every turn.
As I mentioned above, one of the aspects that make this film really stand out is the films score. Composed by Dennis Michael Tenney, brother to Kevin and who was also responsible for the film score for The Prophecy and the classic Night of the Demons, the score creates a truly frightening atmosphere throughout the film. Using subtle tones interspersed with classic 80’s synth, there is not a moment in the film that is not infused with some intense theme.
Impressively for a B-Horror film, the cast manage to do a fantastic job in this film. While this is not one that would win a ‘best screen play’ or ‘best actor’ award, It is one that shows just how skilled Kevin Tenney is with his actors. Tenney managed to find a wonderfully talented cast including Linda Brewster (Tawny Kitaen) to the illfated punk psychic Zarabeth (Kathleen Wilhoite). One person I was delighted to see, although briefly, was that of Rose Marie as Mrs. Moses the landlady. I became aware of Rose in her time on The Dick Van Dyke Show as Sally Rogers and it was wonderful to see her in another film even with a smaller role.
Overall, this is a mainstay horror classic of the late 80’s and is one that, surprisingly, still holds up to my memories of it. Somehow, even some 30+ years later, this film still manages to find a way to get under my skin. No, I am not as frightened of it as I was all those years ago but it still somehow gives me a few goosebumps. Sure, this film is filled with hokey one liners and some silly moments but overall it still works.
Interestingly, this film left a true legacy in the world of horror creating the definitive rules of engagement for Ouija Board use.
The rules are simple:
- The users should be pure of mind and body. I.e. no drugs, alcohol, etc.
- Every Ouija Board attracts a strong spirit that will be your most common contact.
- Spirits lie. Be careful who you talk to and who you let in.
- Never. Ever. use a Ouiji board alone. This will allow a spirit to use you without your knowledge.
Thanks to this film these rules have been burned into a generation of kids who now look at Ouija boards with a cautious suspicion. Those rules would, of course, be ignored again as Witchboard spawned two sequels (we will likely get to those at a later date), but this first one will remain the best in the series.
OK, where do I get this movie?
I was able to track down a copy on my favorite Digital Download service. You can also grab a copy of this one on Bluray from Shout Factory for around $15. If you want a horror classic that will be a great addition to your collection, this one is certainly it. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Witchboard today.
Late To The Game 8/20/2020
If you would like to read more reviews please check out the rest of the Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Thursday.
For more retro TV goodness check out the rest of the Retro TV Reviews here. and, If you dig Music, I have a semi regular series called Stand Out Albums that covers some of my favorite records I have come across in life.
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