Ghosthouse - Visions of a deceased girl and her doll bring doom to the visitors of a deserted house.
Witchery - Gary (David Hasselhoff, Baywatch, Knight Rider) and his gal pal Linda (Catherine Hickland) visit an island off the coast of Massachusetts where a haunted resort hotel looms to do research on witchcraft. They're joined by the Brooks family (including a pregnant Linda Blair, The Exorcist), prospective buyers of the property. When a violent storm prevents them from leaving the island, they're forced to endure the vengeful wrath of an evil witch who won't quit until every last one of them dies a horrible death! Produced by the legendary Joe D'Amato (Anthropophagus, Beyond The Darkness), Witchery (aka Ghosthouse 2) boasts a haunting atmosphere and creepy special effects.
Double features seem to be Scream Factory's bread and butter these days. Sure their Collector's Editions like the recent 'Dog Soldiers' or 'Mad Max' may be what gets them noticed, but I'm starting to feel like their true power comes from finding a pair of relatively obscure horror movies and giving them their deserved HD turn on Blu-ray. With 'Ghosthouse' and 'Witchery' horror fans get a pair of Italian horror flicks from 1988 that are equal parts goofy and horrifying but always entertaining.
"I'm starving, I'm going to get some chili!"
Things are not all sunshine and rainbows in the world of ham radio. 20 years after a small girl's parents were murdered by an unseen ghoul, local ham radio operator Paul Rogers (Greg Scott) picks up a strange signal - a man calling out for help while creepy carnival music plays in the background, the man screams and then moments later a woman screams. After receiving the same signal multiple times, Paul uses his handy Apple II to track the signal to upstate Massachusetts. Fearing that someone might be in danger, hurt, or even dead - Paul and his girlfriend Martha head out to find the source of the signal.
What they find is a creepy old abandoned house that happens to have some other visitors hanging around who also happen to be ham radio enthusiasts. Jim Dalen (Martin Jay), his sister Tina (Kate Silver), and their friends Mark (Ron Houck) and Susan (Mary Sellers). It doesn't take Paul long to realize that the voice he's been hearing is Jim's, only Jim is alive and well, and clearly doesn't need anyone to help him. After playing them a recording, Paul convinces everyone that there is something wrong with the house.
It turns out the house is haunted by the spirit of an evil little girl who carries a demonic clown doll. Everywhere she appears, bad things happen and the visitors are dispatched one by one in particularly a gnarly and ghoulish fashion. Paul must solve the mystery of the littler girl and the circumstances that befell the previous owners in order to put the evil demons to rest.
'Ghosthouse' is just one of those movies that is delightfully bad in all of the best ways. For starters, ham radio just isn't an amazing or interesting hook to motivate a plot, and I'm guessing the filmmakers thought as much because the tech is abandoned pretty quickly in favor of a more traditional detective style investigation with a random psychotic killer red herring and plenty of thick and gooey blood effects. The acting all around is wooden and has all of the earmarks of amateurs stretching themselves thin - but thats okay, you get some great laughs at their expense and if this movie was populated by professionals, I don't think it would have been as much fun as it is.
The real selling point are the kills at the will of the evil clown doll. Gore effects while sparse can be a lot of fun and really effective at punching up the duller moments. A guy getting his noggin smacked with an ax is pretty effective and a poor hapless girl getting sliced in half with a guillotine made a friend and I howl with joy! Someone must have loved 'Poltergeist' because this evil doll and the little blond girl get a lot of milage and ample opportunity to look at the camera very creepily.
As a whole, it's not the best movie, but it does offer some solid entertainment with friends. This had previously been hit by Rifftrax as one of their VOD titles so it was a lot of fun to see this one without the riffing - it gives you plenty of opportunity to sling out a few solid jokes of your own while enjoying the goofy performances and bloody deaths.
"They've got a lot of legends about this island. Witches and rainbows and $#!t."
Leslie (Leslie Cumming) is a grad student working on translating an old German text dating back to the 17th century that details an event where a woman who was branded as a witch, jumped to her death while pregnant as she fled from angry villagers with pitchforks. Her beau Gary (David "The Hoff" Hasselhoff) is a professional photographer who is hoping to capture some intense "witchy" pictures of the site where this woman's death occurred. As the two are trespassing on the property of the derelict mansion where the incident occurred hundreds of years ago - Gary is hoping that Leslie will finally open up to him and they can have some of what kids back in those days called "the sex." Unfortunately for Gary, Leslie is a frosty virgin and isn't interested and makes the man sleep on the hard wood floor.
Meanwhile Freddy Brooks (Robert Champagne) and his wife Rose (Annie Ross) are looking to buy the abandoned property for a song, renovate it, and turn it into a private resort. Along for the ride is their pregnant daughter Jane (Linda Blair) and their small son. They're to meet with a pair of real estate agents about the property and get assessments for renovation costs while visiting the island. Leslie and Gary do their best to hide from the visiting family, lest they be discovered and arrested, but a mysterious old woman (Hildegard Knef) dressed completely in black makes contact with each and every person in the house and immediately disappears.
When a storm kicks up and everyone is stranded together, strange occurrences start to happen. The woman in black possesses their minds and casts them down into the pits of hell to be tortured by minions of the Devil. Each grizzly occurrence is a form of punishment for their sins and for trespassing on the woman in black's home. One by one they fall to this witch's tricks until poor Jane is possessed body and soul by the evil woman as she sets out to take revenge upon the rest of the world ushering in an era of darkness and evil.
Cast aside in 1988 as just anothre "Linda Blair Possession Movie," 'Witchery' or "Witchcraft" (apparently they couldn't decide on a title) is actually surprisingly effective. The cast does what they can with the thin material, but ultimately they're destined to become fake blood fodder and dispatched in delightfully gory ways. Watching the film it's pretty easy to see why it isn't more popular than it is. To call this one a "slow boil" would be a bit of an understatement as it take a great long while for this thing to get going. The movie starts out intensely enough with villagers running down a pregnant woman forcing her to jump out a window to her death - but then the movie just kind of stalls out for a solid hour. It really isn't until Annie Ross' character Rose gets it by having her mouth sadistically sewn shut and then stuffed into a chimney as her friends and family start a fire that this movie picks up some steam...or smoke rather. It may be some silly, but when the movie roars to life it's a bloody hoot.
The real strengths of this movie are the man effective gore shots. Watching these hapless dolts cash out their chips is 99% of the fun of this movie. The story is relatively convoluted as there just doesn't seem to be a very tangible reason for the witch to seek vengeance upon these specific people. Simply being there is crime enough I guess, but it isn't very compelling. But that doesn't really matter when one of them gets nailed to a cross and burned alive for everyone to see! Having Linda Blair in this thing seems to be littler more than stunt casting, which is sad because it's just further proof the poor woman wasn't able to shake the stigma of 'The Exorcist.' "The Hoff" does well enough, he's basically playing a clothed version of the character he'd play on 'Baywatch.' He's there to be the hunky guy who tries to do right in all aspects of life, but fails. All around it's a decent enough flick, I had a blast once it got going, but if you're new to the movie and are expecting instant gratification, you've got a long wait. Once the carnage picks up, the movie becomes a lot of fun and you quickly realize it was worth the ride.
As a pairing of Italian produced haunted house horror flicks, 'Ghosthouse' and 'Witchery' proved to be a fun and effective three hours of back to back bloody gore. They certainly aren't the best of movies, but they're entertaining for what they are. Give them some time to build up and let the rip roaring blood and guts splay out across your screen. Both movies are worth it for the gore alone.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Ghosthouse/Witchery' are brought to Blu-ray thanks to Scream! and pressed on a single Region A locked BD50 disc. Housed in a standard case, the disc opens directly to the main menu that allows for easy navigation to either film.
While an intensionally soft looking film, the 1080p 1.66:1 transfer for 'Ghosthouse' is actually very strong and quite effective. With the slightest presence of film grain retained, there is just enough detail to get a lot of presence out of the image. I don't believe this transfer was scrubbed with any kind of DNR, there's just too much fine detail left - my inkling is that this film was purposely shot this way. Close ups and mediums look the best where wides can be soft and diffused looking. Colors are spot on here as there is plenty of primary presence giving reds and blues some solid pop - especially the bloody gore effects. Black levels and shadows are pretty strong over all and offer enough separation to allow for some depth. When things are really dark there can be some crush, but thankfully everyone in this movie is clad in denim so they don't become floating heads. The print is in fine shape with little if any noticeable wear.
Much like 'Ghosthouse,' 'Witchery' makes for a pretty fantastic 1.66:1 1080p transfer. Film grain is nicely retained, but subtle so it doesn't overpower any of the darker scenes leading to some nicely present detail levels. Facial features, hair styles, and even fine hairs on fur coats are easily perceptible. Again similarly to 'Ghosthouse' this film appears to have been shot intensionally soft as there is the thinest haziness to the film, but it doesn't impact colors or force black levels out of whack. Primaries are strong but the film has a decidedly olive color pallet where much of the clothing and house paint tend towards this drab coloring. When characters are cast down into the underworld reds get a lot of bounce. It's a strong transfer all in all, but there is some slight crush evident here and there with some banding present. It's still pretty good, better than your average catalogue release I'd say, but it isn't quite as strong as the presentation of 'Ghosthouse.'
Both 'Ghosthouse' and 'Witchery' sport dynamic and present DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks. The sound design for both films are very similar so the need for individual analysis isn't necessary. Dialogue comes through with crystal clarity, which is nice because these films go for long stretches with a lot of talking and little other sound elements at play. There is plenty of separation between dialogue, sound effects, and score elements that make the mixes sound and feel dynamic without becoming overpowering. Free of any kind of age related anomalies, these mixes are serviceable and work well enough for their respective films. I can't say whether or not a full 5.1 or true stereo remix would have added much to the relative experiences. They're a product of their era and work well for what they are.
Ghosthouse Trailer: (HD 2:53) Man, the producers really loved the silly music! This entire trailer is loaded with it as it recaps most of the kills from the film.
Witchery Trailer: (HD 3:01) Does a nice enough job setting up the action and horror of the movie but probably gives away a bit too much.
Scream! delivers another solid Double Feature disc with 'Ghosthouse' and 'Witchery.' These two films certainly aren't the greatest horror films to come out of the 80s, but they are a fun and effective way to spend a couple hours. Their real strengths come from the strong A/V presentation and each film is in fantastic shape and makes for a fine HD upgrade on Blu-ray. Sadly, the only extra features is a single trailer for each movie. An interview with "The Hoff" would have been a lot of fun, but I guess it just wasn't in the cards. All in all, for the price point and considering these movies are entertaining as all get out, I'm calling this set recommended.