It's called a Ouija Board, and it's been used for thousands of years to communicate with the souls of the afterworld. For beautiful Linda Brewster (infamous 80s vixen Tawny Kitaen), it brings the playful ghost of a dead ten-year-old boy. But when the friendly spirit develops a sudden taste for violent murder and demonic possession, Linda's skeptical boyfriend (Todd Allen) and her former lover (Stephen Nichols of General Hospital and Days Of Our Lives) must race to destroy this ferocious portal of the damned. This is no game; this is Witchboard!
To be perfectly honest, the only real reason 'Witchboard' continues to be released on various home video formats and has maintained a lasting interest for nearly thirty years is not due to the plot or that it is scary. In truth, this 1986 independent horror flick is the furthest from making audiences fear the dark or come close to giving any misgivings about playing with harmless board games. Personally, the movie survives because it satisfies, even if only mildly, every guy's fantasy of potentially seeing the gorgeous Tawny Kitaen naked. She doesn't exactly pull a full monty, but for male viewers who ogled the bombshell of the Ratt album covers and Whitesnake videos, the shower scene where she's attacked by a stubborn showerhead offers enough to appease boyhood imaginations.
Silly as it sounds, it's difficult to imagine any other reason for the movie's continued appeal. Otherwise, we'd be forced to admit the plot about a possessed parlor game actually gives us the heebie-jeebies. For male teens and pretty much every healthy, virile guy with eyes in the 1980s, seeing Kitaen move from MTV videos to the silver screen was ultimately the main incentive — or more like an abashed apology. Although she had already made appearances in two previous features, 'The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak' — where she shows a bit more skin — and 'Bachelor Party,' it's this laughable cheese-fest that really feels more like her big-screen debut. As the ridiculously naïve Linda, Kitaen reveals some range and talent. She's more than just a pair of legs, guys!
Granted, her Linda is really nothing more than a damsel in distress to the nth degree, always in need of a man to save her, and often acting as if hopelessly incapable of thinking for herself. Bordering on the near chauvinistic, she's also the object of affection, the main reason for the split of two childhood chums, Jim (a stiffly melodramatic Todd Allen) and Brandon (a uninterestingly wooden Stephen Nichols). Naïvely, she brings more strain and stress to her relationship with Jim by also being BFFs with Brandon, but unsurprisingly, the two boys can overcome their high-school drama when Linda starts showing signs of demonic possession, which is where Kitaen displays some talent. Of course, Kitaen remains a lovely sight, especially when she turns all evil and like in a fedora hat and suit, but she's nevertheless good at making mischievous, murderous eyes.
When it's all said and done, Kitaen is not the only reason for this movie's existence, and maybe to a very small extent its continued following. Written and directed by Kevin S. Tenney, who later followed this up with the far superior 'Night of the Demons (1988),' the film's true conceit is, of course, the Ouija board — or oui-ja, as in combining the French and German words for the English "yes," which Brandon annoyingly corrects everyone about, making his eventual demise (no, that's not spoiler) more of a relief than a misfortune. Anyhow, according to Tenney's script, the board game apparently can function as a conduit for pairing malevolent spirits with beautiful airhead who was told several times not to play alone. But this being a horror flick where having brains or the ability to think critically is not a requisite, our main protagonist fails to heed the warnings.
Other than Kitaen and the silliness of generating scares surrounding a game, 'Witchboard' is memorable, for me at least, for Kathleen Wilhoite's performance. As a secondrate Cyndi Lauper soothsayer, which is more of a complaint than it sounds, Wilhoite is arguably the most amusing aspect of the production with her silly jokes and remarks about her profession. She's critical to the plot only in that she's the first to figure out what really going on with the Ouija and sets the two frenemies in the right path for solving the mystery. However, they piece everything together in the most ridiculously convenient way, yet those final moments where Jim makes a split decision are so unintentionally funny that I'm almost tempted to recommend the movie to anyone with the stomach for it. After the gorgeous Tawny Kitaen's scenes, of course.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'Witchboard' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside the normal blue case with a DVD-9 copy on the opposing panel. At startup, the disc goes to a generic main menu selection on the left side with music and full-motion clips.
The possessed Ouija bewitches Blu-ray with a great-looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that completely blows away previous home video editions. Although several sequences are a tad on the soft side, overall definition and resolution are a dramatic improvement, showing plenty of sharp fine lines in the architecture and clothing. Objects in the background are distinct, and facial complexions appear natural with good visible texture, even in the flawless Tawny Kitaen. The source for this HD transfer is in excellent condition, offering beautifully vibrant and cleanly-rendered colors throughout. The 1.78:1 image also comes with a well-balanced contrast and brightness, providing lots of crisp whites, accurate blacks and strong shadow delineation for a movie of this vintage and quality.
The supernatural horror flick continues its curse with an equally great DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack. It's not mind-blowingly impressive, but it's light years ahead of what fans had heard before. Despite a tinge of hissing here and there, activity in the background is intelligible throughout, giving the lossless mix a strong sense of space and presence. Thanks to a clean and nicely detailed mid-range, music is fairly wide with good clarity in the instrumentation. Action scenes, however, feel a bit narrow and hollow although low bass is appropriate and weighty for a movie of this age. Vocals are crisp and precise in the center, making this a very nice high-rez track that fans will appreciate.
Although its main conceit about a haunted Ouija board is ultimately silly, 'Witchboard' provides the sort of corniness that some love in their bad movies. However, the best part of the whole production is Tawny Kitaen looking as lovely as ever and satisfying some childhood fantasies. The Blu-ray arrives with a surprisingly good and much-appreciated audio and video presentation. A hefty collection of bonuses add some value to the overall package, making it worth the price for fans and collector's.