‘Witchboard’ Is a Campy Horror Picture Rich With ‘80s Excess


Witchboard has been on my mind even more than usual of late. The film observed a release date anniversary on March 13th and a remake is gearing up for release later this year. Although Kevin Tenney’s supernatural chiller doesn’t get everything right, Witchboard makes the very most of a limited budget. The film delivers supernatural shenanigans laced with an eerie atmosphere while simultaneously serving up a healthy dose of campy fun. And sometimes that combination just hits the spot. 

Witchboard sees lovebirds Linda (video vixen Tawny Kitaen) and Jim (Todd Allen of Django Unchained) throwing a house party for a motley assortment of guests. Amongst the attendees is Linda’s smug ex-boyfriend Brandon (Stephen Nichols, House (1985)). Brandon gets his kicks by belittling others and communicating with the dead. So, he naturally brings his spirit board to the party. When the dynamic between Jim and Brandon reaches the level of outright hostility, Linda suggests the partygoers have a crack at Brandon’s Ouija board.

Brandon and Linda conjure the spirit of a young boy called David who proves to have something of a nasty temper. But that doesn’t deter Linda. She rather enjoys communicating with the other side and continues to use the board after the party ends. What begins as a harmless parlor game takes a sinister turn when Linda develops an unhealthy connection to the board. Aspects of her personality begin to change and harm begins befalling those around her. 

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As I mentioned previously, Witchboard doesn’t get everything right. But few films do. So, I would much rather set the picture’s shortcomings aside and spend this time speaking about what makes Witchboard so memorable.

Even though it’s a bit stilted, the acting is one of the most memorable aspects of this picture. Most of the cast plays it way too straight, which makes the proceedings read as a little quirky at times. But that serves to add to the film’s charm. There are some great exchanges as Linda is becoming possessed by the spirit attached to Brandon’s Ouija board. We begin to see her mannerisms change drastically as she goes from mild-mannered, unassuming, and perfectly proper to swearing like a sailor. Watching that play out is often comical, in part because of how wholeheartedly Kitaen commits to the transformation. 

Although it feels as if some cast members don’t always completely understand the kind of film they are in, that’s not true across the board. There is one character who is absolutely aware of what type of film this is and she has the most fun with it. Kathleen Wilhoite chews up the scenery in her turn as eccentric medium Zarabeth. And Witchboard is better because of her. The Zarabeth character brings the kind of playful energy the film is sometimes lacking and gives the audience the green light to laugh along with her zany antics. In fact, I am going to go out on a limb and say she’s one of my favorite tertiary characters from ‘80s horror. 

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In addition to serving up plenty of quirky charm, the film also offers a hefty dose of ‘80s nostalgia. The picture is an unmistakable product of its time and is likely to endear itself to anyone fond of ‘80s excess. Some of the most memorable examples of nostalgia for the decade that introduced us to Madonna include but are certainly not limited to characters smoking indoors, antiquated slang, answering machines, gratuitous display of chest hair, excessive amounts of costume jewelry, and press-on nails. Heck yes! 

Aside from serving as a nostalgia goldmine, the film also features a few good scares. There’s a great sequence where Linda finds herself trapped in the apartment she shares with Jim when objects begin levitating. It’s not a terribly expensive sequence but it serves to establish atmosphere without a lot of costly overhead.  

The aforementioned scene (along with several others) is helped with the assistance of a great score by Dennis Michael Tenney (Night of the Demons). The musical accompaniment is simplistic but very effective. Though the picture may not have had endless monetary resources, the moments of quiet tension are nicely enhanced by Tenney’s score. 

All things considered, Witchboard isn’t a perfect movie. But it does a lot with a little by delivering some quality scares accompanied by a strong score. The flick also serves up plenty of camp for those who enjoy a bit of scenery chewing. Not to mention, the entire ordeal is steeped in ‘80s excess. If you’re curious to check the film out or would like to revisit it in advance of the impending release of the remake, you can find Witchboard streaming on about half a dozen ad-supported VOD platforms as of the publication of this post. 



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