Friday, November 28, 2014

Witchboard (1986)

Cheesy demonic 80s horror with freudian undertones 

You'd better know this typical horror slasher was made in the 80s by the Night of the Demons Director Kevin S. Tenney and has a cult following among 80s Horror fans. This review however is different - it talks a lot about the rather stupid plot, has plenty of spoilers  and a rather unusual Freudian commentary that's either gonna amuse or irritate you. 

Ok, so here it goes. Our Heroine Linda (the Whitesnake videos babe Tawny Kitaen), who has enormous hair, is caught in a love triangle between her current boyfriend Jim (Todd Allen) who looks a little like Dennis Quaid and ex-beau Brandon (Stephen Nichols), a sensitive 80s man who believes in spirits, cries a lot, and wears his shirts unbuttoned to the navel. 

One day, Brandon breaks out a ouija board at a party to converse with the departed, but the boorish Jim makes sarcastic comments about it until nobody can tolerate him. Jim considers becoming a believer when an aggravated spirit drops a slab of drywall on his Eddie-Van-Halen-alike construction worker buddy, but when his girlfriend takes to swearing he really starts to wonder what the fuck is going on. Brandon thinks the spirit is that of a ten-year-old boy named David but later on it appears David's time-sharing the ouija board with Malfeitor, a mass murderer. This madman is using Linda as a "portal." Linda becomes addicted to the ouija board and ends up succumbing to "progressive entrapment" she quits going to school and neglects her personal hygiene. 

Meanwhile, an irritating psychic is skewered on a sundial. Jim and Brandon are struck with barrels and fall into a lake. Linda locks herself in a room and sways back and forth violently. Finally Jim decides he's had enough of this and corners the possessed Linda. They fight for a while until a detective who always wanted to be a magician comes in wielding a gun and is promptly killed. Then it turns out Jim, not Linda, is the "portal" - unless Malfeitor is lying  so Jim shoots the ouija board and this fixes the problem. 

Okay, so the ouija board is the portal. Wait, who's the portal again? So the movie's a tad confusing, but it's good b-movie fun. There's a nice meta-fictive moment when Jim - exasperated with Brandon's don't-you-think-I-know-how-crazy-this-sounds insistence that Linda's on the road to demonic possession - says sarcastically, "so what you're telling me is that I'm married to Linda Blair". But it seems to me equal parts slasher movie and possession story since the offending entity here is a mad killer and not a demon of some sort. It's even a Reefer Madness-type angle, since much of the film is clumsily concerned with the pitfalls of obsessiveness and addiction. 

One can also argue that Jim's emotional coldness is "closed" and that Linda's excessive warmth and compassion is "open," and through the ordeal they endure they are, respectively, "opened up" and "closed off" to a "compromise point" - Jim becomes more sensitive, Linda more assertive although you can make a sound argument that Witchboard's writing is a little too scattered to convey this point seamlessly. Linda might be "open" but in a more Freudian sense she's pretty "closed" - chaste to a fault, she starts the movie in virginal white, refuses to have sex with Jim when he pisses her off, and doesn't cuss. Maybe this is because Witchboard combines the slasher and occult/possession stories. 

In slashers, the Final Girl is "closed" (chaste, rational, observant, proactive rather than reactive), which enables her to avoid being "penetrated" (i.e., punctured) by the killer. In possession stories, the possessee tends to be more "open" (intuitive, in tune with the spiritual realm, empathic, what have you), which makes her more vulnerable to other-worldly "penetration" (i.e., possession) and makes sure there's a story to be told. Although Jim is pretty clearly "opened," then, what Linda represents is far less clear since she has to bear the contradiction when the movie chooses to combine two horror sub-genres that are largely at odds with one another. 

Seeing is believing this classic horror 80s gem. Watch it and let us know what you think.


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