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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Blu-ray Review
Witchboard  (1986)
Reviewed by Dustin Putman

The Film
3 Stars
(Release Date: February 4, 2014) – Two years before Kevin Tenney's cult hit "Night of the Demons," he made his auspicious directorial debut with "Witchboard," a low-budget horror-mystery playing upon the superstitious fears that often come with messing with Ouija boards and the occult. The premise is fairly straightforward, but includes an intriguing investigational component and some unexpectedly affecting character work to go along with its sparse but jolting kills. When Linda (Tawny Kitaen) is introduced at a party to Brandon's (Stephen Nichols) Ouija board—and the 10-year-old boy ghost connected to it—she becomes increasingly drawn to its abilities the more she plays with it. As her personality slowly begins to change , a series of terrible accidents start occurring around her and skeptical boyfriend Jim (Todd Allen). Putting their differences aside, former best pals Brandon and Jim must band together to find a way to save Linda and banish the evil spirit who has latched onto her.

"Witchboard" is cheesy goodness in all the right ways. Mid-1980s hair and fashions look rather silly nearly thirty years removed from the era, but if nothing else it serves as an amusing stylistic time capsule. Moving past this, the film is largely well-made, building upon a creepily enthralling backstory and full of savvy atmospheric touches (an extended tracking shot in a cemetery approaches arty brilliance). As the stakes are raised, the plot narrows in on the tortured friendship between Brandon and Jim, whose troubles go beyond their love of the same woman. That director Kevin Tenney takes the time for his characters (including Kathleen Wilhoite's supremely offbeat jokester psychic Zarabeth) while never losing sight of the movie's genre roots helps the outcome immeasurably. The possession climax is perhaps too campy for its own good, but before this third-act guffaw, "Witchboard" holds one in rapt, chilling attention. Besides, any '80s movie with a song as irresistibly catchy as Steel Breeze's "Bump in the Night" is one that is difficult to resist.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

Short of a top-to-bottom 2K scan rehaul of the original camera negatives, "Witchboard" looks mighty attractive in 1080p high definition, signifying a major leap forward from the film's previous DVD release. For a low-budget horror pic from 1986, the source material appears healthy and (mostly) clean, with only the occasional errant speck of dirt and a boosted haziness during scenes involving fog. Save for these debits, there is no denying the amount of detail and natural coloring and tone displayed in the image. Audio-wise, only a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track is provided—and that is perfectly fine. Sounding entirely accurate and even active in its mix, the disc's lack of a lossless 5.1 channel is barely noticeable at all and won't be missed.

Blu-ray Features
Audio Commentary with writer-director Kevin Tenney and actors Stephen Nichols, Kathleen Wilhoite and James Quinn; Audio Commentary with Kevin Tenney, producer Gerald Geoffray and executive producer Walter Josten; "Progressive Entrapment: The Making of 'Witchboard'" (45:41, HD); Vintage featurettes: "The Making of 'Witchboard'" (6:54, HD), "Vintage Cast Interviews" (20:15, HD), "On Set with Todd Allen and Stephen Nichols" (19:56, HD), "On Set with the Makers of 'Witchboard'" (19:59, HD), "Life on the Set" (20:13, HD), "Constructing the World of 'Witchboard'" (21:14, HD); Outtakes (6:18, HD); Behind the Scenes Gallery (13:52, HD); Promo Gallery (3:37, HD)

Bottom Line
"Witchboard" has its passionate supporters—most of them audience members who grew up in the '80s and saw it at an impressionable age—but this terrific Scream Factory Blu-ray release will no doubt be converting a whole new generation of fans. An under-the-radar gem given new life in high-def, it is difficult to envision a better version of this title ever seeing the home video market. With good-looking A/V quality and more extras than one can shake a stick at—think two commentary tracks, a 45-minute documentary, and behind-the-scenes featurettes up the wazoo—the only grievance to be had is why Scream Factory didn't label this as one in their "Collector's Edition" series. Indeed, its expansive extras provide nearly five hours of additional content on top of the movie itself. The "Witchboard" Blu-ray is worthy of an unequivocal recommendation. Buy it.

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© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman