Reviewed for TheBluFile.com by Dustin Putman
(Release Date: June 30, 2015)
Capitalizing on the success of 1983's "The Evil Dead" and 1987's "Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn" (known as "La Casa" and "La Casa 2" in Italy), a pair of unrelated low-budget 1988 horror titles were released in this foreign territory as "La Casa 3" and "La Casa 4." Ultimately, neither one had anything to do with the chainsaw-wielding Ash or a demonic cabin in the woods, and in the U.S. they were put out with the more-appropriate monikers "Ghosthouse" and "Witchery." Now, this unusual, certainly entertaining double-bill of heavy 1980s cheese has found its way to Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory, the invaluable genre imprint of Shout! Factory.
"Ghosthouse," directed by Umberto Lenzi (under the pseudonym Humphrey Humbert), is a bizarre curiosity. It has the feel of a shot-on-video effort, performances that wouldn't pass muster in a Scranton community theatre, and the look of something a notch or two more competent than what surrounds its appearance. Inept yet not without its charms and a few effectively spooky moments, the film casts a hodgepodge of Italian and American actors, dubs some of their voices (even ones that are clearly speaking in English), and tosses in a creepy clown doll and an iconic location (the same house used in Lucio Fulci's "The House By the Cemetery") for good measure. The slim, shakily coherent plot finds a ham radio operator (Greg Scott) and his girlfriend (Lara Wendel) picking up a mysterious audio message that leads them to the place it originatedan abandoned home where a family was killed twenty years earlier under grisly circumstances. Before long, they are stalked by a spectral force that has materialized in the form of a ghostly little girl and her mischievous clown doll. The characters in "Ghosthouse" are total idiots, some of them sticking around at the house even after their own sibling has been brutally killed inside. Their frequent nonchalance is counterbalanced by a loopy, if earnest, tone and a recurring nursery rhyme on the soundtrack that annoys and unsettles equally.
Directed by Fabrizio Laurenti (under the pseudonym Martin Newlin), "Witchery"or "Witchcraft (Evil Encounters)" as it appears on the print used for the Blu-rayis insane in a big way. Just about every single moment is punctuated by an off-kilter awkwardness that earns plenty of laughs, if not many scares. Clumsy production values, a script that sounds as if it was written by someone whose first language was not English, and non-copacetic actors who seem to be performing in their own individual movies are swirled into a uniquely crazy cauldron. At an isolated, long-closed island hotel, the staunchly virginal Leslie (Leslie Cumming, sounding like Patricia Arquette on Quaaludes) performs ground research by sitting in her bedroom and reading a book on witchcraft, while her sexually frustrated photographer boyfriend, Gary (David Hasselhoff), wanders about snapping shots and trying to get under Leslie's shirt. Just as a family arrives on the island to look at the property, the vengeful, black-garbed spirit of a witch (Hildegard Knef) sets out to possess and/or kill the interlopers. From the opening scene of a woman running around with a fake pregnancy cushion clearly seen under her sheer nightgown, to Linda Blair (as expectant mother Jane Brooks) getting yanked into a bathtub time portal (predating "Hot Tub Tim Machine
" by over twenty years), to David Hasselhoff frantically telling Leslie to hurry up and get dressed as she sits there in a neat, head-to-toe ensemble, to an end-credits freeze-frame that is as preposterous as everything that has come before it, "Witchery" has to be seen to be believed. Is the film bumbling and amateurish by conventional standards? Yes. Is it enjoyable all the same? Certainly.
"Ghosthouse" and "Witchery" are not the most prestigious of supernatural slashers, but the prints that Scream Factory has used for this Blu-ray release are in impeccable shape. Almost entirely free of age-related damage and with a healthy, even grain field, these images are first-rate. Detail is strong, clarity is superb, and colors burst with vibrant accuracy. These 1080p transfers are very nearly clean to a fault, and will be worth celebrating for fans. There are very few complaints to be had with their respective 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, as well. Neither will be blowing out anyone's sound system, but they are ably mixed with solid fidelity and a nice balance of music, sound effects and dialogue. In "Ghosthouse" especially, there are moments when ADR is plainly obvious (a few of the actors' voices are dubbed), but this is inherent to the source and as it should sound. The repetitive nursery rhyme heard throughout "Ghosthouse" is very nicely represented in this lossless audio track.
"Ghosthouse" and "Witchery" are examples of truly oddball '80s horror, but how glorious to live in a world where these movies are receiving the lavish high-def treatment! Scream Factory deserves all the praise for rescuing them from obscurity, and while special features are minimal, the excellent picture and sound quality make them worth the upgrade. For fans of out-there, inadvertently asinine, ultimately endearing genre cinema perfect for late-night viewing, the "Ghosthouse"/"Witchery" double-feature Blu-ray comes recommended.