JUNE 3, 2009
GENRE: HAUNTED HOUSE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REVIVAL SCREENING)
While Witchboard was the real draw for most people, I was actually more interested in Witchtrap (aka The Presence), as I had never seen it. And since it didn’t start til almost 11 pm, it also presented me with a challenge - if I slept through it all, I’d have no movie for the day since Witchboard didn’t count. Well, I am proud to say I met about 90% of that challenge (less proud to admit the part I dozed through involved a guy getting run over by his own car, Maximum Overdrive style).
Kevin Tenney certainly set the bar low for the film, repeatedly mocking it during his introduction before Witchboard and during the Q&A in between the films. But really, I don’t think it’s all that bad. Sure, it suffers from some bad acting and takes a while to get going, but that’s hardly unique to this particular genre. And it has a great lead performance by James W. Quinn (who also popped up in Witchboard), some pretty nifty/gory deaths, and a howlingly bad cameo performance from Tenney himself. Plus, as the saying goes, no movie featuring the line “Well scratch my balls!” can be altogether bad.
Back to Quinn though, this guy is terrific. He’s playing a wise-ass ex-cop who never opens his mouth without insulting someone, but can do the hero stuff too (albeit while getting a bit ass-kicked; think Fletch crossed with Ashley J Williams). His comebacks are comic gold, as are some of his more obscure comebacks (when someone mentions that they never found the bad guy’s heart, he quips “San Francisco is nearby, maybe he left it there.”). Also, as the entire movie was ADR (the source audio was destroyed, or something), he is one of the few actors in the film to still sound natural; I never would have guessed these great lines were recorded in a booth months later.
I can’t say the same for some of the other actors, particularly Judy Tatum as one of the mediums. It’s a shame (for the film) that her character is saddled with most of the exposition, because she isn’t quite up to the task for the ADR work. I don’t mean she can’t stay in sync with her mouth (everyone actually does quite good with that), I mean she just sounds flat, like someone who can’t speak English saying their lines phonetically. She’s clearly not much of an actress anyway, but this just sinks her. On the plus side, some of her more random lines come across as even funnier than they would be had they been delivered properly (her character frequently hypothesizes or jumps to conclusions on unknown matters, so when she sees a girl who was killed in the shower, she somehow assumes that the ghost “probably raped her as well”).
Speaking of the shower death, that belongs to Linnea Quigley (hence the nudity). She gets a shower head to the neck, which leaves a giant hole (sharp edges on that round thing, I guess). We also have an exploding head, a bullet to the head (the ghost “shoots” it at the guy), an axe to the head... come to think of it, every death in this movie is based on the head being inflicted somehow. That is, with the exception of guy in the opening scene, who suffers cinema’s longest railing kill (we see him go over like 6 different times - and in 6 completely different positions in relation to the railing) before crashing to the ground below, presumably shattering his bones and destroying his vital organs. It’s hard to tell, because while the gore in the rest of the movie is quite good, the blood guy totally botched this one - the blood appears to be pooling TOWARD the guy’s body as it leaks from an offscreen source. It’s a charmingly inept sight.
But that’s what the movie has: charm. I’ve seen a lot of bad horror movies*, and this is certainly a bad movie in the traditional sense. But what separates it from something like Wolfman is charm. Everyone seems to be having a good time, the story is silly but solidly told (i.e. it’s not incomprehensible), and it gives the viewer 6 or 7 great deaths to enjoy. No one is out to win any awards, and the light comedic tone, save for some occasional character beats (some of which, we later learned, were added in during post to give the film a contract-required 90 minute runtime), is consistent throughout the film.
Tenney came back for a rare 2nd Q&A after the movie, joined by Quinn and J.P. Luebsen (and a producer whose name I cannot recall, sorry!), where he explained about the audio and some of the other things I mentioned. He also mentioned that, sadly, it is not on DVD. Tenney said he would look into it after discovering that there is an appreciative audience for the film (it played just as well as Witchboard did, as far as I could tell). VHS copies exist, some of which apparently have a disclaimer that the film is NOT a sequel to Witchboard, despite throwing Luebsen in his Malfeitor makeup on the cover (not the worst case of false advertising; Luebsen at least appears in Witchtrap, albeit as another character), but I assume they aren’t easy to find. Hopefully the DVD will happen; if nothing else, fans of actors like Nathan Fillion and Bruce Campbell should enjoy Quinn's similarly “charming asshole” performance.
What say you?
*More than one person (two, in fact) has suggested I compile either the 365 best or 365 worst HMAD movies for a book, the type you read in the bathroom or get as a gift for a family member that “likes movies” and you can’t think of anything meaningful to buy him/her. While I would certainly do more than just copy/paste the original review, would you buy such a thing when you can get the gist of the content for free? And why am I asking this as a footnote to a review for one of the more obscure movies I’ve reviewed all year?