MARCH 12, 2013
The first Witchboard was one of the first horror movies I ever saw, and I was happy to discover it mostly held up when I revisited it at the New Beverly a few years back. I saw the first sequel in the mid 90s at some point thanks to a free Showtime preview (we had HBO for a while but otherwise, premium services weren't usually in our budget), and remember thinking it was OK (my then-crush on Ami Dolenz was probably a big factor, however), but never got around to bothering with the 3rd film, Witchboard III: The Possession (onscreen title lacks the III, for the record) until now. It didn't take long for me to realize I probably should have kept it that way.
I've certainly seen worse movies, but godDAMN is this a chore. I think there are four death scenes in the entire movie, with the rest of it nothing more than the two main characters looking at each other or arguing. This time, a guy named Brian (not me) who was playing with the Ouija to obtain stock tips (how do ghosts know the future?) gets possessed by some demon thing, with his real self trapped in a mirror. Now he's all suave, pulling his curly hair back into a Seagal style 'do and trying to get his wife Julie into a threeway, which worries her. And that's pretty much it; our heroine spends most of the movie mildly concerned about why her husband is acting more manly (he also brings her roses, makes love to her more frequently, etc - apart from the threeway thing, it's mostly a bonus for her), until she finally decides to investigate, i.e. use the damn Ouija board, which leads her to the mirror.
So really it's a haunted mirror movie where a Ouija gets to help out a bit - Paranormal Activity could have been a Witchboard sequel too, using this film's logic. There is no relation to the others at all, which is odd considering original creator Kevin Tenney had a hand in the script. For starters, there's no mystery at all - no murder to solve or anything; the demon just possesses the guy and that's that. The rules seem different, there's no real humor, and again the board is barely even a factor for most of the movie; if Tenney's name wasn't on it I'd be convinced they just slapped the title on an unrelated movie in order to get someone to pay attention to it. I understand the need to mix it up a bit when you're on your third installment, but why drop the things that made the original interesting in favor of a bland possession story where almost no one we know is in danger? The majority of the deaths are no one we care about (a loan shark?) and even when possessed Brian doesn't seem to harbor any ill will toward Julie, who is our heroine - there's just no tension or suspense whatsoever in this thing.
Plus it's a 90s horror movie, which means hideous CGI effects involving souls (or ghosts) flying around and things exploding into balls of light for some reason. Obviously some folks knew how to use this (then) new tech properly, but sadly most seemingly did not, making these things age worse than necessary and further demonstrating why these sort of applications should be treated like advanced weaponry: you'll need training, a waiting period, etc to obtain them to ensure they will be used for good. I swear, some of this stuff looks like the visual effects team were just guessing as they attempted to use the program for the first time. At least they were smart enough to have a practical demon for the climax, though he's "aided" by so many CGI effects (the floating planchette in particular is horrendous) that it barely even matters, especially when it's the finale to just a boring movie anyway.
The most entertaining aspect of the entire thing was wondering when they'd pay off the hilariously clunky foreshadowing regarding Brian's shellfish allergy. Early on, Julie's pal brings her some, and she bemoans about how she can never have any at the house because of his allergy. "I didn't know Brian was allergic to shellfish!" her friend exclaims, as if the medical histories of acquaintances was something people should be privy to. And then Julie explains what will happen to him if he eats it, so of course eventually he will eat it (though it would be hilarious if all of this was merely the screenwriter's ridiculous way of fleshing out his characters), it's just a matter of WHEN. It takes over an hour to pay off, however; if I hadn't laughed so hard at the inane setup I probably would have forgotten about it by the time it came up again.
The director, one Peter Svatek, went on to make the decent (but equally cheap) Bleeders, and then a bunch of TV movies before seemingly landing in the world of documentary filmmaking. It should be a fine fit for him; Witchboard III often feels like raw documentary footage - just a bunch of stuff that happens during the course of a week or so, except if it was a doc eventually it would have been shaped into something interesting. Honestly, I think Candyman may be the only horror series in my lifetime that had a greater decline in quality from part 1 to 3. Oh, and I couldn't find a trailer, so here's someone's video review, which currently only has two views. I haven't even watched it but I know it deserves more than that, since at least three people have seen Witchboard III (me, him, and my friend Matt, who tried to warn me).
What say you?