Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, May 25, 2009

La casa 4 (Witchcraft) (1988)

...aka: Evil Dead 4
...aka: Evil Encounters
...aka: Ghosthouse 2
...aka: Malefiche presenze
...aka: Return of the Exorcist
...aka: Witchcraft
...aka: Witchery

Directed by:
Fabrizio Laurenti

There are many different versions of this one floating around, so make sure you can locate one of the unrated copies, otherwise some gore and one scene of nudity might be missing. Some versions also omit most of the opening sequence and other bits here and there. The cut I saw has the on-screen title WITCHCRAFT: EVIL ENCOUNTERS and was released by Shriek Show, who maintain the original US release title WITCHERY for the DVD release. It's a nice-looking print and seems to have all of the footage, but has some cropping/aspect ratio issues. In Italy, it was released as LA CASA 4 (WITCHCRAFT). The first two LA CASA releases were actually the first two EVIL DEAD films (retitled) and the third LA CASA was another film by the same production company (Filmirage), which is best known here in America as GHOSTHOUSE. To make matters even more confusing, WITCHERY was also released elsewhere as GHOSTHOUSE 2. Except in Germany, where GHOSTHOUSE 2 is actually THE OGRE: DEMONS 3. OK, I better just shut up now. I'm starting to confuse myself!

Regardless of the title, this is a very hit-or-miss horror effort. Some of it is good, some of it isn't. I actually was into this film for the first half or so, but toward the end it became a senseless mess. A large, vacant hotel located on an island about 50 miles from Boston is the setting, as various people get picked off one-by-one by a German- speaking witch (Hildegard Knef). Photographer Gary (David Hasselhoff), who wants to capture "Witch Light," and his virginal writer girlfriend (Leslie Cumming), who is studying witchcraft, are shacking up at the hotel without permission. Along comes real estate agent Jerry (Rick Farnsworth), who's showing off the property to potential buyers Rose (Annie Ross) and Freddie (Robert Champagne) Brooks. Also tagging along are their children; pregnant grown daughter Jane (Linda Blair) and very young son Tommy (Michael Manchester), as well as oversexed architect Linda Sullivan (Catherine Hickland - Hasselhoff's wife at the time). Once everyone is inside, their boat driver is killed (hung) and the boat disappears, so they find themselves trapped and basically at the mercy of the "Lady in Black."

So what can you expect to find here? Plenty of unpleasantries! One of the characters has their lips sewn shut and is then hung upside down in the fireplace and accidentally slow-roasted by the rest of the cast. There's also a crucifixion, witches eating a dead baby, a swordfish through the head, someone set on fire, a possession, a Sesame Street tape recorder, the virgin getting raped by some demon, a guys veins bulging and exploding thanks to voodoo doll pokes and some other stuff. From a technical standpoint, it's a nice-looking film with pretty good cinematography, a decent score and good gore effects. The hotel/island setting is also pretty nice. Blair (particularly at the end) and Ross both seem like they're having fun and Knef is great as the evil witch. Even though people like to ridicule Hasselhoff these days, he's not bad in his role, either.

On the down side, despite all the gore, the film seems somewhat dull and it gets monotonous after about an hour. The supernatural themes are muddled and confusing, too. When characters are being swept into the witches lair to be tortured and killed, the filmmakers unwisely decided to superimpose the screaming actors over some silly looking red spiral vortex effect that looks supremely cheesy. And the witch lair itself is vacant and cheaply designed with unfinished lumber. And while most of the cast is at least decent, a few of the performances (particularly the "actress" who plays Hasselhoff's girlfriend and the kid) are so bad they're constantly distracting.

★★

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