Tuesday, August 14, 2012

WitchTrap (1989)

... aka: Presence, The

Directed by:
Kevin S. Tenney

Some people out there claim this was made with serious intentions and just failed horribly. Others claim that Mr. Tenney wrote it as an intentional camp spoof of his biggest hit, 1986's WITCHBOARD; i.e. it's supposed to be bad. After watching it several times, I actually can't figure out what the original intentions were but I guess that doesn't matter so much. This movie is freakin' hilarious! Things are centered around "Lauter House," a Gothic mansion affectionately known as "Slaughter House" in the area because of a series of mysterious deaths that have occurred there over the past few years. As our film opens, there's about to be yet another one as Las Vegas magician The Amazing Azimov takes a dive into some concrete from a second story window. Cue Cherry Kool-Aid pumping. Devin Lauter (played by the director) owns the big, secluded SoCal mansion, which rests on some prime real estate near some vineyards and a graveyard, and plans on converting it over to a bed and breakfast. The home and property value would be around 5 to 6 million dollars except for one little problem: the sadistic ghost of Devin's late uncle Avery (J.P. Luebsen, the creepy guy from Witchboard) keeps killing off everyone who enters. Avery was a famous psychic and illusionist, a Satanist, a warlock and was also rumored to be a serial killer known as "The Vineyard Slasher." Two years earlier he was found dead in the home with his heart missing.

Devin hires atheist paranormal researcher Dr. Agnes Goldberg (Judy Tatum) to put together a team of psychics and ghost hunters to photograph and exorcise the Lauter House ghost. She brings along her goofy "mental medium" husband Felix (Rob Zapple), reluctant, deeply religious "psychic medium" Whitney O'Shay (Kathleen Bailey) and sexy video technician Ginger Kowowski (Linnea Quigley) to do the job. Forced upon them for protection in case things get out of hand are three rent-a-cops; the greedy head honcho at Q-T Security, Lt. Frank Murphy (Jack W. Thompson), and two of his finest operatives; wisecracking atheist Tony Vicente (James W. Quinn), who'd been kicked off the L.A. police force for his smart mouth, and "walking hard-on with feet" Levi Jackson (Clyde Talley II). Naturally things don't quite go as expected for the seven once they get in the home. For starters, there's a fat peeping tom groundskeeper named Elwin (Hal Havins) lurking around. And then there's Whitney, who's not fully in control of her own abilities so Avery's ghost is able to inhabit her body and use it as a way to strike out at the others using his supernatural powers.

In between the kills there are conflicts between Agnes, who believe ghosts are nothing more than electromagnetic energy, and Whitney, who believes ghosts are the souls of people who has lived and died. And conflicts between Tony, who thinks all of the ghost / haunting stuff is bs, and all of the psychics. And conflicts between Agnes and Tony, who are not religious, and Whitney, who is and thinks everyone who isn't is doomed. And between Tony, who's sick of being treated like crap, and his opportunistic boss. And Elwin and pretty much everyone. Avery needs to complete "the immortality ritual," which involves combining his ashes (it was a stipulation of his will that he be cremated and placed in the home) with his heart (which is located behind a pentagram in the basement), to return to life. First up for slaughter is poor Ginger, who - during the film's most memorable murder sequence - gets stabbed through the neck by a shower head. Linnea adds both spirit and nudity to this picture like she usually does and killing her off near the beginning probably wasn't the wisest decision in the world.

An animated bullet blows a guy's brains out, someone's head gets run over with a car, there's death by axe, an exploding van, an exploding head, a whole sequences that's an optical illusion, a human meltdown, a possession and a "ghost vacuum" (I suppose the "witchtrap" of the title) that sucks up spirits. And there are tons - and I mean tons - of one-liners, usually spouted by Tony. Some of them are pretty amusing, but when they're not, boy are they bad! The sole black character has lines like "Never say spade to a brother." and threatens "I'll tap dance on your face like Bojangles Robinson!" Because of what a huge smart ass Tony is, Agnes asks his boss "Why do you put up with him? Is he married to your sister or do you merely have a soft spot for ill-mannered Troglodytes?" And then there's the all-time classic "I always knew you were a scumbag, but I never knew how scummy a bag you could be." Adding big laughs are some of the worst and most hilariously monotone amateur performances I've ever seen. Most of the cast is pretty awful, aside from Quinn (who shows some promise even though his character is extremely annoying) and Quigley. Quinn also had a small role in Witchboard and provided Angela's demon voice in NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (1988) and its two sequels.

I've always enjoyed the hell out of this movie and consider it a guilty pleasure of mine, but I certainly can't sit here and say that it's good. I also can't really recommend this to most people. Only a specific type of viewer is going to appreciate the strange joys this movie offers. The premise isn't particularly original (borrowing much from the classics THE HAUNTING and THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE), but it is actually competent even if much of the acting and dialogue are not. That - combined with lots of laughs, some cheap gore fx and a dash of nudity - helps to keep this movie reasonably enjoyable.

Originally released on VHS by Magnum. All advertising materials, including posters and the video box had a disclaimer warning potential viewers that it is not a sequel to Witchboard. I'm not sure if they were threatened with a lawsuit or were just scared they would be. After spending years in limbo, this was finally given a DVD and Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome in 2017.



Jared Roberts said...

Great rundown of this puppy. Like you, I have no idea if it was intended seriously or as a spoof. But with Tenney, it never really matters. (Even Witchboard II could be viewed as a spoof. And Pinocchio's Revenge--where to begin?) The dialogue in this movie is brilliant. "Neanderfuck" is still my choice piece.

Anonymous said...

You can get this on dvd-r at www.revok.com

spookyx3 said...

> "Neanderfuck" is still my choice piece.

the ridiculously sarcastic tony vicente character is all i can remember about this movie. i assumed tenney got "neanderfuck" from "stereos and such" on the national lampoon album THAT'S NOT FUNNY, THAT'S SICK! (1977).

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Haven't been to this page for awhile but, since I wrote this review, it was revealed that the sound was screwed up during filming and they had to loop in all of the dialogue later on. I guess that (kind of) explains the stilted, unnatural line deliveries.

Either way, I think that accidentally made this much more entertaining than it otherwise would have been and I wouldn't change a thing!

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Thank you! This movie deserves a bigger cult following. I still throw it on every once in awhile when I'm doing other things around the house just to hear the dialogue. It's been playing before when people have stopped by and they're always like "WTF?" and I'm like "I don't care. This is great!"

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