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.



spookyx3 said...

agreed with everything you said here. i'm just pleased whenever i find HD horrors from these years i haven't seen yet. and this disc has two of 'em. double feature with GHOSTHOUSE.

> Catherine Hickland - Hasselhoff's wife at the time

after they divorced she married a guy called michael knight -- hasselhoff's character in KNIGHT RIDER!

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I had Witchery playing in the background a few months ago while I was doing other things and would occasionally look up at the screen. I still can't get over the fact they used unfinished 2x4's for the witches lair and didn't even bother trying to disguise that or at LEAST paint it black or something. That's one of the strangest lazy things I've seen in a medium budget movie.

And that's crazy about Hickland! It looks like Hasselhoff met BOTH of his wives on the set of Knight Rider. Hickland was on it two years before they married and his second wife Pamela Bach was on four years before *they* married. Surprised he didn't make a go at one of the girls on Baywatch. lol

spookyx3 said...

started this one kinda late and was mentally somewhere else for much of the running time. recognized annie ross' voice but couldn't place her until i dredged up "ripping the faces off people may not be in your best interest!" (BASKET CASE 2)

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Ross was a child actress then became a respected jazz singer and then started doing mainstream TV and studio movies in the UK and then came to the U.S. and was acting in low budget horror movies before landing prominent roles in three Oscar-nominated films in a row and then, poof, she's gone. I thought she was pretty great in the Basket Case sequels. I loved that they even gave her a musical number in Part 3! She also dubbed a lot of actresses and even performed that memorable song Britt Ekland's character "sings" in The Wicker Man. Very interesting career really. I'll need to re-watch the Basket sequels at some point. The original is one of my favorite 80s movies.

spookyx3 said...

SHORT CUTS was the other one i couldn't think of. guess i should know her from lambert, hendricks & ross, but i'm more of a piano/avant/free-jazz guy. got these and FRANKENHOOKER on my re-watch list!

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I also need to re-watch / review Frankenhooker, though I pretty vividly remember quite a bit of it. I also remember the video box where you pushed the button and it played some of Frankenhooker's catch phrases. They wouldn't let me rent it at Blockbuster as a kid and had it in their paltry little "adult" section, which wasn't porn, of course, but for "Hard R" and "unrated" stuff. It's amazing what assholes the MPAA were to horror directors back then.

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