Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Witchcraft (1988)

...aka: Witch and Warlock

Directed by:
Robert Spera

One of the most baffling of mysteries is how something as bland, derivative and forgettable as Witchcraft managed to spawn not one, not two, not three, but twelve sequels to date, making it one of the most resilient horror film franchises of the past thirty years. And I cannot really answer that question except to say all of these film were cheaply made and adequately filled up space on video store shelves during their heyday. There's clearly less of a demand for these movies nowadays as they've stopped making them. Anat Topol-Barzilai (the daughter of Israeli-born Fiddler on the Roof star Topol) plays Grace, a Polish (?) emigre who thinks she's lucked out snagging filthy rich businessman John Churchill (Gary Sloan). While delivering their first child, Grace has visions of a witch burning. Afterward, her husband takes her and their child William to temporarily stay with his mother Elizabeth (Mary Shelley) in the family mansion.

Almost immediately, Grace begins to suspect something is up. Her nightmares (including one where her mother-in-law eats a dead dog) continue, John no longer gives her the attention (or sex) he once used to, Elizabeth forbids her to going into the attic, a mute butler named Ellsworth (Lee Kissman) lurks around and a priest who was supposed to baptize her baby gets sick and eventually hangs himself. It all has something to do with a witch and a warlock who died three-hundred years earlier, but this movie doesn't even really pretend to mask its origins. Pace for pace this is little more than a retread of ROSEMARY'S BABY, right down to the strange old people congregating in the living room, the backstabbing husband and a trusted elder giving the unsuspecting mother drugged tea. You'll certainly gain more from revisiting Polanski's film than you will by watching this one... even if you've already seen it a dozen times.

Aside from being predictable, mawkish and derivative, the dialogue is hokey, the performances are highly uneven (leaning toward bad), the visual effects are chintzy and the movie fails to build any tension or suspense. On a technical level, it's made with enough basic skill to be watchable if you've got nothing better to do, but it's still just not very good. One of the few bright spots is the supporting performance from Deborah Scott as Grace's kooky best friend Linda, who also incidentally gets the best death scene. Scott is, I believe, married to the director and now uses the professional name Deborah Spera.

The only sequel I'll for sure be covering here is WITCHCRAFT II: THE TEMPTRESS (1989), which follows up on the teenage years of baby William and reuses some footage from this one. The others are Witchcraft III: The Kiss of Death (1991), Witchcraft IV: The Virgin Heart (1992), Witchcraft V: Dance with the Devil (1993), Witchcraft 6: The Devil's Mistress (1994), Witchcraft 7: Judgement Hour (1995), Witchcraft 8 Salem's Ghost (1996), Witchcraft IX: Bitter Flesh (1997), Witchcraft X: Mistress of the Craft (1998), Witchcraft XI: Sisters in Blood (2000), Witchcraft XII: In the Lair of the Serpent (2002) and Witchcraft 13: Blood of the Chosen (2008).

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