"They've got a bunch of legends about this island–witches and rainbows and shit."
Shine on, you crazy witch light.
Long have I lamented the fact that witches are not represented enough in horror cinema for my liking. (It seems there will soon be an upswing? If nothing else, horror loves a trend, and The Witch's success will surely start one.) I look around and see masked jerks killing teens, vampires doing their thing, giant-sized computer animals being hokey and I cry: where my witches at?
The Italians usually know what's up with this sort of thing (hi, Suspiria), so when I found a copy of Witchery I was perhaps inordinately excited when I discovered that it's a Filmirage production. Yes, Filmirage, the Italian production company founded by sleazemeister Joe D'Amato (director of Anthropophagus, Buio Omega, Hercules: A Sex Adventure, and approximately 200 more cine-delights) that bestowed upon the world Stage Fright, Pieces, and Troll 2. As if that wasn't enough to bring my anticipation to a fever pitch, well, Witchery features Linda Blair and David Hasselhoff. Surely my love story with this movie would be written in the stars!
Witchery definitely started off on the right foot, with a pregnant woman running from a bunch of black-clad, sickle-wielding dudes. Rather than submit to whatever it is they have planned, she busts through a window to what one presumes is her death. Listen, I love a good defenestration, so any move that features one a mere three minutes in is fine by me.
We crash into the now and Jane (Linda Blair) is saved from being splatted by a falling steel girder when a mysterious Lady in Black flashes a crystal in her eyes. "Phew! Close one," thinks Jane, probably. Jane is about eight months into what is surely a Chekov's pregnancy...I mean, there's no reason for her to be pregnant unless her unborn baby is going to figure into things later, yes? Duh. Also worth noting in this scene: the hard hat with "STICK IT IN" written on it.
Meanwhile, Gary (David Hasselhoff) and his girlfriend Leslie (Leslie Cumming) are in an abandoned hotel on a desolate island researching the "witch's light." Could it be the shining crystal sported by the Lady in Black? SPOILER: YES OF COURSE. Why are they researching this phenomenon? Leslie says she's translating some German book that's hundreds of years old, although frankly I'm a little dubious because Leslie can barely string two words together. Attempting to decipher Leslie's dialogue is a terrific mini-game you can play whilst watching Witchery; bonus points if you can figure out whether she's sedated or just an egregiously bad actress. (Seriously–say what you will about Hasselhoff but oh, how he vainly tried to act with his co-star. The John Barrowman/What's-Her-Name dynamic of Shark Attack III: Megalodon came to mind.)
Gary tries to cuddle up with his girl, but Leslie ain't having it–not even when he tries to shame her with "Virginity is not normal for a grown woman!" Hmm. Surely what we have here is Chekov's virgin, right? SPOILER: YES OF COURSE.
But if you're worried that Leslie's virginity means there won't be any sexnanigans in the movie, well this image should satiate you:
Yes, that is supposed to be sexy. It's real estate agent/architect (they're the same thing, practically) Linda (Catherine Hickland), who is on her way to Witch Light Island. Also worth noting: Catherine Hickland was married to David Hasselhoff when they made this film! Also also worth noting: they divorced soon after it was released. Was it because of the witch's curse? SPOILER: LET'S ALL ASSUME THIS IS THE CASE.
Jane is also on her way to Witch Light Island, along with her father, her stepmother, her little brother, and yet another real estate agent. They family wants to buy the abandoned hotel in the hope of opening a swanky resort. But what of the island's mysterious Lady in Black? She's everywhere (and nowhere!), appearing in broken windows and booze bottles. Sometimes she just chills by the sea like she's in an Enya video.
Is she a witch, or is she the aged, reclusive Norma Desmond-type actress rumored to be living in the hotel, or is she both? SPOILER: I GUESS SO.
Once everyone is assembled at the hotel, it's time for some witchnanigans. This means that one by one, folks...well, they scream in front of a red swirly effect, and then they're in a witch dimension where bad things happen to them. But they die in our dimension. Witch physics are complicated!
Characters have their mouths sewn shut. They're burned alive, impaled (on a wall-mounted marlin, no less)...and while it's generally bloody, it's not the Fulci-levels of gore I was expecting. Merely mild grossness is totally acceptable, don't get me wrong. But there's a disconnect in Witchery, like it wanted to be super extreme but everything looks really fake and shoddy and you find yourself saying "This is sort of fun, but it should definitely be grosser."
A few dead bodies and a spectral dream rape later and we find out the Lady in Black's plan–yeah, it's all a satanic ritual ("That's pronounced 'suhtaahnic richull'." - Leslie) ensuring that Jane will birth a baby that...does stuff? Eh, it's not really explained. This kind of shit is never explained, and these sorts of nebulous witch/possession plans don't jive with me. I'm a list-maker, an outliner, you see. While I certainly indulge in spontaneity from time to time, I prefer to know the hows and the whys behind what I'm doing. So if I'm a witch and Satan is all "you need to kill these people and get a virgin and a pregnant woman and then possess the pregnant woman and oh, here's a crystal..." then I'm gonna be like "Okay, hold on, to what end is all this happening? What is the baby going to do? And why do I have to use this voodoo doll to kill people, I mean, aren't I conflating things a bit? And what about--" and then Satan will just murder me and possess someone who doesn't ask so many damn questions.
Oh, are you wondering about "possess the pregnant woman"? Yeah, Jane gets possessed because she's played by Linda Blair and so of course she has to get possessed and wear a nightgown and have her lines dubbed. It's Linda Blair.
If you haven't guessed by now, let me spell it out. SPOILER: WITCHERY IS PRETTY BAD. That's right, I finally got a hold of a movie in one of my most beloved subgenres and it's a stinker. Be careful what you witch for, eh, kiddies? Ehhh hee hee hee (crone cackle)!
I feel my affection for this movie growing leaps and bounds by the minute.
It's truly weird, and I doubt that it's weird on purpose. It's full of bizarre touches that don't seem deliberate but rather that they're "normal" touches made by someone who has a really weird sense of normal. Have you ever had one of those days where you feel as if you're in a David Lynch movie for a few minutes? Where you look around and it seems like reality has been microwaved? Just briefly! Like everything seems off somehow? You're in the same grocery store you've been in a hundred times before, but for some reason the atmosphere is rife with the uncanny.
That's Witchery. It's the foot in the face that's meant to be sexy. It's the girl in the wheelchair whose father lies in bed smoking and reading The Godfather. It's everything Leslie says. It's everything Jane's little brother says. It's the Lady in Black appearing in a bottle of booze. It's the pop culture novelty of Linda Blair and David Hasselhoff in an '80s horror movie. It's demonic voices coming out of a Sesame Street cassette player.
As if that weren't enough, it's worth seeing just for the ending. I don't know how many times I've watched the last 45 seconds of this movie, but I find it an endless delight and it's kind of all I want to do with my life now. It is an ending that defines a life moment, like the JFK assassination or 9/11 or the death of Michael Jackson. Where were you when you saw the end of Witchery? Yeah, wasn't it great?