More stupernatural than supernatural, WITCHBOARD 2: THE DEVIL'S DOORWAY, a 1993 bad scare day (now on Blu-Ray and DVD from Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment) is almost worth viewing just to tally the gaffes vs. the gasps.
Technically, the movie is fairly professionally made. The acting, never a plus for a pic whose poster comprises a half-naked babe being strangled by a Ouija board, is pretty much par for the course: that is to say trying to figure out who in the cast is taking their meds and who isn't. The special effects are decent and the action sequences (well, ONE action sequence) is impressive enough to have it stick out like a sore thumb. What ultimately deep sixes this attempt to franchise yet another horror series is the outrageously negligible script and dialogue (I swear it makes Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers look like All About Eve). Worse still are the truly awful characters – basically scumbags and dumb bags – the cinematic bad taste equivalent of Popeye's Chicken.
Let me try and be mercifully brief. The movie opens in a skid-row section of California (or what some might simply call L.A.). Squeaky clean and freshly-scrubbed blonde WASP Paige pulls up to check out a potential apartment. Remember, folks, this is 1993 – in effect, the Age of Paige – the decade's hottie moniker du jour; it followed the Eighties Tiffany era and preceded the current Haley dynasty.
Paige – the never-vescent Ami Dolenz – is out to go all Mary Tyler Moore on society's ass...you know, you’re gonna make after all...This proves rather difficult for Paige, as she is capable of only two expressions – minus one. It doesn't help that the admittedly sexy mannequin's chosen vocation is that of a ...are you ready...CPA.
The hovel she has picked is idyllic. The outside looks like the inside of an outhouse; however, once she enters the building, it’s Cinderella time: an immaculate loft space approximately the size of Belgium...a crib that even twenty years ago would have cost thousands a month. The couple who own the building define the reason folks turn to serial killing: Jonas (Christopher Michael Moore) a grotesque slob who elevates the lowliest denizen of Duck Dynasty to P.G. Wodehouse status, and Elaine, an aging hippie so addled that even her unhygienic spouse concedes that she “...did way too many drugs at Woodstock.” Just minutes into this epic – and you'll wish you had, too; insult to injury is the fact that this wilted flower child is portrayed by a lip-bitingly forlorn Laraine Newman.
Within seconds after their introductions, the husband is trying to leaf through Paige, who adamantly puts her pedicured feet down and scolds that she is not that kind of a girl – after all, the “P” in CPA is for public, not private; alas, she fails to convincingly explain away the certifiable C…Which leaves only her big “A.”
But Paige is also a budding artist – who unfortunately has had little success, undoubtedly due to the brutal truth that she hasn't learned even the most basic terminology – incorrectly identifying sketches as paintings.
In an unintentionally hilarious sequence, Elaine's significant other is turned into ground round by an angry whipsaw blade and then steam-cleaned in an equally pissed-off boiler. Even more startling is Paige, the respectful tenant, arriving at his funeral dressed like an escort from the back section of The Village Voice.
No one wants to investigate how the deceased ended up like a Red Lobster entry – but perhaps a clue is offered by Paige's discovery that the previous occupant of her loft – Susan the exotic dancer – was presumably murdered herself. Since no one seems to care about what happened to her either...could there be a connection? And by a “no one caring” connection, I'm referring to the audience. Before this can be properly addressed, a convenient top-shelved Ouija board conks Paige on the noggin, and soon every perv's fantasy accountant is receiving messages and answers from the beyond on a regular basis. Seriously?! Okay, maybe it's us...We jaded 21st century sophisticates know all too well that sexting can come back to haunt you. Suffice to say that hexting can REALLY come back to haunt you. And that's what happens to Paige – in a number of shockingly boring ways.
It's around this time that we're introduced to Elaine's photographer brother Russell (John Gatins), a sleazy Johnny Depp clone who wants to desperately shoot Paige in compromising situations that suggest a Pole Dancers of H & R Block calendar.
This is merely the preamble for the ultra-disturbing eyebrow-raiser of WITCHBOARD 2 – the unveiling of Mitch – Paige's ex-boyfriend/roomie...and the reason she wanted to get her own joint in the first place. Mitch (Timothy Gibbs) is a loudmouthed, violent a-hole who regularly beat the crap out of her; he's also a cop – a veritable pride of the force. But he's a changed and apologetic man now – and wants Paige return to him so that he can prove it to his skeptical lover...or else. Mitch, by the way, is the hero of WITCHBOARD 2.
Talk about a kerfuffle! It’s at this Waiting for Godot juncture that things start spinning way too fast for Paige to comprehend...back and forth...up and down...dead or alive...It really is a case of vapid transit – not helped by a hostile workplace.
Yup, just when you think it couldn't get any worse, we get to visit Paige's office – and meet vicious Amazon coworker (Sarah Kaite Coughlan) who belittles the numbers cruncher and even steals and sabotages her assignments. Okay, said I, here's where WITCHBOARD 2 could get to be fun. Let's face it: how many of you every wanted to kill someone at your job? Or two? All right – the whole department. This is the kind of movie where sadistic vengeance can really justify some rather revolting imagery. And the set-up certainly intimates a Peckinpah picnic. But what happens? Paige confronts her nemesis, give her a verbal slap on the wrist – and that's it! We never see her again. WTF?!!!
While we're still contemplating the above mind-numbingly moronic red herring, Paige becomes obsessed with hunting down Susan's corpse. She enlists Russell – and the two take a midnight tour of some foreboding forest, and proceed to dig away. Why it has to be midnight is not even hinted at – nor is Paige's decision to undergo the trek wearing go-go boots and slutty cut-off jeans. Meanwhile, lunkhead Mitch is stalking her – obviously missing those rose-colored romantic days of wine and face-pummeling. In the interim, Paige has also been drawing some naughty pictures of herself – a ludicrous and unprofitable endeavor since eBay has yet to be invented.
WITCHBOARD 2's grandiose moment is a totally hysterical and unnecessary time-filler where Mitch's car is taken over by evil Susan's spirit. In riotous fashion Mitch, shrieking like Huntz Hall on Café Bustelo, is careened to and fro along highways and residential streets. The pinnacle of this large-scale stunt gag is an awesome vehicular flip causing a final destination collision that had me applauding the demise of this lowlife. But, phooey, it is not to be: Mitch miraculously survives and is rushed to the emergency ward. Later, sitting up with more tubes in him than Amy Winehouse, the slimy dick (whoops...policeman) realizes that all this demon shit might be true. Mitch yanks the needles out like a mean girl attacking a classmate’s hair extensions, dons his jeans and takes off in hot pursuit. It’s as if the only injury the policeman sustained was getting his (whoops) nightstick caught in his zipper.
This above sequence, as well as the one about to be described below at least implies writer/director Kevin S. Tenney's acknowledgment of the existence of classic flickerdom, particularly (and I loathe to say this) Vertigo but, more appropriately, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
In WITCHBOARD 2’s best scene, Paige and “Depp” visit an occult bookstore – or, more relevantly, its proprietor, the extremely welcome Marvin Kaplan, who steals what show there is as a Jewish soothsayer. With some genuinely funny one-liners, Kaplan manages to wake up whoever is left still watching this schmonzes. I should also mention that Paige's ectoplasmic phantasmagorical phenomenon is known as Progressive Entrapment – ironically the identical name Republicans use when referring to interviews on MSNBC.
The finale, wherein the re-animated Susan (Julie Michaels) at last asserts herself in and out of Paige's body, is akin to a Christine O'Donnell Victoria's Secret ad – but nowhere near as terrifying.
What is revolting is Paige’s and Mitch’s touching reunion…what no doubt promises to authentically be the heroine’s hell on Earth. Curtain up on Mitchboard 2!
While the Blu-Ray of WITCHBOARD 2 looks nice enough, the Ultra-Stereo audio displays far too much sibilance – as if the already over-taxed Dolenz needed any further distraction in her performance; it gives her a slight lisp which, combined with her general emoting, emerges as an uncomfortable homage to Margeaux Hemingway. The music by Dennis Michael Tenney underlines the pic's nepotistic dedication to the theory of relativity.
There are extras on the platter – specifically a Making Of featurette and two excised scenes. Regarding the latter, one sequence is so nebulous that I couldn't recall it moments after it ended; on the other hand, the second deletion was (and, again, I hate to say this) integral to the movie's plot. As the scenario unfolds, a confused Russell chastises Paige along the lines of “One minute you're an eternal virgin, the next a sex-crazed animal...” That's not the exact line, but I'm too lazy to access it...anyway you get the gist. Well, I'd be confused too – as there's no such sex-crazed incident. Could Russell be on the wrong Paige? Well, no – in the cut scene, Dolenz practically rapes Gatins in what only can be called a dry-humping triumph of the swill. Why WOULD they remove the only vaguely erotic aspect of this pic (and leave the dumb bit with the coworker)?
The featurette/trailer, like the similar mini-doc on Night of the Scarecrow, is in awful condition, looking as if the transfer were supervised by Ray Charles. More insulting is the premise behind it – a pre-reality TV approach that wants you to believe that all this nonsense is true (as if anyone, other than those who voted for either Steve King or Louis Gohmert would ever swallow any of this bilge). Interviews with embarrassed cast members don't help, mouthing garbage that I suspect Tenney and the producers “prepared” for them. Newman attempts to save face by playing it in character...well, at least I hope that's what she's doing. Oh, yeah – Tenney, d.p. David Lewis and costars Gibbs and Michaels provide supplemental running commentary...which is likely have you running.
I asked a buddy of mine – an expert extraordinaire of 1970s/80s/90s horror/splatter/trash cinema for his opinion of WITCHBOARD 2. Tellingly, he stated that he had never seen it (red flag # 1), but, adapting his Tony Curtis alter-ego, told me that he could give me all the information required for an exhaustive assessment in two questions:
ME: Ami Dolenz.
So there you have it. But, I gotta say – even with junk like this...I'm still bothered by the irresponsible message the movie manages to convey: that an individual – predominantly a woman – has but two options in modern life. When in doubt of a direction to choose – even if one entails demonic possession – go with the abusive relationship. Actually, there's a third choice...one that I trust the patrons of WITCHBOARD 2 followed: kick both their asses (unholy and otherwise) and just move on.
WITCHBOARD 2: THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY. Color. Letterboxed [1.78:1, originally 1.85; 1080p High Definition]; Stereo-surround [DTS-HD MA 2.0]. UPC: 887090076005. Cat #: OF760. SRP: $29.95.
Also available on DVD: UPC: 887090075909. Cat #: OF759. SRP: $24.95.