Witchery (1988)

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AKA La Casa 4
AKA Witchcraft
AKA Evil Encounters
AKA Ghosthouse 2

Off the coast of Massachusetts, there’s a small  island containing an uninhabited mansion with a dubious past. The locals say it’s haunted, and there’s a rumor that it may have been used for burning witches in the distant past. Two groups of unrelated travelers, a woman and her boyfriend working on a book, and a family of prospective buyers, an architect and a real estate agent, all happen to find themselves on the deserted little island at the same time. When a horrible storm strands the mis-matched travelers on the island overnight, it slowly becomes apparent that the old home may not be as abandoned as everyone was initially led to believe.

witchery_2It’s abandoned. The groundskeeper just forgot to turn to the lawn lights off.

Witchery is a movie that has an interesting bit of history/trivia to go along with it. It’s an Italian produced film with a mostly American cast and was shot in Massachusetts. To most English viewers  it’s just your standard stand-alone haunted house flick with a little bit of witchcraft thrown in for good measure. But in Italy (and some other parts of the world) it was rebranded as one of the La Casa films, a series of mostly unrelated movies that were loosely strung together to form a larger whole and initially started with Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead and Evil Dead II. Raimi’s films did quite well in Italy and to capitalize on that success three more films were eventually produced, including Ghosthouse, Witchery and Beyond Darkness. None of the films beyond Raimi’s first two movies have any tangible connection to one another, and La Casa 5 and La Casa 6, aka House II: The Second Story and The Horror Show, follow the same pattern. The only thing that connects any of them is that they all involve a haunting of some kind, whether it be ghost, demon or witch related. And because all the films come from varying sources, that also means that they consist of varying quality, with Ghosthouse lying somewhere near the bottom of the barrel and the Evil Dead films hovering near the top. Witchery, sadly, winds up somewhere in the middle.

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One of the (few) things Witchery has going for it is the effects. Or, at least the practical effects (I’ll get to the others in a bit). People are hung, set on fire, have their lips sewn shut, and have their necks partially explode thanks in part to a voodoo doll. It’s all pretty mundane as far as ghost stories are concerned, but much of it is up close and personal, which helps add to the horror. You see a woman slowly burn to death. You see the needle being threaded through her lips. You see a man burning at the stake. It’s all shown fully for the viewer. The most horrific thing the film doesn’t overtly show you is a rape, but believe you-me, what it does show is more than enough to get the point across.

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The film also looks very nice and has a flair for atmosphere. Light and shadow are used to good effect, there is some creative use of camera angles and everything looks crisp. The abandoned location also helps add to the ambience and tension. Floors creak, lights flicker and everything seems to be covered in a layer of dust and chipped paint. And because it’s an older building, the hallways and doors are much more narrow than their more modern contemporaries, so much of the film has a very real sense of claustrophobia.

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witchery_8Long Hallways: A beloved horror staple since Forever

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Unfortunately, none of the above translates to an engaging or coherent plot. While the story itself is fairly mundane, much of the execution is terrible. Many of the supernatural elements make little to no sense. Even after things are explained towards the end of the film, the explanation still ends up being a head scratcher, as does the motive. So basically, while some of the scenes and deaths themselves may look nice, that doesn’t mean that they really make sense or fit into the overall plot. Case in point, the film decided to visualize the victims ‘falling into sin’ (or whatever the hell they were trying to show) by superimposing the screaming actors over a strange red swirl. Why? No idea. But it does have the unintended effect of giving the movie a level of corny-ess that it just didn’t need.

witchery_10No, really. I still have no idea what’s going on here. Sorry, Linda Blair.

The film is also full of odd choices and inconsistencies. For instance, the movie starts off with, what we perceive to be, a witch running from a mob. I assume they’re supposed to be witch hunters, but initially they look like a bunch of Zorro cosplayers going for a run. Then there’s the witch herself (a very imposing Hildegard Knef). The movie makes a big deal of telling us she’s an aging actress, but fails to tell us how that occupation has any connection to the plot. The movie also makes no attempt to explain why she seems to have her sights set on this one particular family. There’s also a lot of inconsistencies regarding the time of day, and at least one character, a young girl, that’s introduced at the beginning of the movie, only for her to come back later and….contribute absolutely nothing. They actually set her up to do something, only for her to return later and do nothing, making her inclusion pointless. The film is sadly filled with little moments like these and others, making the whole film feel about as poorly thought out as I’m sure it was. 

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So is Witchery any good? Sadly, it’s pretty mediocre. The film looks and sounds okay, and the plot and ideas within are decent enough, but it fails to suitably connect any of the dots for it to make much sense. It feels less like a movie and more like a bunch of random ideas that have been stitched together in an effort to make a movie (and really, that might be true.) Most of the acting is competent enough, and you can tell that a couple of the actors were having some fun, but it’s got at least two noticeable duds and no one here is going to stand out. It also commits the sin of having a horrible dud of a ‘twist’ ending that I guarantee most viewers will see coming. 

Witchery is available for streaming on Amazon Prime and Tubi TV.

It is also available on DVD and Bluray.

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Michi

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