Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Witchery (1988)

Joe D'Amato (real name Aristide Massaccesi) is one of the names that's synonymous with Italian trash and exploitation, having done everything from porn, porn/horror hybrids ("Porno Holocaust", "Erotic Nights of the Living Dead") sword n' sorcery movies (the "beloved" "Ator" series), gory nastiness ("Beyond the Darkness" and my favorite movie of his "Anthropophagus" and it's sequel) and much more. If there was a pie in exploitation, he probably had his fingers in it. Case in point: "Witchery", a film he served as a producer for that was a sequel for Umberto Lenzi's "Ghosthouse", and is pretty much an Italian rip-off of "The Exorcist" and "Poltergeist", with more gore and sleaze, but not as fun as it should have been.

Jane Brooks (Linda Blair) is pregnant and heading back to her husband's mother's house. The only thing scarier than the fact that David Hasselhoff is in this is the fact that she's been having strange, violent nightmares, and all of this talk about a witch. Well, the whole family ends up being stranded in the house, and to make things worse, all that witch talk turns out to be true, and she's going to torture and kill these folks one by one, so she can drag them into hell for a sacrifice.

I'll give "Witchery" this much: It sure as hell doesn't skimp on the violence and gore. Here, lips are sewn shut, a man is crucified, left upside down and burned, and in the most unpleasant moment, Linda (Catherine Hickland) is raped in a dream by a man whose mouth is sewn shut. There's also plenty of unintentional hilarity on display, from people not bothering to wonder where family members have disappeared to, to the hilarious "sucked into hell" optical effects that are hopelessly dated even for the time.

As I said though, this sadly isn't the best trash movie. Sure, it's violent, but most of the violence-such as a spoiled old woman (Annie Ross) having her mouth sewn shut and being tied under a chimney fire unbeknownst to the family-end up being more tedious than gruesome. The direction from Fabrizio Laurenti is flat and dull, as is the cinematography from Gianlorenzo Battaglia, neither of which fits the gruesome events. The script by Daniele Stroppa and Harry Spalding* is terrible, never bothering to explain even the most basic plot tenants or logic. If the witch has access to Satan's domain, why does she have to keep doors open? Why does the witch try to kill Jane and her baby when she needs both alive? These and other events go on unexplained, making for a frustrating experience. It also doesn't help that nobody in this delivers a good performance. Hasselhoff...well, you expected him to be bad, but Blair just looks like she'd rather be somewhere else, and was probably thinking "another movie in which my character is possessed?"

Unless you are the world's most indiscriminate connoisseur of trash, "Witchery" will just prove to be a mindless bore to sit through. There's better things D'Amato was attached to, so why bother with this?

Rating: 3/10

*Stroppa has written several Italian genre and exploitation films in the past, his best being Lamberto Bava's "Delerium" and the 1997 film "The Wax Mask", which was supposed to be directed by Lucio Fulci. He also wrote such "classics" such as "Zombi 5: Killing Birds", "Creepers", and the latter day Fulci films "The House of Clocks" and "Voices from Beyond."

Spalding is mostly known as the screenwriter for "The Watcher in the Woods", though his other writing credits include "The Earth Died Screaming", "Chosen Survivors", and several other genre titles from the 60's. "Witchery" serves as his last writing credit, and it sadly wasn't the best way to go out.

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