Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Witchboard (1986)

I was talking with a group of people at a local bar over the weekend, and the conversation strayed into a discussion of starlets of the 80’s. Of course, the first woman mentioned was Tawny Kitaen. While she’d appeared in several B-movies, her most notable performance was in a Whitesnake video, rolling around on the hoods of two Jaguars in a white negligee. It was an iconic moment of the 80’s and all the attention should have boosted her movie career. But it didn’t and she started working on television, appearing on Hercules, Married… With Children and Eek The Cat. Her last movie role was in 1997’s Dead Tides, with Roddy Piper and Miles O’Keeffe.
Then, in 2002, her troubles with the law began. She was arrested for allegedly hitting then-husband Chuck Finley (a major league pitcher) with a shoe. Three days later, he filed for divorce and placed a restraining order against her. Her problems continued, as she was arrested for cocaine possession in 2006 and a DWI in 2009. During this time, she was appearing on reality shows such as The Surreal Life (in the sixth season, where she was crawling on the floor of a closet in the final episode) and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew in 2008. Perhaps this was to be expected, as David Coverdale, an ex-boyfriend and lead singer for Whitesnake, supposedly commented on her volatile personality back in the 80s.
It’s too bad her film career never took off, as she was a competent B-movie actress. Her roles in Bachelor Party and The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak reveled an actress capable of downplaying her sexuality for someone more wholesome and level headed. She never played the sultry temptress, but was often cast as the beautiful woman who would fall for an average guy, rather than the rich, snobbish suitor.
A few days after talking about her at the bar, I caught a few Whitesnake songs on the radio at work. Whether it was pure coincidence or subliminal messages from beyond, I decided to revisit Witchboard, one of my late night cable favorites from the 80’s. And does this film scream 80’s at times. The clothes, the hair and the slang make it impossible not to date this film. But that doesn’t matter, as the movie is pretty entertaining.
The movie opens during a party, hosted by Linda (Tawny) and Jim (Todd Allen). Jim’s a bit put off by Brandon (Stephen Nichols), Linda’s ex-boyfriend and Jim’s ex-best friend. Yep, as in Bachelor Party, Tawny plays the incredibly hot girlfriend of a working class fella (Jim’s a construction worker), who’s resisted the draw of a rich suitor and his family fortune. It was a role she played often, and one that always gave me hope when I was younger. After all, if working stiff Jim could be living with Tawny Kitaen, why couldn’t I get a date with the head cheerleader? Okay, I knew the answer to that one, even back then, but at least I could dream.
Sorry for the digression. And yes, I was a big geek when I was younger. Still am.
Anyway, back to the party. Brandon pulls out his Ouija board and convinces Linda to help him contact the spirit of a David, a little boy he communicates with on a regular basis. They even have a secret code, so Brandon knows he’s got David on the line. However, the hostility between Brandon and Jim upsets the little ghost, who knocks the board over and blows out the tires on Brandon’s Porsche.
This brings the party to an abrupt end, and Brandon forgets to take his Ouija board home. Despite the warnings against using it alone (as a single user gives the spirit too much access), Linda contacts David. He’s nice enough at first, but soon becomes menacing towards her. Several mysterious deaths follow and Brandon convinces Jim that Linda’s personality changes aren’t due to a possible pregnancy, but are the early signs of possession. Together, they try to find out if the little boy is trying to gain control of Linda, or if a more nefarious force is at work.
On whole, it’s a fun little horror film. While light on the gore, the script works well as a supernatural mystery. Moments of misdirection are handled well and you won’t feel cheated by a sudden twist, as all the pieces fall into place on camera. And the plot moves quick enough to let you overlooked the script’s predictability.
If you haven’t seen this movie, I offer you a word of advice. Do not look at the trailers, the making of feature or any other extra on the DVD. If you do, it will spoil what is, in my opinion, the greatest jump scare ever filmed. You really don’t want to ruin this one, as it will likely send you through the ceiling.
While this next paragraph might be a bit of a SPOILER, it should be no surprise that Linda ends up possessed by the end of the film. And this is Tawny’s shining moment. If you ever wondered what Chuck Finley faced on that fateful night in 2002, look no further than the last 10 minutes of this film. Tawny exudes such an evil presence that you can’t take your eyes off her. It doesn’t matter that she still looks smoking hot while wearing a man’s three-piece suit and swinging a fire axe. She is batshit insane and quite terrifying during the scene, delivering the performance of her career.
I wish the rest of the acting came close to this moment, but the movie falls short here. While most of the work is adequate, Allen stumbles as the lead. While he tries to convey his character’s fear of being unable to emotionally connect to anyone, Allen often appears to sleepwalk through his performance. It’s a hard trait to portray on film and Allen just wasn’t up for the task.
And I do have a problem with the basic plot. If a male spirit was trying to possess someone, I don’t think a beautiful woman is your best target. Instead of focusing on evil schemes, you’d likely end up spending most of your time in front of a mirror while groping yourself. Better to possess her boyfriend, so you can implement your nefarious plans during the day, then come home to her at night and, well, grope away. And, if you’re looking for minions, I’m sure you’d be able to get a lot of guys to follow you, all hoping that some of your mojo would rub off on them so they could attract beautiful girlfriends.
I continue to be amazed at some of the thoughts that run through my brain after a few beers.
In an interview last month, Tawny Kitaen seems to have found some peace. She’s become a better mother to her children (according to both her and her ex), she claims to be off drugs and is volunteering at a shelter for at risk women. She seems happy with her current life, and I hope that’s true.
I also hope she’s able to find her way back into genre movies. Maybe The Asylum is looking for another 80’s icon to appear in a giant fish film. I’d love to see her as a scientist trying to find a way to kill, say, a mega barracuda. Oh, get the Wilson sisters from Heart involved and I sense a mega hit in the works!
Until The Asylum takes my advice (and it’s free; all I ask is for a small credit), check out Witchboard. While not a classic by any standard, writer/director Kevin Tinney (Night of the Demons) serves up a nice little horror movie for his first feature. Perfect for any fan of 80’s horror, or those with fond memories of the gal in the Whitesnake videos.