Film Review: Witchcraft (1989)

SYNOPSIS:

A new mother and her child move into her mother-in-law’s dark old mansion. She soon begns to suspect that neither the house nor her mother-in-law are quite what they seem to be.

REVIEW:

Is it just me, or does every cheaply made horror film from the late 80s through early 90s sound like it was composed by the same person out of the same basic cords on the same old keyboard? Every time the music started up in this film it made me think of “Ghoulies” and “Leprechaun.” It turns out the score wasn’t made by the same guy who did those films (I checked), but it was distracting how similar it sounded.

It was also distracting because it wasn’t very good at setting the proper tone for a horror film. In places it was down right peppy, which just threw me off while viewing. And in other places it obviously wanted to lend some feelings of unease, but was just too synthesized in sound to really get the tone right. Music is important; the score for “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” – with its high pitched screeching and jarring twangs – is one of the creepiest things about that film. It doesn’t help this little movie at all to have music that is annoying at worst and mildly funny at best.

Witchcraft” wants to be a lot of things. It wants to be suspenseful and mysterious, when really it is predictable and a bit slow. The suspiciously helpful mother-figure wants to be Louise Fletcher from “Flowers in the Attic” – she of the perfectly controlled voice that reaches new levels of menacing – but here the imitation falls rather flat. The story itself wants to be “Rosemary’s Baby,” with a young mother possibly going insane and a husband who has sold his soul and dark secrets unfolding around every corner. And in this Want the film fails the most. Besides the fact that it is almost immediately obvious that it is taking elements from a far superior film (which means you can’t help but compare them), it fails to create any of the feelings of psychological terror that the other movie does. You know what is going on here the entire time it is happening, and can see pretty much where the story will lead. Without the mystery, or the guessing what is reality and what might just be insanity, the suspense and horror are gone.

For a cheaply made film shot on tape and released straight to video, this didn’t have the worst acting I have ever seen (I have watched “Manos: The Hands of Fate” and I judge all bad acting by the incredibly low bar set there). I wouldn’t pass out any awards, but each character seemed to get their point across. Mary Shelley (great name) and Gary Sloan (who wants to be Jack Nicholson so hard) – as Elizabeth and John Stocton – didn’t make anything outside of the “Witchcraft” franchise. And even Anat Topol, main character Grace Churchill, only had about half a dozen other credits to her name. So obviously acting wasn’t their main calling in life. But they all manage to be passable in their roles. Anat Topol has the hardest job, trying to play a convincing descent into possible madness. It isn’t even her crazy that I call into question really.

She does that well enough. It is her believability as a new mother that I couldn’t see. She seems to have almost no connection to her on-screen child, even in the few scenes she is in with him. I actually found it way more frightening that she is never with her baby and wanders off for long periods of time without him, than the fact that Satanic witches may be out to kill her.

“Witchcraft” was written by Jody Savin, whose previous writing credits included a documentary on Chico Mendes, and it was directed by Rob Spera as his first film. Neither had much of a horror film background going in to this picture and it shows.

There is an art to making things truly scary. You can’t just have people in funny cloaks eating raw hearts and a big dark house with secret passages and a young mother running around in a flowing nightgown and expect it to be frightening. You need setting and mood and tone and suspense. And though it seems to really want it, this movie just doesn’t manage to get all of that.

Witchcraft (1989)

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