When a storm strands a group on a Massachusetts island where the only dwelling is an old hotel supposedly haunted by the ghost of a former German actress (Knef), the result is the standard horror film as each of the cast is picked off one-by-one.
Witchery, like many Italian horror films in the seventies and eighties, has a series of alternate titles. The film is supposed to be a successor to Ghosthouse (otherwise known as La Casa 3), also produced by Joe D’Amato, which in turn is an unofficial sequel to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, which were known as La Casa and La Casa 2 in Italy. While the films are completely unrelated, it wasn’t uncommon for producers to attempt to cash in on previously successful titles, as was the case with the infamous Troll and Troll 2. As such, while this particular film was released as Witchery in America, it goes by many other titles including Ghosthouse II, La Casa 4, and Witchcraft… The list goes on. Confusing stuff.
Anyway, names aside, Witchery is, for the most part, pretty disappointing. The plot of the film is relatively basic – a group find themselves trapped inside an old abandoned house by the ghost which haunts the place. While much of the film seems to be standard fare for anything involving haunting or possession, it does abandon some traditional conventions of cinema; establishing the story, for one. There’s no real build-up, and director Fabrizio Laurenti (credited as ‘Martin Newlin’ for release outside of Italy) seems to prefer to throw his viewers in at the deep end.
The film opens in media res with an angry mob, complete with appropriate gardening tools, chasing a wild-eyed pregnant woman across a moorland. She’s pursued to a house, where, after finding herself cornered, she leaps to her death through the nearest window. A sensible thing to do.
Cue Linda Blair’s character, Jane, awaking from her nightmare in a cold sweat. And – in a super spooky turn coincidence – she’s also pregnant, and heavily so. The dream sequence is never really explained. It seems that its only purpose is to foreshadow the ending of the film, and it does so fairly poorly.
Before we have the chance to actually know what’s going on with Jane, we’ve changed scenes, and another character is introduced: Leslie, played by Leslie Cummings. She and her boyfriend Gary, portrayed by David Hasselhoff, are staying in the abandoned resort hotel on the island. Leslie is writing a book on witchcraft, and the two have travelled there in order to research and take photographs of a strange light that appears above the hotel at specific times of the day. Oh, and Leslie is a VIRGIN. I’m writing that in capitals because the film seems hell-bent on mentioning it in every single conversation between Leslie and Gary. Granted, her being a VIRGIN is important later in the film, but it’s asserted in such a ham-fisted way that it’s almost impossible not to find it absurd.
The film moves fairly sporadically between Jane and Leslie until the point at which they first meet. Both Jane and her younger brother, Tommy, are haunted by the mysterious figure of a woman in black. It’s revealed the Jane’s parents are interested in purchasing the same resort hotel in which Leslie and Gary are staying.
Her mother’s plan is to turn it into a club, and their intention is to visit the island with their architect who – owing to some last minute changes – happens to be a young, blonde nymphomaniac named Linda. Their realtor, in his absence, sends his son along to show them the property.
The group travel to the island via boat, where it’s hinted at the fact the place is haunted by the ghost of an actress (who was also a witch, apparently – a woman of many talents). Thus, the identity of the woman in black is revealed. When they discover that the hotel is completely run down, Jane’s parents are far from impressed.
The first fatality of the film is the boat’s driver, who’s killed off in a fairly unspectacular fashion by the aforementioned lady in black. With him out of the picture, the boat drifts away from the island, and a conveniently timed storm ensures that the group are well and truly stranded. They decide to spend the night in the house in the hopes that, realising that they’ve not returned, the realtor will send out a search party.
Of course, this is all part of the ghost-witch’s plan. It seems that her ultimate goal is to open up some sort of portal to Hell, and, of course, multiple violent murders are a prerequisite. As a result, the cast members find themselves being killed off one by one, with each death being representative of one of the seven deadly sins. Not to mention, the blood of a VIRGIN is also necessary – so those uncomfortable conversations between Leslie and Gary weren’t all for nothing.
While the writing is absolutely terrible, it’s largely overshadowed by the film’s use of special effects. Witchery is riddled with bizarre scenes of death and demonic rape – they’re the saving grace of an otherwise awful screenplay, so I won’t spoil them too much, but there are plenty of gruesome moments to satisfy any self-respecting lover of gore.
Perhaps the most surreal factor of this film, though, is the fact that I have to admit that David Hasselhoff is one of the better actors. Linda Blair may have received acclaim for her role in The Exorcist, but I can’t say the same for her here. Michael Manchester, who plays Tommy, is about as sickening as any child actor. Leslie Cumming’s performance, however, is the worst of the lot – she delivers her lines as if she’s having a stroke, and at some points it’s hard to even understand what’s being said.
The ending to the film is, well… It’s just what you’d expect. It’s horrendous. It’s straight out of The Exorcist, but nowhere near as interesting, and final scene ends with one of those stock shock lines which have been used a thousand times before. There are a lot of plot holes, so Witchery doesn’t feel complete by any stretch of the imagination. It was more entertaining to consider the possibility for a sequel than it was to contemplate the film itself.
If you’re a fan of Italian horror, which is a world in and of itself, then you’ll probably enjoy Witchery. It’s not a great film, but it’s a decent representation of the genre at the time at which it was made. And, if you can get past the wooden delivery and actually manage to make sense of what’s going on, it might even be enjoyable.