The Films (3/5, 5/5)
Kevin S. Tenney owned aspects of my horror worshipping childhood, and I didn't even know it. I have always considered myself a pop-culture archaeologist, a person who was never content with mainstream cinema or musical offerings, and looked deeper into the influences of my favorite artist to find the real gold out there. If that wasn't possible I just grabbed things that looked interesting, which was more the case when I was much younger than it was now. My town had many well stocked video stores, and at separate times I had stumbled on both his films Witchboard and Night of the Demons. I do remember Witchboard being quite a bit of a good possession film, but Night of the Demons was the mindblower. I still remember being huddled in my friends living room sometime in the middle of the night as the film began to unwind on the tape, and simultaneously blow our young pre-teen minds. I remember a few moments where I got legitimately scared, but I also remember loads of fun.
This month must be Kevin S. Tenney month down at the Scream (Shout!) Factory offices as they have now unleashed Blu-ray's of these 2 films, his first 2 features, and landmarks in 80's horror from my perspective. It was not until the announcement by Shout! that I realized the connection between these 2 features, but now recognizing them, I began to see the shaping of Tenney's work between the two films. As such I decided to review them together.
Witchboard follows Linda played by Whitesnake video starlet Tawny Kitaen who becomes obsessed with using a Ouija board after a party game gone awry causes it to be left at her house. Her behavior in regards to the board starts to scream smack addict pretty fast, as she is unable to stop using the board to communicate with what she believes is the spirit of a tragically deceased young boy named David, but may prove to a psychopathic killer looking to come back from the dead through Linda to continue his bloody rampage.
Witchboard is not as great a film as I remember. For starters the films has some serious pacing issues during the first half to 2/3 of it's running time, as it attempts to find it's footing. The opening of the film is a great example of this which is great for storytelling purposes, but ends up dragging it down when it needs to be getting our interests most. I'm not saying film's with this sort of pacing our bad, it just doesn't seem to work for the material, also the film for a good deal of it's running time feels like a relationship drama between the two male leads, and Linda and less of a horror story. That being said moments like those with the medium show Tenney's eye for creating interesting looking characters, a skill he would use to greater effect in Night of the Demons. The last third of the film also tightens up the pace, ties together the loose ends, and creates an overall more satisfying experience. I cannot recall if I have seen the Witchboard sequels, so I don't know how they stand in comparison to this film.
Night of the Demons, might be director Tenney's horror masterpiece. This film is equal parts fun and scary, and has been an undeniable genre classic in my eyes since I was around the age of 12. The film's premise is very simple a group of teens are invited by gothic teenager Angela to a party at shuttered funeral parlor "Hull House", it turns out Hull House was the sight of demonic infestation, and after a seance goes awry the teens are either possessed or killed (or both) one by one.
Night of the Demons really sets the tone for great Halloween cinema from the openings credits which are cleverly animated, before going into a setup with each character finding their way to Angela's party. The film like Witchboard takes a bit of time to get going, but unlike the prior film streamlines the narrative to one primary interesting location, which Tenney uses to create an excellent horror film atmosphere. When the film finally gets going in the latter half we get an excellent mix of suspense and splatter as the teens are possessed and picked off one by one accompanied by excellent special effects by Steve Johnson. The character's in Witchboard were of the 80's yuppie variety, and were a rather drab bunch to spend that much time with. In contrast the gang created for Night of the Demons prove to be unique and diverse bunch, and offers both great eye and splatter candy, and while Night of the Demons doesn't bring anything new to the horror audience, it creates something undeniably fun and classic.
Audio/Video (3.5/5 4.5/5)
Scream Factory brings Witchboard to Blu-ray in a solid 1:78:1 1080p transfer that looks better than the film has before. Colors in this transfer are nice and natural for the most part, flesh tones are accurate, and blacks are solid. There are some minor soft spots in the transfer, and there looks to be some compression issues early on, but overall the whole thing is quite pleasing.
Witchboard's audio is presented in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track, the track is serviceable, but not spectacular. The dialogue is audible throughout, as is the score which tends to be a bit high in the mix on occasion, overall though it works for the film.
Night of the Demons on the other hand looked absolutely fantastic. The black levels (it's a very dark film) are very solid and deep, colors are reproduced nicely, and detail is excellent throughout. I did not really see anything to pick apart with Night of the Demons.
The audio is presented in both DTS-HD MA 2.0 and 5.1 both tracks are solid, but I stuck to the traditional 2.0 for the most part. The dialogue sounded nice and clear as did the score and effects. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
These 2 releases are so stacked full of extras to call them definitive releases for both films would not be an exaggeration. Witchboard comes with 2 commentary tracks one with the cast and crew, and one with the director and producers. We also get multiple makings of vintage, and new the latest runs roughly 45 minutes in length. We get a bunch of interviews with the cast archival stuff compromised of older footage spread out amongst multiple sections of the Blu-ray, also trailers, outtakes, and a behind the scenes, and promo gallery.
Night of the Demons also has 2 commentary tracks setup accordingly. There is also an over hour long making of featurette. An interview with Amelia Kincaid who played Angela, and a featurette of Alison Barron going over her photos from the set. After that we have a make up reel, various promo spots, radio spots, tv spots, and trailers for the film, and various photo galleries.
Scream Factory did an excellent job bringing both of these films into the Blu-ray era. While Witchboard does not hold up nearly as well as I remember Night of the Demons is every bit of a classic as I remember. Both discs are HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.