This week, Scream Factory gave all those Kevin Tenney fans out there what they’ve been waiting for by the way of stellar presentations of two of his beloved cult classics on Blu-ray: Witchboard and Night of the Demons. Once again, Scream Factory did a wonderful job of shining the spotlight on two more great horror films that many of us grew up enjoying.
Review: Witchboard Blu-ray
Witchboard, a movie I last saw back in the 90’s when it was still only available on VHS, isn’t by any means the scariest work from Tenney’s career, but there’s a lot to admire about his oddball supernatural story where a super-sexy Tawny Kitaen gets a little too handsy with her friend’s Ouija board.
The story begins when Brandon Sinclair (Stephen Nichols) trots out his trusty ol’ Ouija (pronounced wee-jaa as Brandon so fondly likes to correct people) board at a party only to unknowingly unleash a malevolent spirit upon Linda (Kitaen) and her boyfriend Jim (Todd Allen). The Ouija begins to slowly take possession of Linda, and falls into the addictive and deadly trappings of both the Ouija and the entity lurking on the other side of the board.
Anyone who grew up in the 80’s or 90’s most likely saw a Ouija at a sleepover or two, which is why I really enjoyed Witchboard so much at the time. Tenney had me convinced as a kid that if I kept messing with spirits, I’d get possessed. Of course, I’ve grown up, so Witchboard’s scares aren’t necessarily still intact, but I really enjoyed the story, which wasn’t typical at all for that time in the horror genre. Tenney’s ability to sustain atmosphere and tension throughout more than made up for the film’s lack of gore.
As far as the performances in Witchboard go, Kitaen is likable and easy on the eyes, making it easy to overlook her sometimes wooden delivery. Thankfully, Kitaen is anchored by two strong actors in Nichols and Allen who end doing most of the heavy lifting in the second and third acts of Witchboard. Kathleen Wilhoite also pops up in the movie as a psychic who tries to help Linda and Jim with their possession problem. This would usually be something I’d enjoy, considering I’m a big fan of hers from Road House and Gilmore Girls, but in Witchboard, it’s like she is the Valley girl version of Whoopi Goldberg’s character from Ghost on acid. It’s like nails on a chalkboard bad, but I would definitely say that Wilhoite’s acting has come a long way since her Witchboard days.
By and large, Witchboard is a movie I enjoy a lot, but mostly for the nostalgia factor and the fact that Tenney was taking some risks at that particular time in the genre. And as as far as directorial debuts go, Tenney should also be proud of what he manages to accomplish the first time at bat with Witchboard. By no means a perfect movie, Witchboard is something you’ll enjoy if you do have a sense of nostalgia for it. If not and you’re looking for a film that’s a bit edgier that delivers in scares and attitude, then Tenney’s follow-up (Night of the Demons) will definitely suit your tastes just fine.
For the Blu-ray release, Scream Factory once again delivers some great stuff for longtime Witchboard fans by including two separate commentary tracks and a bunch of new interviews with Tenney, Kitaen, Allen and others involved with production. Undoubtedly, if you’ve been looking to add Witchboard to your home collection, you won’t find a better release than what Scream Factory’s included here with this wonderful package.
Movie Score: 2.5/5, Disc Rating: 4/5
Review: Night of the Demons Blu-ray
If there were ever a movie that taught me that partying in an abandoned funeral home would be a bad idea, Night of the Demons was it. Not your normal late 80’s slasher movie, Night of the Demons is Kevin Tenney’s spunky follow-up to Witchboard that follows a group of teenagers who are attending the Halloween party to end all parties. It’s being hosted by Goth party chick Angela (Mimi Kinkade) at the infamous Hull House, an abandoned mortuary with a very questionable past. Once everyone shows up for some spooky shenanigans, the partygoers get more than they bargained for (of course!) when demons show up and attempt to possess everyone in the house.
Much more energetic and frenetic than his directorial debut, Tenney shows great strides as a filmmaker and demonstrates a madman-esque sense of confidence with his work on Night of the Demons. Instead of going with just another spooky house/slasher mash-up approach, he made a film that’s fun, tawdry, scary, and atmospheric with just the right amount of camp and T&A peppered in. Tenney’s ability to blend all those elements together is why the movie still works 25 years later.
What also sets Night of the Demons apart is that, instead of killing off all the victims, Tenney and the film’s screenwriter Joe Augustyn decide to make them antagonists that continue to propel the story to an almost madcap pace by the film’s third act. The story doesn’t rush into killing off the characters in Night of the Demons either, which is something else you didn’t see very often at that. Instead, we’re given a good amount of time to get to know the gang of teens we’re going to follow throughout the hellish halls of Hull House. There’s even the side story about a grumpy old man in the neighborhood who doesn’t have the Halloween spirit and has some devious plans for all of the no-good kids that terrorize him. It initially feels like an afterthought, but actually has a nice little payoff at the conclusion that lets the film end on a wickedly enjoyable note.
It’s worth noting that Night of the Demons features some practical make-up gags by the legendary Steve Johnson, which are incredible even when you don’t take into consideration the film’s limited budget. Elevating all of it is Tenney’s wicked sense of humor that inject several gruesome moments with a bit of darkly comedic creativity. Tenney and cinematographer David Lewis also use a lot of creativity and ambition when it came time to shoot Night of the Demons too- many of the establishing shots of Hull House breathe life into its decrepit walls and make every moment spent in those halls feel foreboding and uneasy.
Scream Factory does another sublime job with their transfer of Night of the Demons, so if you’ve been hesitant about double-dipping because the DVD from a few years back looked really decent, you just can’t beat how the film looks on Blu-ray. The special features on Night of Demons are pretty much everything you’d ever want to celebrate Tenney’s cult classic. There are a few commentaries included and the usual bunch of bonus materials, but it’s the new interviews conducted with Tenney, Augustyn and beloved Scream Queen Linnea Quigley (seriously, how great is she?) make this Blu-ray a must-buy for fans.
Movie Score: 3.5/5, Disc Score: 4/5