Shelf sitters aren’t always bad news in my eyes; take for instance Superstition (1982). This Canadian curiosity was filmed in ’81, released abroad in ’82, and finally washed ashore in North America in early ’85; it is by turns goofy, gory, dumb, and creative in its kills, and is a great addition to a sub-genre I’m just going to call Italiadjacent, where films from this side of the pond look to that side for aesthetical inspiration and end up with nonsensical storylines. And while Superstition tries to keep it together, it can’t help but let loose and summon up its inner Argento from time to time. (Okay, most of the time.)
Also known as The Witch (no double V’s, thank you), Superstition was part of the U.K.’s notorious early ‘80s Video Nasties scene, but landed on the non-prosecutable Section 3 list, which I guess were films still really bad for you, but not “go to jail” bad for renting or selling them. It did, however, pass uncut for theatrical and home video release there. Which is to say this: Superstition has some gnarly grue in the first half before settling for off-screen mayhem in the second. (Maybe the Video Nasty folks only watched the last 40 minutes? I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t watch it at all. Insert harrumph here.)
We’re in the ‘80s, so let’s open with a couple making out in a car, shall we? But ignore them; they’re just victims of a prank perpetrated by two other teens who decide to head back into the creepy Sharack House, which as of that moment, tends to lead to dismemberment for both (in oh such unique ways). This brings out the police, led by Inspector Sturgess (Albert Salmi – Empire of the Ants), and they hook up with local Jesus pimps Rev. David Thompson (James Houghton – I Wanna Hold Your Hand) and Rev. Maier (Stacy Keach Sr. – Saturday the 14th) who run the local church which happens to own, you guessed it, the Sharack House.
After yet another murder, the house is rented out as planned to a family consisting of downtrodden dad (also a priest), worrisome mom, two nondescript teenage sisters, and one adolescent brother. Enter expedition burst number one from Elvira Sharack (Jacquelyn Hyde – The Dark), a descendent that the church has allowed to live on the property along with her slobbering son Arlen (Josh Cadman – Angel). She tells a tale of an ancient witch named Elondra (Carole Goldman – Out Cold), burned at the stake and left to bubble at the bottom of the property’s Black Pond back in 1692. But the rite was never completed see, and the oversized cross that Fadda Thompson fishes from the lake unleashes the full forces of Elondra upon the family, the priests, the police, and perhaps the world…
Okay, budget constraints hold Elondra back from going global, but Superstition makes a point of laying waste to pretty much everyone in it, and in spectacular fashion: a nuked head in the microwave, some bisectional window pain, hanging by elevator cable, table saws run wild, an unfortunate dalliance with a wine press, and glassupuncture; and that’s mostly in the first half. In the back end, when Elondra appears in the charred and be-robed flesh, you’re treated to the biggest “dragged off screen” collage in cinematic history.
Director James W. Roberson is better known as a cinematographer (The Town That Dreaded Sundown), and that shows in the look of Superstition; each kill is meticulously displayed in the impressive camera work of Leon Blank (possibly a pseudonym for the uncredited work of Enzo Giobbe and Lee Madden), highlighting the sometimes impressive (and other times just charming) effects work of William Munns (The Return of the Living Dead) and David Miller (The Terminator), among others. I wouldn’t say working with actors is his greatest asset, though; the performances are all over the place, even from some decent thespians (solid work by Billy Jacoby from Bloody Birthday, who plays the kid until he doesn’t) and they’re not helped any by some egregious ADR work.
But all these things give Superstition a lot of its charm; while the first half is busy paying homage to The Evil (’78; wrote about it here) and The Amityville Horror (’79), the second is a mélange of Bava and our dearest Dario, shot through with evocative aesthetics and a flashback scene that shows how Elondra ended up with so many rage issues. (If you’re thinking pyre persecution you’re on the right track.)
So what’s it all mean? Dunno really, nor does it matter; most of my favorite Italian horrors have only a passing interest in logic and reason, so why should the Italiadjacents be any different? Superstition works hard to keep those fever dreams alive for 85 minutes, and whether you like your horror tactile or atmospheric, there’s enough for everyone to keep it off the shelf and in a player for a good while longer.
Superstition is available on DVD from Anchor Bay.