The great boom of genre film production that thrived in Italy during the ’70s and early ’80s went into freefall as the ’80s drew to a close. A handful of stalwarts hung in there but had to cope with declining budgets and inspiration. The strain from these resources ebbing away can be felt in Witchery, a haunted-house quickie from Joe D’Amato’s Filmirage production company. All the expected elements are in play plus a few name stars but there’s a distinct feeling that the people behind the camera are just fulfilling commercial obligations as quickly as possible.
Witchery‘s main location is a big house in New England with a history. Said house’s past involves the suicide of a pregnant maybe-witch plus an old movie star who retired there. In the present day, two groups of people are drawn to it: the first is a student of the paranormal (Leslie Cumming) who brings her photographer boyfriend (David Hasselhoff!) to take pictures for a proposed book on the place. The other is a family who bought the property to turn into a hotel. Jane (Linda Blair), the daughter of the group, just happens to be pregnant. In short order, the ghosts in the house are led by the old movie star to kill or possess the visitors as they try to fight their way out.
The results aren’t what you would call scary: instead, they function as braindead camp with the occasional mild gross-out moment (the most memorable is a scene where one character gets their lips sewn shut). The story doesn’t make much sense so anyone brave enough to wade into Witchery will want to pay attention to the film’s eccentric approach to horror instead.
With the exception of Hasselhoff, everyone gives an awful performance and that contributes in a major way to the film’s off-kilter feel. For instance, Cumming delivers all her lines in a mumbly, luded-out monotone and there’s also a child actor who drawls out each line in a way that suggests serious head trauma. Even Blair is cast adrift in a thankless role that has her replaying her Exorcist bag of tricks for the umpteenth time. That said, fans of the Basket Case sequels might be amused by the presence of Annie Ross as the bitchy matriarch of the house-buying clan.
Compounding the film’s camp overtone is the direction by one “Martin Newlin” (most sources credit this as actually being Fabrizio Laurenti while some say D’Amato himself directed). He doesn’t display any feel for atmosphere or crafting setpieces, resulting in a number of “shocks” so flatly delivered they are often surreal. Particularly hilarious is his repeated use of a technique where a character attacked by the house’s evil spirits is superimposed screaming and waving their hands over a lava lamp-styled red optical. It looks like something from Land Of The Lost and is guaranteed to provoke chuckles.
In short, Witchery is best left to the Italian trash-flick archaeologists. There’s a few moments of oddball camp for them to savor in it but even those hearty souls might find this film rough going.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory just issued this title with Ghosthouse on a 2-for-1 blu-ray. The results look surprisingly good for a low-budget quickie, with nice levels of detail and color. It’s also worth noting this is framed at the proper 1.66:1 ratio unlike the prior U.S. DVD release of this film. The 2.0 DTS soundtrack is presented in lossless form, offering a basic but sturdy sound mix. The one extra included with the film is its international trailer – but the inclusion of Ghosthouse ups the value for Italian horror buffs.