Digi-Schlock: WITCHBOARD (Scream Factory Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack)

As their back catalog reveals, Scream Factory has a serious sweet tooth for ’80s horror. Thus, it’s fitting that they’ve done the blu-ray honors for Witchboard, a serious cult fave with the ’80s horror crowd. It’s obvious that it’s also a favorite with the producers at Scream Factory as they put in quite an effort here, delivering a nice new transfer and supplementing it with an array of bonus features new and old.

Things start on a good note with a sleek-looking high definition transfer used on both discs. The blu-ray was used for this review and the results look nice for a mid-’80s low-budget film: black levels are solid during the night sequences, the colors have a new richness and the detail gets a new boost in clarity. The audio offers a lossless presentation of the film’s original mono mix: thus, there is no directional speaker activity but the blend of dialogue, music and effects works and has a nice punch.

The set’s cavalcade of extras begins with two commentary tracks. The first track dates back to the film’s Anchor Bay DVD release and features writer/director Kevin Tenney, producer Jeff Geoffrey and executive producer Walter Jostyn.  It was the first film for all three so they have pretty vivid memories of the production and are quick to share them.

Witchb-bluTopics discussed include having to replace the cinematographer early in the shoot, the technical challenges involved in different setpieces and how the use of a Ouija board presented legal challenges that had to be deftly negotiated. Tenney self-deprecatingly notes the role that “dumb luck” played in their success, including how the sudden popularity of Stephen Nichols on t.v. and Tawny Kitaen in music videos helped spark interest when the film was released. All in all, it’s a good nuts-and-bolts track that gives you a sense of the work involved in making a polished low-budget film.

The second commentary track was recorded for this set and features Tenney with cast members Nichols, Kathleen Wilhoite and James Quinn. It establishes a nostalgic and witty vibe early on thanks to the chemistry of the participants. Quinn and Tenney were childhood friends (a topic they discuss here) so they make a pretty amusing pair of cut-ups, Wilhoite self-effacingly asks Tenney questions to keep him primed and Nichols adds the occasional wry aside, with his mock-indignance about his hand model in the Ouija board scenes becoming a running gag.

There are fun tales of the rigors of the shoot, practical jokes and some revealing details from Tenney about why he took a long break from filmmaking.  In short, this commentary offers a nice counterbalance to the other track and makes for a fun listen.

The heart of the video-based extras is a new documentary featurette on the film entitled “Possessive Entrapment.” Tenney, Geoffray and Jostyn are on hand to set up the genesis of the film and its production, including some interesting info on how Tenney left film school to make this movie, but it devotes more time to the cast and how different special effects were achieved.

Todd Allen, Kitaen, Nichols and Wilhoite also turn up in this piece to offer fond memories of working together and the occasional tale of pranks or on-set jokes.  Allen in particular tells a funny tale about being recognized after the film by a girls tennis team in a hotel.  FX coordinator Tassilo Baur is a great addition to the piece, offering detailed but concise accounts of how different setpieces were done (his opinion on Ouija boards also offers a good laugh).  In short, this is an entertaining and fast-paced piece that will please Witchboard fans.

From there, the extras move into vintage material. First up is a “Making Of” piece that runs about 7 minutes. It’s really more of an informal EPK where interview snippets with the actors are interspersed with goofing around on the set and footage from the film, including a glimpse of the boat explosion prologue that was cut from the film.

The producers also had access to over 90 minutes of behind-the-scenes video footage from the production and they parcel it out via a quintet of video segments. The first of these is simply called “Cast Interviews”:  it’s half interview snippets with Allen, Nichols and Kitaen, who mainly discuss that they love the script because it’s so character-driven, and raw edits of footage from the film sans music, inserts or sound effects.

There are also two “On Set” interview segments, both 20 minutes each. The first has a few minutes with Allen talking about his experiences as a film actor before moving into a longer interview with Nichols. The chat focuses around his work in the film and he comes off as a charming, unpretentious type. The second segment features Tenney, Geoffray and cinematographer Roy Wagner. They all praise the dedication and skills of the crew, which helped them deal with the time and money limitations.

The last two segments are more casual, oriented around footage of production work. “Life On The Set” has lots of informal footage of the crew at work, a brief interview with a stand-in for Kitaen and footage of a makeup artist working on Allen and Kitaen. It livens up when Tenney walks in the room and they all start goofing on each other. “Constructing Witchboard” is a montage of footage from the last day of principal photography as the crew worked on a false window front and an elaborate camera rig. It’s not terribly exciting but it gives an impression of the time and work involved in a film shoot.

The last few extras are devoted to promotional materials. There are two t.v. spots and a theatrical trailer for the film: oddly, the t.v. spots do a better job of selling the film’s appeal. There are also two image galleries: a behind-the-scenes gallery includes around 200 shots from the set, including extensive coverage of the deleted boat-explosion prologue, and a promo gallery includes stills, posters and what appears to be some photos from a premiere.

In short, Scream Factory has created the jam-packed special edition of Witchboard that its fans have been waiting for and it’s a nice complement to their equally extensive special edition for Tenney’s Night Of The Demons.

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