Witchboard

One Thousand and One Nights of Bad Hair
Released:
1986

Director: Kevin Tenney

Starring: Tawny Kitaen, Todd Allen, Stephen Nichols, Kathleen Wilhoite

The Setup:

An evil spirit inhabits a big-haired woman through a ouija board.

Discussion:

I put this one to the top of my list because I had heard that it had an undercurrent of homoeroticism between its two male leads, and it kind of does, but it’s also a deliriously ridiculous movie with its own charms. Plus it stars a woman named Tawney Kitaen, which, well… I’m not sure I know what to say about that.

The movie opens at a party that also serves as a golden cavalcade of unforgivable hair. It’s almost shocking. It would seem that Tawny [her character is Linda, but we’ll continue to call her Tawny] is married to Jim, this alcoholic loser construction worker [with a heart of gold, natch], and Jim has this bitchy hatred of their other friend, Brandon, who looks like John Boy Walton with a mullet. Brandon has brought his precious ouija board to the party, and he wants to convince everyone that it works, but to do so he needs someone that is pure, i.e. doesn’t drink or smoke, which means Tawny. Apparently Tawny and Jim are in one of those all-too-rare marriages in which a person who doesn’t drink or smoke is involved with a chain-smoking alcoholic whose idea of decorating the living room is creating a pyramid out of his used beer cans. Anyway, so they contact this spirit, David, who gets pissed at Jim for his snide remarks, and disrupts the party, causing Brandon to somehow forget his prize ouija board and leave it at Jim and Tawny's house.

As it happens, Tawny is pregnant, and she gets dressed up in lingerie to use the board and contact little David again. There has been talk earlier about how people are reincarnated, and after a brief sojourn in the afterlife, can CHOOSE who their parents would be upon their return. Why so many people then end up with such hideously mismatched parents is left unexplained, though I suppose it could lead to a popular bestseller: Why Good Reincarnated Infants Choose Bad Parents, or The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Reincarnated-Parent-Choosers. But let’s face it, we know that this theory is bunk by the simple fact that Sam Elliott is not my dad. Actually, I have often thought about how pleasantly different my life would have been if Willie Hutch were my dad. Anyway, Tawny asks this David spirit if he wants to be her baby, which I also thought a bit rushed, as she barely knows this spirit at all, but apparently there’s an open-door policy on her womb. Maybe if I wasn’t so guarded and withdrawn, and could learn to love, truly love, I would be more open to inviting spirits I’ve only just become acquainted with into my body.

Well, Tawny learns the hard way that if you leave your spiritual cervix open to just anybody, you really never do know who’s going to pop by, and they just may have their eye on the silver. Some nasty spirit inhabits her, and she starts changing, most notably in that she suddenly starts swearing a lot, which she apparently never did [don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do ya do?]. She delivers an excellent insult to Jim when he startles her, and he says “Sorry, maybe I should wear a bell around my neck” and she replies “Why don’t you just rattle your fuckin’ head around?” Ow!

So John Boy [Brandon] convinces the acting-challenged but still alluring Jim that they need to invite a medium over to exorcise the spirit. He says that spirits are essentially like molesters in that they come on all nice and offer you candy before they turn on you and start demanding [metaphorical] face-fucking, to which I say well, Tawny DID leave the barn door swinging open. Anyway, they invite over Zarabeth, this medium who is clearly inspired by the wacky medium in Poltergeist, it’s just that this time she’s an 80s chick in the Cyndi Lauper vein who cannot disguise her painful unfamiliarity with how to pronounce all the 80s Valley-speak she is required to toss off. Zarabeth actually gets quite a juicy part here, and her time on screen is quite a breath of fresh air. Eventually, however, she’s impaled. I don’t know, I find it’s best not to get too attached to zany secondary characters in horror films. We had already lost one here, by the way, in Jim’s friend at the construction site, who he is clearly chivalrously sheltering as he tries to flee the J. Geils Band.

Anyway, soon Jim and John Boy are spending an inordinate amount of time together, and connecting to the long lost “friendship” they once shared. I have written in my notes: “Everything is wrong about Brandon,” because not only does he look like a half-melted candle with a face on it, he cannot act and his character is hideously misconceived. It’s tempting to imagine what more a sock puppet might have brought to the role, but you know, you go into a movie with the actors you have, not the ones you might want at a later time. The two guys decide that they’ve “got to do [the ouija] right,” which in this case means that they MUST do it directly below a precariously-stacked bunch of barrels, with NOTHING else around for miles. That’s doin’ it RIGHT, fellas! There’s been talk of a homoerotic undercurrent to this film, and it DOES seem to be about two guys reconnecting but for the fact that this woman has come between them. Really her entire posession just serves to get the guys to acknowledge their long-lost feelings for each other, and for Jim to learn to feel. They do spend quite a lot of time on each other, and they do give long, lingering glances to each other, such as the one below. Hmmmm. It does give one pause.

Turns out they’re not talking to the little boy spirit after all, but to Evil. That’s right, it’s spelled out twice… they are talking to Evil. Of course this is a bit like saying I’m having a conversation with fastidiousness or a give-and-take with punctuality, but whatever. This evil is the spirit of a mass murderer who lived in the house that Jim and Tawny share, way back in the day.

Now I’ve done a little research and it seems that Tawny Kitaen [pronounced “Kit-ayne”] rose to stardom as “that chick” from various Whitesnake videos, and was married to David Coverdale, the lead singer. The Big Hair: Explained. She later became addicted to prescription painkillers and appeared on ‘The Surreal Life.’ Fame is a fickle mistress to those with “Adjective Noun” constructions to their name.

Tawny finally achieves a measure of greatness toward the end, when she is fully possessed, her leonine locks are unleashed, and she gets to be an all-out vengeful bitch. She does not convince as a prim and pure housewife. We then have the world’s shittiest special effect appearing at the climactic shot [dudes, do you want people to laugh at the most important moment?], followed by an explicit homage to the ‘falling down the stairs’ sequence from Psycho. It ends with a shitty 80s-rock song called “Bump In The Night.” You know, I could never really sense what the big deal was about Nirvana, but this song made it clear that rock and roll was TRULY DEAD during this period, and that made me appreciate their achievement.

The trailer contains an amusingly overwrought voice-over. The DVD also contains a commentary, which I didn’t listen to, though I would like to know how anyone could possibly defend this. It’s definitely fun, and contains MORE than its fair share of hilarious 80s moments. I would totally pay to see a movie about a haunted Rubik’s cube or some shit.

Should you watch it?

Probably. Especially if you love 80s period detail, including what may be the most dizzying array of appalling hairstyles ever assembled.

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