Witchery

Bedazzled by witches
★★★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1988
Director: 
Fabrizio Laurenti
Starring: 
Linda Blair, David Hasselhoff, Catherine Hickland, Annie Ross
The Setup: 
Group stuck on island is menaced by witch.
Discussion: 

My friend alerted me to this, describing it as "the 51st Chilling Classic," a reference to the cornucopia of cheesy cinematic wonders collected as "50 Chilling Classics" and which you should buy right now. This one features stars David Hasselhoff and Linda Blair, and is ostensibly directed by Fabrizio Laurenti, although it is produced and possibly also directed by horror / porn luminary Joe D'Amato, who also gave us Antropophagus. This also feels very much like Antropophagus in tone.

We open with a pregnant woman running from a mob of men. She is presumably being persecuted as a witch. She runs into a house and down a long bright hallway, we then see the silhouettes of men following her, and we have to admit that the whole thing has an eerie power right from the start. She jumps out a window, and it turns out to have been all a dream of Jane, played by Blair, who is pregnant. Poor Blair is looking ridiculous from her first second onscreen. Then Jane is walking down the same long hallway in the present day, and is surprised by her boyfriend Gary, played by Hasselhoff. Only it's not Blair, it's another woman that looks almost exactly like her, so much so that it wasn't until about 30 minutes in that I realized she was a different person. This is Leslie, who is on the island, at this old hotel, researching the fate of the witch we saw earlier. Gary thinks she's growing dangerously obsessed, but so is he--about popping her cherry. Leslie, you see, is a virgin, and although the mood seems right--empty haunted hotel, you know--she's all prudish and just wants to talk and hug. She's certainly not going to get any if she keeps reading aloud from that witch book when in bed. They, as it will take you some time to figure out, have come illegally to the island and are squatting in the hotel while she does research.

But they're not the only person interested in the hotel. Jane's mom, played by a blond Elaine Stritch-type who is a hilarious bitch throughout, is considering buying the hotel. We also meet her henpecked husband, and little boy Tommy. Then we meet an older real estate broker and his son, Freddie, who is going to show them all to the island while Dad stays behind. Also along for the ride is Freddie's blonde girlfriend Linda, who is a nymphomaniac. On the way to Mom's, Jane sees this haggard old blonde woman in a black veil and costume jewelry, who dazzles her with the light from a pendant, and causes a near-miss with a falling construction beam. It's hilarious how, after the massive construction accident and near-fatal concussion, the construction guys just ask Jane "You alright?" then go about their business. Safety standards weren't quite in place the way they are today.

So they all go out to the island. Mom is a hilariously supercilious bitch about the condition of the place, as Freddie tries to spin all the rot positively. Before they arrive, there is a sudden and inexplicably brilliant light all around the hotel, which Gary catches on film, and refers to as the rare "witch light" they were trying to capture. It all comes on so quickly and without explanation that you just have to go with it. The boat with the passengers arrives, and the pilot refuses to step onto the island. He sees the old haggard lady as he's waiting by the boat, she bedazzles him, and the next thing you know, the boat is out at sea with him hung from the rigging. This is very much the same setup as Antropophagus.

SPOILERS > > >
Meanwhile, Jane is upstairs in a bathroom, when suddenly she has a fit. She's going for her pills, but oh drat, they fell into the tub of murky, nasty water. She reaches around, when suddenly she's pulled in! This offers the sight of Blair pretending to get pulled into the tub, which is pretty goofy. She goes down this spirit vortex (the tub drains directly into an alternate dimension), where she sees witches roasting and eating a baby. This is also like Antropophagus, which featured a notorious scene of violence against infants. Meanwhile, the others have discovered that the boat is missing, causing Dad to exclaim "Now what do we do? I told you to tip him!" So they're all stuck on the island, at which point Gary and Leslie introduce themselves, and they're all one big stranded family.

Around now Mom is being an aggressive bitch in the most endearing way, and she goes wandering about until she finds an open dumbwaiter door. Naturally, she sticks her entire upper body in, at which point she is sucked into the spirit vortex. This offers the sight of the actress from below, pretending to be sucked toward the camera, and looking mighty ridiculous [and more than a touch like Ronald McDonald] in the process. She's holding on so tight that her Lee press-on nails are popping off, but finally she succumbs and is pulled down. In the spirit realm, witches stitch her lips together (gruesome), and hang her upside-down in the fireplace where all the other characters are. They're chilly, and decide to light a fire, inadvertently roasting Mom over an open flame while sealing in bone-suckin' juicy goodness.

Now we have some explanation that the haggard blonde witch, played by Hildegard Nnef, was a movie actress who wanted to vanish instead of growing old publicly, and she made one last film which is thought to be lost, but, well, might be the film that spontaneously starts playing. Will this thread go anywhere or provide any meaning to what we're about to see? No, it won't. Meanwhile, blonde nympho Linda finds that being marooned on an island in an old abandoned hotel makes her HORNY. She starts eyeing Freddie as the most biologically-able mate and indicates that if they only step upstairs, his tadpoles can find a home in her mossy swamp. They retire, and are into the act when--that pesky spirit vortex! They're sucked down as a unit, which offers us the sight of the two actors, one standing closely behind the other, screaming as we superimpose a swirling vortex over them. She gets her hands cut off by the witches while he roasts in the flames of hell, watching her. Her body is soon found, back in the real world, impaled through the neck on the stuffed swordfish hanging on the wall, an all-too-potent reminder of the dangers of having stuffed fish on a wall. Parents, please take care to safeguard your home against dangerous taxidermied aquatic life!

Back on the mainland, Freddie's father, introduced briefly before, tells the sheriff that he's worried about his son. The sheriff acts like its the most ludicrous idea he's ever heard that they should worry about a party of people marooned on a deserted island. Plus--the storm! No one could get out to sea in such a horrible storm. However, their mentions of it are the only evidence we have of said storm, as it is not raining, nor do there appear to be high winds. Back on the island, Leslie is trying to get some shut-eye, but suffers from dreams of being raped by a young fellow whose mouth has been stitched together rather ineffectively. This gives viewers the sight of her heaving tits, and might cause alarm at her bizarrely flat nipples. Soon Freddie is discovered crucified upside-down and burning alive out on the front lawn.

Meanwhile Dad is driving through the perfectly peaceful night, but meeting only refusal to go out to the island because of: the storm! A bit later, the sheriff is once again refusing to go out to the island because of: the storm! But a few minutes later they're both in a helicopter coming out to the island, flying over a perfectly placid sea. From now until the end of the film we will have drastic changes in the amount of light outside, seeing the characters in the hotel fumbling about in the blue light of morning, as the helicopter outside flies through the absolute blackness of night. Our hapless heroes are trapped inside the hotel, unable to get out and signal to the helicopter, which finally gives up and leaves without so much as landing to look around. Thanks so much for the help, guys.

Now's when things go from mildly shocking to even more mildly shocking. It's also when I pretty much lost interest and just wanted to get through to the end. It's also when the filmmaking, already tenuously held together, completely falls apart, with great leaps in basic continuity. People are dying left and right, and suddenly Gary and Leslie run out to the inflatable raft that... they've had all along? I guess they couldn't have taken it out in the incredible, imperceptible storm. They have found Jane upstairs and possessed (poor Blair can't make it through a movie without getting possessed), which means that her hair is all teased up. Gary leaves Leslie to perform seaweed-clearing duty, which she can't even handle, because soon she's running back into the hotel and the raft is seen floating out in the sea. Like, tie that shit up, okay? You know, that ONE and ONLY way to get off the island? Kind of a key priority. Anyway, they go back in, Gary is impaled, the kid is threatened, I don't really understand what happened, nor do I care to, and eventually Jane launches herself out the window, the same one the witch jumped out oh so many years ago, and the curse is gone, or at least the movie's about to end. We have an epilogue where Jane is in the hospital--we hear that the kid is all right--and that the baby is fine, too. Leslie makes a face like "the baby?!" and we freeze-frame it. It proves to be a rather unfortunate freeze-frame, given the actresses limited skills, but we understand what it's supposed to mean. Over the credits we have a plaintive ballad! All this and a plaintive ballad, too!
< < < SPOILERS END

All in all, solid gold. It's super-cheesy, bizarrely violent and gory, hilariously tacky, and yet, for a good while at least, it maintains an eerie atmosphere that comes close to elevating it to the status of "good." There's just something about the framing and pacing and compositions that makes it successfully unnerving, and it walks that fine line between being utterly ludicrous, yet strangely compelling. Which is, of course, the sweet spot. And there's the Hoff and Blair, and the wonderfully bitchy mom, and clueless dad, and what can I say? It's a winner. Sure it completely falls apart in the final third, but you can also say that about life.

Should you watch it: 

If you love it cheesy, while also being a touch eerie.