Wicked Wednesday: Witchboard (1986)

Withcboard was recommended to me a couple weeks ago. I had vaguely heard of this movie (the first in a trilogy), but the excitement level immediately went up after I learned that it was directed by Kevin S Tenney.

Tenney is the director of the fantastic and crazy Night of the Demons – a personal favourite of mine. The two films hardly share much in common. While NOTD is very much a campy teen slasher, Witchboard is a bit (if only a bit) more sophisticated with a more complex story and older cast (if only in story).

There are no witches in Witchboard, but rather the story centres around a Ouija board. One night at a party, smarmy yuppie Brandon brings his board to play with his ex-girlfriend, Linda.

Linda and Brandon contact the spirit of David, a 10-year-old boy who died in an accident. Brandon assures everyone at the party that he’s contact David a number of times. But when Linda’s boyfriend, Jim, begins to taught the spirit and the board, the spirit becomes angry and slashed the tires on Brandon’s car.

The next day, at his building site, Jim’s co-worked and friend, Lloyd, is killed in a freak accident. He comes home to tell Linda, who has spent her entire day alone chatting with a spirit on the Ouija board, which she believes to be David.

At the funeral, the couple meet a Lieutenant Dewhurst, who suspects Jim had something to do with the death. Jim’s hammer/axe disappeared the day of the accident. And Dewhurst informs that the sheeting that killed Lloyd had been tampered with – probably with an axe.

The more time Linda spends with the Ouija board, the more erratic and foul-mouthed she becomes. Eventually she admits to Jim that she’s pregnant, which they both believe explains away her behaviour.

But Brandon, Ouija board extraordinaire, knows better. He tells his worries to Jim, who tries to ignore him. The two are former-friends turned enemies (mostly due to Linda, obv). Before you can say “your gal’s gonna get possessed,” Jim receives a phone call at the site from his landlord saying that Linda had freaked out while at home alone.

After seeing how upset Linda is, Jim agrees to have a medium over. In pops “Zarabeth” – easily one of the strangest and more memorable characters in a 80’s horror film. The eccentric medium holds a seance with the couple and Brandon to contact David’s spirit, but the boy doesn’t hold up any resistance and leaves when asked. Brandon takes back his Ouija board, which had been left behind from the party.

Zarabeth is suspicious of the spirit, sensing that there wasn’t something quite right. She tells Brandon that she’s going to do more research that night, but she too is killed by an axe before she can tell Brandon of her discoveries.

When Brandon hears of Zarabeth’s death, he realises that he doesn’t actually have the Ouija board, but just an empty box. He meets with Jim, and insists that Linda is probably experiencing “progressive entrapment” which means she’s slowly becomes the target of a spirit.

While using the board alone, Linda hurts herself and becomes concussed. At the hospital, Jim learns that Linda is not actually pregnant at all. So the behaviour and morning sickness can no longer be easily explained away. He then fully accepts Brandon’s ideas on progressive entrapment.

The two men head out together to do more research on David. They are able to confirm his death, and that he did die at the age and way that he had claimed. Brandon and Jim then go to the place where David died. They try to contact him, thinking that they are safe because Linda is in a coma of sorts, but something goes awry. The spirit there attacked the two men, killing Brandon with the axe.

After the death of his friend, Jim continues the research. He goes to a local witchcraft shop and speaks to the woman there. Together they realise that this apartment is in fact haunted by the ghost of Carlos Malfeitor, a serial killer who murdered people with an axe.

Jim returns to his home, and realises that Linda is out of the hospital, and not in fact asleep. He sees Linda in full dress like Malfeitor – complete with a fantastic hat! Good fashion happens when you’re possessed!

But the argument and tussle gets the attention of Lt Dewhurst, who tries to stop them. But the man is knocked out, leaving Jim alone with Malfeitor. He manages to get a gun and shoots the Ouija board, exorcising the spirit from Linda.

And all seems fine. Linda and Jim get married. Jim (seemingly) doesn’t get arrested for any of the murders. But while their landlord cleans up their apartment, the Ouija board is discovered – still full of life.

Witchboard was much more enjoyable than I initially thought it might be. There was a sad lack of witches, sure, but it’s a zany little piece with pretty good characters.

One of the more interesting aspects of the movie was the focus on Jim and Brandon’s friendship. Many horror films rely on the Final Girl trope, but the exploration of a platonic relationship between these guys was pretty refreshing. It reminded me a bit of Keith Jennings and Robert Thorn in The Omen. But all the while, Linda never feels like a true victim, but a pretty strong character in her own right.

Just two dudes, solving crimes!

I’d gladly rewatch Witchboard. And I found a true kindred spirit with Zarabeth.

“Hang loose, stay cool, and don’t forget your psychic humor.”

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