Scream Factory Double Feature (US - BD RA)
Gabe revisits director Kevin Tenney's first two movies on Blu-ray disc...
It’s called an Ouija Board and it’s been used for thousands of years to communicate with the souls of the afterworld. For beautiful Linda Brewster (Tawny Kitaen), it brings the playful ghost of a dead ten-year-old boy. But, when the friendly spirit develops a sudden taste for violent murder and demonic possession, Linda’s boyfriend (Todd Allen) and her former lover (Stephen Nichols) must race to destroy the ferocious portal of the damned. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
Writer/director Kevin S. Tenney made his feature debut, Witchboard, during the ‘golden era’ of straight-to-video horror. The home video revolution had slowly undone the genre’s major role in the grindhouse and drive-in scenes. Teenagers were more likely to experience the joys of sex & violence from the safety of their own homes. In 1986, many of these films were still given teeny tiny theatrical releases that somehow ‘justified’ their production, yet the filmmakers involved hadn’t necessarily given up on larger success. It was a Petri dish made to cull the talents of a guy like Tenney. However, Tenney never quite fit the moulds set by his contemporaries. His output was far from excessive (14 movies in 22 years) and he didn’t make any noticeable effort to create an STV mini-empire, like Charles Band or Lloyd Kaufman (the head honchos of Full Moon and Troma, respectfully). He wasn’t a savvy technician trapped in a thankless role, like Anthony Hickox ( Waxwork, Sundown: the Vampire in Retreat), nor was he a talentless amateur, hacking his way through the process – he was swaddled right in the middle of the pack, which might actually be the worst place to be when it comes to cult filmmaking.
Tenney makes an impression for a first-time filmmaker working on a small budget by including complex tracking shots, swirling booms, fisheye lenses, and even a couple of crane shots. His screenplay does have some decent, naturalistic dialogue and the performances are markedly better than most STV counterparts. This creates an unusual situation where the characters are unusually engaging, despite their story being run-of-the-mill haunted house-type fodder. Unfortunately, the character drama sets the tone of the film and a whole lot of time is spent on ‘Lifetime Original’-levels of love story angst, instead of ghost child mayhem. Tenney sets up a tantalizing situation where David, the 10-year-old from the Ouija board, starts poltergeisting a building site that is brimming with deadly construction materials – then kills someone by dropping scrap plywood on him. It is only the first of many missed opportunities for gory pandemonium, which is especially disappointing, considering that creative violence became a cornerstone of Tenney’s later work. In the end, Witchboard is too well made to qualify as a so-bad-it’s-good experience and too uneventful and unscary to work as a ‘real’ horror movie.
Witchboard was followed by only one official sequel, Witchboard 2: The Devil’s Doorway (1993); though before that Tenney also made Witchtrap (1989), a similar, Ouija-less version of the material and shot on a smaller budget. Witchtrap, which actually bore a warning in its credits stating that it was not a sequel to Witchboard, is most notable for a scene where a haunted showerhead detaches and buries itself in Linnea Quigley’s neck. Peter Svatek’s Witchboard III: The Possession is often considered an unrelated offshoot (false sequels have always been an important part of the STV market), but was co-written by Tenney and features a possessed Ouija board, so I’m not sure why.
Witchboard was released in the US and UK on anamorphic DVD via Anchor Bay, but this Scream Factory disc represents its first availability on Blu-ray and in HD (as far as I know…). You’d be forgiven for assuming the worst, based on the material, but this is a solid 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer. Details are crisp with only minor distortions along the finest lines, most of it the result of fine film grain. The darker interior close-ups are a little rough, but cinematographer Roy H. Wagner ( A Nightmare on Elm 3: The Dream Warriors) ensures that wider-angle images have plenty of depth. Colours are strong and vibrant. The daylight images include vivid blues, lush greens, and natural skin tones, while the moodier dark shots include nicely separated, warm highlights. The palette skews a bit orange when surrounded by too much heavy black, but, even with the constant film grain, the shadows are relatively clean. I only noticed a handful of print damage artefacts, mostly quick little scratches/tracking lines. The uncompressed, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is also pretty strong, though limited by the source material. Dialogue and incidental effects are clear, if not a bit inconsistent in terms of total volume levels. Some of the whispered discussions are difficult to discern. Dennis Michael Tenney’s keyboard score (some of it performed by Steel Breeze) is definitely one of the film’s highlights. The music is given the biggest boost on the uncompressed track, including some deep bass and unhindered, warm high end.
The extras include:
- An all-new commentary with Tenney and actors Stephen Nichols, James W. Quinn, and Kathleen Wilhoite.
- Anchor Bay’s older DVD commentary with Tenney, executive producer Walter Josten, and producer Jeff Geoffrey.
- Progressive Entrapment (45:40, HD) – A new, full-bodied retrospective featurette/interview collection with Tenney, producers Walter Johnson & Jeff Geoffrey, FX artist Tassilo Baur, cinematographer Roy Wagner, and actors Todd Allen, Stephen Nichols, Tawny Kitaen, Kathleen Wilhoite, Kenny Rhodes, James Quinn, and J.P. Luebsen. Subject matter includes anecdotal and historical tales of Ouiji boards, along with the basics of the production process.
- The Making of Witchboard (6:50, SD) – A retro, behind-the-scenes EPK.
- Vintage, on-set cast interviews with Tawny Kitaen, J.P. Luebsen, and James Quinn (20:50, SD).
- On Set with Todd Allen and Steven Nichols (20:00, SD) -– More actors interviews.
- On Set with the Makers of Witchboard (20:00, SD) – More behind-the-scenes-footage.
- Life on the Set (20:10, SD) – Yet more behind-the-scenes footage.
- Constructing the World of Witchboard (21:10, SD) – Additional footage of set construction.
- Outtakes (6:20, SD)
- Behind-the-scenes and promotional still galleries
- Theatrical trailer
Night of the Demons
It’s Halloween night and Angela is throwing a party…but this is no ordinary Halloween party. Everybody’s headed to Hull House, a deserted funeral home, and formerly the home of a mass murderer. But, when the partygoers decide to have a séance, they awaken something evil...and these party crashers have a thirst for blood. Now it’s a battle for who can survive the night in Hull House. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
Night of the Demons was, without a doubt, Tenney’s finest hour. It got a bigger theatrical run than any other movie in his collection (I’m not sure any of his post- Night of the Demons had any theatrical release stateside) and it garnered a decent cult reputation. Tonally, it has very little in common with Witchboard (it opens with a delightfully comic book-inspired animated title sequence), which is the byproduct of Tenney being brought on as a director for hire, not involved with the script as he was with his first movie (the original director had left at the last-minute). The screenplay was written by Joe Augustyn, whose only other credits include a seedy succubus tale entitled Night Angel (1990), Night of the Demons 2, and an early draft of the Night of the Demons remake. Augustyn’s script is more teen and trope-friendly than Tenney’s soapy, melodramatic Witchboard script. This means the nominal challenge of complex characters is pushed aside in favour of gross-out scares and special effects, which is probably a better arena for the director’s Sam Raimi-inspired camera work (though, sadly, Witchboard is still the better directed film). The performances are broad, the dialogue is laughable, the T&A is in your face, and Steven Johnson’s elaborate special effects are appropriately goopy. The grotesque facial transformations and murders are pretty fantastic, but the film’s memorable highlight is a surrealistic scene where a possessed Linnea Quigley shoves a tube of lipstick into her nipple.
If you were a horror fan in the VHS era, Night of the Demons was readily available, but not as coveted as Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985), which was produced by Dario Argento and released the year before Tenney’s film and covered a similar outbreak of demonism. Bava’s film and its sequel, Demons 2 (1986), were gore and heavy metal-driven Euro-horror, a nice counterpoint to Night of the Demons’ pop Americana. It was also something of a rarity when it was released in both R-rated and unrated versions on home video. It might even be the first release to use the distinction as a selling point ( Re-Animator was perhaps the first to be available in both formats, but it was only by reading the back of the box that consumers would know the difference). This Blu-ray contains, naturally, the longer, gorier, unrated version. Night of the Demons was followed by two sequels ( Night of the Demons 2 was directed by Tarantino Ozploitation favorite Brian Trenchard-Smith) and a 2009 remake.
Anchor Bay had anamorphic DVD releases of Night of the Demons in both the US and the UK, but this Scream Factory disc is the film’s first and only Blu-ray release. The 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is similar to the Witchboard release in that it looks better than expected. Generally speaking, this is not a crisp movie. Tenney and cinematographer David Lewis (who shot both Witchboard 2 and Night of the Demons 2) use quite a bit of foggy soft focus to create their bubblegum horror mood, leading to some gritty, grainy moments and plush edges. Still, details are cleaner and sharper than any DVD version, especially stuff like facial close-ups. The darker wide-angle images show minor wear and edge enhancement, but clarity remains consistent throughout. The eclectic, neon and pastel ‘80s palette is vivid and well-separated, despite the softer focus and deep darkness. Black levels are consistent without appearing crushed or flat.
So far, Scream Factory has been content to release their films with uncompressed original audio tracks (kind of like Criterion), but Night of the Demons includes a 5.1 remix of the original 2.0 stereo sound. This appears to have been mixed specifically for this release, not taken from another release, like their John Carpenter releases. This release also includes two different DTS-HD MA 2.0 tracks, one based on the original Ultra Stereo mix and the other, seemingly based on the 5.1 remix. Comparing the tracks, I think that the remix is probably the strongest of the three, mostly because it thoroughly centers the dialogue and incidental effects. Otherwise, the difference between the tracks is negligible and all three feature the same minor inconsistencies in vocal volume. There’s very little in terms of immersive sound design, aside from some atmospheric frog/cricket noises and the most aggressive demon sounds. Dennis Michael Tenney returns to do the music; this time on a more epic scale with a poppier, more rock-infused score. The opening title number is quite possibly the best thing about the entire film. The 5.1 mix has a musical advantage due to the LFE bump, though the punk/rock/new wave additions are still generally tinny.
The extras include:
- An all-new commentary with Tenney, FX artist Steve Johnson, and actors Cathy Podewell, Hal Havins, and Billy Gallo.
- Anchor Bay’s older DVD commentary with Tenney, and producers Walter Johnson & Jeff Geoffrey.
- You’re Invited (1:11:30, HD) – An new collection of interviews with Tenney, producers Johnson & Geoffrey, producer/writer Joe Augustyn, animators Kevin Kurchaver & Kathy Zielinski, FX artist Steve Johnson, stuntman/coordinator John Stewart, and actors Linnea Quigley, Cathy Podewell, Alvin Alexis, Allison Barron, Donnie Jeffcoat, Billy Gallo, James Quinn, Amelia Kinkade, Hal Havins, and Donnie Jeffcoat. The subject matter, once again, covers more or less the entirety of production. There’s quite a bit of overlap with the two commentaries, but this piece is info-packed enough to work as the disc’s only extra – everything else is just gravy.
- Amelia Kinkade, Protean (22:30, HD) – A secondary interview segment with the actress (including even more overlap) that covers her work on Night of the Demons and its sequels.
- Allison Barron’s Demon Memories (4:00, HD) – A chance for the actress to show us her personal photo gallery with narration.
- Promo reel (4:10, SD)
- Video trailer
- Theatrical trailer
- TV and radio spots
- Behind-the-scenes, special effects/make-up, photo, poster, and storyboard galleries.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and have been resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 4th February 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English (Night of the Demons only), DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Extras: Cast and Crew Commentaries, Progressive Entrapment, The Making of Witchboard, Vintage On-Set Interviews, Outtakes, You’re Invited, Amelia Kinkade, Protean, Allison Barron’s Demon Memories, Trailers, TV Spots, Image Galleries, DVD Copies
Easter Egg: No
Director: Kevin Tenney
Cast: Tawny Kitaen, Stephen Nichols, Todd Allen, Kathleen Wilhoite, William Gallo, Hal Havins, Amelia Kinkade, Cathy Podewell, Linnea Quigley
Genre: Comedy, Drama and Horror
Length: 0 minutes
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