[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 15 – Witchboard (1986)

or “Still a better Ouija movie than the actual Ouija movie”

Director: Kevin Tenney

Cast: Todd Allen, Tawny Kitaen, Stephen Nichols, Kathleen Wilhoite, Burke Byrnes, Rose Marie

Screenplay: Kevin Tenney

96 mins. Rated R.

 

Making a movie about a Ouija board is really tough, everyone. Seriously, it’s must be truly difficult. How does one make a board game scary?

Jim Maror (Todd Allen, Django Unchained, My All-American) is trying his best to mend his relationship with childhood friend Brandon Sinclair (Stephen Nichols, Merchants of Venus, TV’s Days of Our Lives). The biggest problem is that Jim’s girlfriend Linda (Tawny Kitaen, Bachelor Party, TV’s Moms Anonymous) used to date Brandon. At a party one night, Brandon introduces them to a Ouija board and the spirit of a ten-year-old boy named David that Brandon has communicated with many times before. Brandon forgets the Ouija board with Linda, who begins using it pretty regularly. As the same time, danger keeps befalling Jim. Are the two series of events connected or merely coincidence?

Witchboard has a problem that regularly happens in bad movies. I didn’t like Jim or Brandon. I marginally liked Linda, though she was mostly underdeveloped. Naturally, our male leads get better over time as they loosen up a bit, but they play like children fighting over a toy.

Director Kevin Tenney (Night of the Demons, Bigfoot) sets a nice tone for the film. It’s a nice mixture of lightheartedness and downright dread while never folding all the way to one side, but that’s about all it has to give.

All in all there’s problems abound in this movie, but I did enjoy the camp level of it, and I think that’s what you really have to have with a film like Witchboard. This isn’t planned as an Oscar film nor is it meant to please everyone. This is a prime example of a film you have to judge on its own merits. What is it trying to be and is it successful in that way? Witchboard is moderately successful as the cheap low-budget ghost story. There isn’t much for scares here, and the film isn’t as good as Tenney’s better effort Night of the Demons, but it is fun at times. Not very fun, but fun enough.

Witchboard is pretty much exactly what I expected. I was hoping for more effect fun for a film like this. We are dealing with a wacky ghost story trying to make a piece of cardboard scary, so I did want more. The film has fun, and the tone matches what I saw on screen. Witchboard is fine for genre fans, but I’m doubtful it will work for others.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Kevin Tenney’s Night of the Demons, click here.

[Early Review] [31 Days of Horror 3] Day 18 – Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

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Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Doug Jones, Alexis G. Zall

Screenplay: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard

99 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, terror and thematic elements.

 

Good evening folks, tonight I was privileged to have been invited to an advance screening for the upcoming release Ouija: Origin of Evil. Now, as many of you know, I wasn’t big on the original Ouija, but I went in with an open mind ready to embrace the fear. Now, did this sequel bring me in? Let’s take a look.

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This prequel follows the Zander family: mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, Hello My Name is Doris), eldest daughter Paulina (Annalise Basso, TV’s Cold, Captain Fantastic), and youngest Doris (Lulu Wilson, TV’s The Millers, Deliver Us From Evil). The Zanders run a faux seance scam out of their home. In an effort to increase the spectacle, Alice purchases a Ouija board from a local shop, and Doris immediately makes a connection to it. But her constant use of the board leads to frightening changes in her personality as seen through the eyes of Paulina and Father Tom (Henry Thomas, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Dear John), the Principal of the local Catholic school. Then, people start dying, and all eyes are on Doris, but she couldn’t possibly be causing it, right?

Let’s talk about how this installment adds to the larger mythos of the Ouija franchise. In all fairness, I’m actually surprised by how well it ties to the original but also how it forges a new path. It does really feel like the filmmakers, specifically Director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush), seemed to have taken the feedback for the first film and attempted to right the ship.

That being said, this movie has so many convoluted plot points and story pieces that, by the end of the film, it completely devolves, which is sad, but also not surprising considering I felt the same way about Flanagan’s 2013 film Oculus. The plot thread moves along fine enough for the first hour, but when the pieces start falling together, the film falls to pieces.

And then there’s the issue of the Ouija board. As the first film kind of devolved into a pretty lame ghost story, this prequel eventually becomes a mess of possessions and slashers and doesn’t do any of it particularly well. I wanted to like it, and there are elements that shine, but the Ouija board could’ve been removed from both films without changing the story one bit.

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Flanagan’s visuals occasionally shine through, and the film’s pace isn’t bad, but this outing feels like it took too much from other horror films that have been here before and done it better. I saw pieces of Insidious, The Conjuring, and The Exorcist here, and none of it done in a particularly memorable way. I’m glad that Ouija: Origin of Evil is a major step in the right direction, but the ending feels like it was forced to fit a certain way to match the first film, and in doing so, the story is badly damaged and crashes to the ground. On a budget of $6 million, I have no doubt that there will be a Ouija 3, so let’s hope they continue to make progress with this series.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Stiles White’s Ouija, click here.

For my review of Mike Flanagan’s Oculus, click here.

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 1 – Ouija (2014)

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Director: Stiles White

Cast: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Douglas Smith, Bianca Santos, Shelley Hennig, Lin Shaye

Screenplay: Juliet Snowden, Stiles White

89 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing violent content, frightening horror images, and thematic elements.

 

Well, here we are again, folks! My favorite time of the year: Halloween and the month of scary movies! Let’s start this month off with the horror film Ouija, based on the Hasbro board game/spirit board of the same name.

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Laine Morris (Olivia Cooke, TV’s Bates Motel, The Signal) just lost her best friend to an apparent suicide. When she uncovers an old Ouija board the two used to play with as children, she gets the terrible idea to gather several friends in the old house and try to speak to the recently deceased Debbie (Shelley Hennig, TV’s Days of Our Lives, Unfriended), but who exactly are they talking to, and what do they want?

Ouija has to be one of the worst horror films in recent memory. I couldn’t tell you any details about the characters in the film because they aren’t actually characters but people merely sitting in a room. They aren’t even cliché characters (that I can deal with, in fact, I can expect it from a film like this), because they have no details or personality traits.

Director Stiles White gives us boring sequences meant to incite fear but merely flopping around on the screen totally uninspired. The deaths in the film don’t even have tension. The characters just kind of die. There is no fear because there isn’t a buildup. The eyes turn white (for no particular reason) and then they die. Nothing’s happening here.

For a film that runs 89 minutes, this movie felt like 3 hours. It feels like it has two directors, and in fact, it was mostly reshot, with some characters disappearing and reappearing with no consequence or impact on the story. Lin Shaye (Insidious, Big Ass Spider!) appears in one of the most wasted casting choices of the film. She is given nothing to do.

As for the music, it is used far too sparingly, and when it is, it sounds like a calmer version of the Insidious theme. Totally worthless.

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All in all, Ouija is a bad film to see at the beginning of the month because it actually challenged my beliefs in the future of horror. What the hell is this piece of garbage? Can somebody help! Please!

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

 

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

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Director: Leigh Whannell

Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Hayley Kiyoko, Lin Shaye

Screenplay: Leigh Whannell

97 mins. Rated PG-13 for violence, frightening images, some language and thematic elements.

 

Horror sequels are often looked at as a lesser film than the original. Horror prequels have it even worse. So how does Insidious: Chapter 3 (a sequel that is actually a prequel) stack up?

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Set two years before the haunting of the Lambert Family, Insidious: Chapter 3 follows Sean Brenner (Dermot Mulroney, TV’s Shameless, My Best Friend’s Wedding) and his daughter Quinn (Stefanie Scott, Wreck-It Ralph, No Strings Attached). Quinn has been trying to contact her deceased mother, but something else has reached back. She needs the help of gifted but retired paranormal investigator Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye, There’s Something About Mary, Ouija).

Being a prequel limits this installment to certain franchise pitfalls. Many prequels make the mistake of referencing future events in a tongue-in-cheek way. This is one area where, for the most part, the film doesn’t disappoint. There are two scenes at the end that make this mistake, but the earlier sequences of the film that make reference to the Lamberts and the haunting. It is a smart decision to tell an original story within the series as opposed to tell a story that leads directly the opening of the first installment.

New director Whannell, known for writing the first three installments of the Saw franchise, Dead Silence, and all three Insidious films, takes over for directing partner James Wan who makes a cameo known but was busy on Furious 7 at the time. He does a somewhat mediocre job handling the many hats of a filmmaker, but there is some serious potential here. The film’s scary sequences are hit-and-miss, but Whannell shows that he can learn from mistakes, so I have faith in his abilities.

The big winner here is Lin Shaye, who has an exploding career so far into her career. She carries this film so well that it is easy to overlook many of the failures, and it is fun to see her initial interactions with Tucker (Angus Sampson, TV’s Fargo, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Specs (played by Whannell).

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Insidious: Chapter 3 is the third best film in this franchise. It stumbles at times but shows definite talent for its cast and crew. I can see the forward trajectory of this series making its mark. Fans of the series should enjoy themselves; everyone else need not apply.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Insidious: Chapter 3? Did it take you Further or did you sleep well after? Let me know!

 

[Happy 5th Birthday!] Letters to God (2010)

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Director: David Nixon, Patrick Doughtie

Cast: Robyn Lively, Jeffrey Johnson, Tanner Maguire, Bailee Madison, Michael Bolton

Screenplay: Patrick Doughtie, Art D’Alessandro, Sandra Thrift, Cullen Douglas

110 mins. Rated PG for thematic material.

 

The Dohertys are going through a rough period. The youngest son Tyler (Tanner Maguire, The Hangover Part II) has cancer. His older brother Ben (Michael Bolton, no not that one) is feeling neglected while worried about Tyler. The mother Maddy (Robyn Lively, The Karate Kid Part III, Ouija) doesn’t know how to process her son’s illness. When Brady McDaniels (Jeffrey Johnson, Helter Skelter), a new mailman, takes up the Doherty route and begins receiving letters to God from Tyler, it sets them all on a course of learning, loving, and growing that none of them could have predicted.

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This film takes true events and shoehorns them into a goofy religious piece of schmaltz that doesn’t do the actual events justice. Granted, this is one of the better films of this particular subgenre in recent years, but the film is just too damn long. It is so boring for most of the later 2/3 of the film. The performances are disappointing, most of the characters come off as trying to be Disney characters and the entire film feels like it would be indiscernible from Lifetime channel dreck.

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I like the general idea of the movie, and I feel like under better hands, it would make a pretty nice short film. The fact is, the runtime is by far the worst part of this not-so-great time at the movies. There are better ways to spend two hours, so I’ve saved you from it.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

ps. Don’t get on my case about giving bad reviews to religious movies. I have seen a few really good religious films in my time but this was not one of them. This one is more in line with Mom’s Night Out and that is what earned it bad props. So there, got it?

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