aka The Presence
92 min., 1989
Written by Kevin S. Tenney
Directed by Kevin S. Tenney
My rating: ★★★
“God, this has been a lousy day!”
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First and foremost it should be mentioned that the creators or distributors of this movie were intent on making you realize that this is not a sequel to Witchboard. Not only is it on the VHS box, but the movie is preceded by this message. So don’t get any ideas, pal. This is NOT a sequel to Witchboard. This is Witchtrap, and that’s something different. Got it?
To be clear: THIS IS NOT WITCHBOARD. There isn’t even a witchboard involved. This one is about a team of psychics investigating a house on behalf of a landowner who wants to do something with this property. He can’t because of two things: the will of the warlock who used to live there and the deaths of several occupants over the years. The psychics have to work alongside three guys from a security firm. No one is happy about the situation, but the psychics have a spirit vacuum they want to test out.
Spirit vacuum? Hm. Sounds like a trap from Ghostbusters.
That’s actually a weakness of this movie. It clearly leans on Ghostbusters to the point where it might not have existed without Bill Murray and friends. I’m pretty sure they got James W. Quinn to play the lead because they couldn’t afford the actual Bill Murray. Hell, the character himself, Vincente, says that they don’t need him, they need Bill Murray. I don’t think it could be any clearer.
This is a fun little haunted house story. It’s too bad just about every actor is a cardboard cutout. There are times when they act like computers buffering before they respond to another character. Clyde Talley, II, the guy who plays Jackson, is pretty good. Linnea Quigley is, of course, good. (And naked as always.) Quinn takes some time, but he gets warmed up. He gets the best lines.
That’s the thing: the story is all right, but there are a lot of great wisecracks and witty banter. At one point Vincente calls someone a “Neanderfuck.” Another person gets to be called an “overgrown abortion,” and he is threatened with being on the receiving end of a .38 enema. Vicente says to his boss that he resents his mom for taking drugs when she was pregnant with him. There’s a great “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” reference. Before Vincente kills someone he says, “Say goodnight, Gracie.”
But then there are some slip ups, like when Vincente calls his partner a “walking hard on with feet.” That seems a bit redundant. And then there is a scene when someone questions Elwin’s motive in killing one of the characters. The answer: she was naked in the shower and maybe he raped her first. What kind of fucking answer is that? In what world do these flat characters exist where that is a reasonable response?!
Also, who the fuck is Elwin? It’s suggested that he’s a demon, but we don’t get any explanation for the things he does. Okay, so he’s a groundskeeper and a creep, but why does he choose today to go off the deep end?
And one of psychics thinks they’re all safe locked in their own rooms . . . but she believes in this haunting? Is she an idiot?
And then there’s the editing. What is rule number one of horror action sequences? You don’t cut away from them to show some other boring scene. There is a moment when Jackson is attacked by Elwin, the “overgrown abortion.” And just when something cool is about to happen, Tenney cuts away from it to have Jackson talk about it later. Being subtle with violence is one thing, but cutting away from such a vital scene like that? Nope. Shouldn’t do that. This happens again in the middle of another fight with Elwin. Maybe Elwin doesn’t like his fights to be filmed.
Enough with the negatives. Here are a few good things Tenney did. There are some nice touches, like when Vicente irons his shirt while still wearing it. Who does that? And why does the security firm have an iron in the office?
The first medium scene is kind of spooky. Rob Zapple, the guy who plays Felix, is reminiscent of Will Ferrell, but when he gets possessed he’s actually sort of good. Felix’s seizure is a bit jarring.
One of the characters is killed by a showerhead. No kidding. A showerhead.
Another psychic gets kinda-sorta possessed, and she flails around, moaning and crying and screaming. It seems like a psychic rape, almost like in The Entity, but without physical contact. It’s surprising that Tenney didn’t take the opportunity to have her shirt get ripped open. These scenes are the obvious places for something like that. He got every other actress naked in this one.
There is a scene when one of the psychics tells a horribly boring Phoebe Cates-type story, and Vincente’s response is over-the-top awesome.
The spirit throws a bullet at someone very fast, and it kills the target. Casing and all, man. Casing and all. It’s reminiscent of that one scene in Justified when Raylan Givens throws a bullet at a dude and says, “The next one’s coming at you a lot quicker.”
There’s also a great matador-with-a-red-cape scene that almost leads to a truck vs. car accident.
There is a lot of great suspense near the end when the last two survivors are racing to the altar in the attic while the spirit escapes from the ghost vacuum. Tip-top, Mr. Tenney. Good job.
One of the characters drinks ashes. Yes, you read that right.
And then there is the imagery in the end when a character melts down. It mirrors the end of The Dark Half while Thad Beaumont watches the sparrows take George Stark. And then it goes back to Ghostbusters when the charred remains break open and another character emerges from the gooey mess. *sigh*
Witchtrap—which is not, repeat NOT, Witchboard—is a bleak movie. Even when good things happen, they are underscored with something really shitty. Check out that epilogue. Grim. But it’s a pretty funny movie, and it’s decently told. You will have fun. Just try not to grimace too much.Have You Read...?