This month, Vinegar Syndrome brings us an interesting gem not seen since the VHS era – namely director/writer/producer Kevin Tenney’s Witchtrap.
Tenney, previously responsible for Witchboard 1-2 and Night of the Demons – sensing a theme? – brings the latter film’s Linnea Quigley along for the ride, as well as cast members from his very first student film (also included as an extra here – but we’ll get to that in a bit.)
A team of psychic investigators (Quigley and Night Visitor’s Kathleen Bailey) is brought in by the director himself (in a cameo role) to exorcise his uncle’s ghost from what could be a lucrative property (he plans to sell it as a “haunted” bed and breakfast!), sending along a trio of security guys to ensure everyone comes out alive…which needless to say, doesn’t exactly turn out as planned. Because Uncle Avery was both a famed psychic…and a known serial killer, dubbed the “vineyard slasher”.
The film works well enough, but compared to similar supernatural slashers like Superstition, much less Tenney’s other work of the same period, tends to fall somewhat flat. The acting is stiff, the dialogue amusing but a bit forced…it’s hard to explain, but suffice to say, this is no Witchboard, much less a Night of the Demons.
Even so, the expected tropes are all present and accounted for, the location is aesthetic enough (if a bit too mundane and unthreatening for a horror film), and Quigley is always a welcome presence in films of this vintage (used to hold a bit of a torch for her back in the day, in fact).
It was in fact something of a pleasant surprise, as I was thinking this was a reissue and remaster of one of the similarly titled Witchhouse films (or a Witchboard film, or a Warlock film…these late 80’s horror series were a dime a dozen, as fun as they could be)…not a film I hadn’t seen since a rental wayyyyy back around the film’s release.
For better or worse, I’d barely remembered this one…which made it a whole hell of a lot more interesting and absorbing than yet another re-release and upgrade of something or other already present in the ol’ DVD collection.
There’s even a cute double image-style effect of Avery’s ghost on the monitors…which makes this either more creepy or more silly than something like The Stone Tape, depending on your orientation thereto. Personally, I preferred what they did here, cheese and all.
There’s a 24 minute interview with Tenney where he discusses his early career (and how he lucked into an incredibly friendly and cooperative, not to mention cheap location and support on the film, and how this is actually the first time the “full, unrated version” has ever been aired due to censorship concerns of the time.
There’s another 13 minute interview with (at the time) ubiquitous scream queen Linnea Quigley (who also frontlined Rick Sloane’s Vice Academy, among many other favorites of the period), who tells of how she got into film through acquaintances at a Jack LaLanne “health spa” (!)
Then you get a number of interviews, varying between on camera and audio only of various staffers, from a rather nervous and incredulous cinematographer Tom Jewett (“I can’t believe this thing has a cult following!”) to two members of the special effects crew (supervisor Tassilo Baur being the most likeably grounded and good humored interviewee of the lot) and Tenney’s brother Dennis, who composed the score.
Finally, things close out with Tenney’s first short comedy film “the book of joe”, itself a mere 23 minutes, which somewhat blasphemously postulates what might happen if Jesus came back…and were a (possibly crazy) black man this time around.
It’s actually rather good, and it’s possible for those possessed of a certain sensibility to view this less as comedy than as reverent in a strange way. It works either way, and this one comes with an alternate ending as well.
It’s a pretty comprehensive package of extras, all things considered.
So what are we to make of Witchtrap? Did it deserve its lengthy sentence to obsoleted format oblivion?
Well…no, particularly given so many far less worthy entries in various series that have streeted to DVD (and Blu!) in the decades since. But is it a top tier lost classic, long awaited and finally unearthed in all its glory?
That’s a lot more debatable.
Suffice to say, I was glad to have this one cross my path…and the more comprehensively inclined fans of late 80’s horror bordering on slasher cinema should be equally appreciative.