Tuesday, June 30, 2015

GHOSTHOUSE (1988) and WITCHERY (1988) Blu-ray Review

GhostHouse (1988) d. Umberto Lenzi (as Humphrey Humbert) (Italy)
Witchery (1988) d. Fabrizio Laurenti (as Martin Newlin) (Italy)

When Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead and Evil Dead II were released in Italy, they came out under the foreign titles of La Casa and La Casa II. Considering this is the same country that had the enterprising notion of coming up with a movie called Zombi 2 as an unofficial sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (released locally as Zombi), you can probably guess what happened next. Yep, notorious exploitation artist Joe D’Amato decided to produce a couple quick (and completely unrelated) haunted house flicks and put them out as La Casa 3 and La Casa 4 in an attempt to separate suckers from their hard-earned lira. Imagine their surprise when instead of Bruce Campbell, moviegoers found themselves face-to-face with a bunch of no-name Italian actors for the first and the comedy team of Linda Blair and David Hasselhoff (in between Knight Rider and Baywatch TV gigs at the time) for the second!

Now out on Blu-ray for the first time in the U.S., Shout! Factory serves up this heaping helping of prime mozzarella for your viewing enjoyment. Despite the heightened star power of Witchery, Lenzi’s GhostHouse is far and away the more entertaining of the two, handily earning its top-card status in this spaghetti splatter double feature. Neither film is categorically “good,” meaning they are better observed amidst quick-witted, wise-cracking company, but both have their fair share of gruesome, gory moments and thigh-slapping thesping mishaps.

GhostHouse opens with a strict religious father chastising his daughter for murdering the family cat, whereupon he locks her in the basement with her favorite creepy clown doll, despite the protests of his more sensible wife. Pater and Mater are subsequently murdered by a mysterious figure, whereupon the story flashes forward 20 years to Boston ham radio enthusiast Paul (Greg Scott) picking up strange cries for help over the late-night airwaves. Because Paul is “into computers,” he and his heavily accented girlfriend Martha (Lara Wendel) head off into the wilds of Massachusetts to track the source of the signal.

Upon arrival at (surprise, surprise) the same house where the infamous double murder took place, they encounter another CB fan, Mark (Ron Houck), his brother Jim (Martin Jay), his girlfriend Susan (Mary Sellers), and their little sister Tina (Kate Silver) squatting at the house whilst taking a break from their road trip excursion. Mark is surprised to hear his own voice on Paul’s tape recorder and, denying having sent the distress call, agrees to help unravel the mystery. As evening draws nigh, all manner of strange occurrences befall the group: blood is spilled, limbs severed, campers rocked, throats slit, all amidst rampant product placement and visions of creepy clown dolls and their underage blonde owners. Oh, and there’s also a random loony named Valkos (Donald O’Brien) running around knocking people off when the supernatural forces are a little too slow for his tastes.

Anyone not familiar with Italian horror might be a little caught off guard by the rampant nonsense on display, but fans of our pasta-loving neighbors’ bonkers brand of fright flick will be delighted. Terrible acting, inane plots and subplots, nightmare logic, and bizarre set pieces are the building blocks of Lenzi’s entry into the haunted house derby. While there are no legitimate scares, there are some wingding incidents of crazy, such as when the floor randomly opens up to swallow a hapless victim in what appears to be acidic milk or when a character is split in two by a random hanging guillotine blade. As the saying goes, “there are no bad movies, only boring ones,” and GhostHouse is far from boring.

The same, however, cannot be said of its semi-sequel, which starts off strong with the scene of a pregnant woman being chased across the fields by an angry mob (of five), through a deserted hotel, and eventually out the upstairs window to her death below. This turns out to be only a dream by expectant mother Jane Brooks (Blair), whose rich bitch mother has just purchased a hotel off the coast of Massachusetts… one that looks curiously like the one in her dreams. As fate would have it, said hotel is also the site of a mysterious phenomenon where flashing lights are seen from a certain vantage point at the same time every night, which has also attracted aspiring author and successful virgin Leslie (Leslie Cumming) and her photographer boyfriend Gary (Hasselhoff) to the island. A freak storm strands the Brooks family, their realtor, the hotel's architect, and the two interlopers on the island for the night, and wouldn’t you know it, the malevolent spirit of a German actress-turned-sorceress (Hildegard Knef) decides to get her hoodoo on. Let the body count begin!

Unfortunately, the time spent between the offings – which are admittedly gory and pleasantly unpleasant – is an unending slog spent with yawntastic characters who can’t seem to get killed off fast enough. Laurenti, who never had another significant genre credit outside of Contamination .7 (aka The Crawlers aka Troll 3), can’t seem to get any momentum going, nor conjure any atmosphere despite the isolated island setting and his mansion of many rooms. It also falls to him that the characters keep referring to this “awful storm” that has “trapped them” on the island, and yet every time he cuts to the exteriors, the waters are calm without a cloud in the sky. A little stock footage would have gone a long way, Fab.

Blair, never a good actress to begin with, is given nothing to do except wander around looking bloated and uncomfortable until the final reel when someone hits her with a couple bottles of hair mousse and a blow dryer. Hasselhoff gives his shutterbug would-be lothario a bit more oomph, even trying out a couple different accents along the way, but he’s never given a chance to really cut loose. This is primarily due to the fact that he’s saddled with the mush-mouthed Cumming as his onscreen paramour, wielding about as much sex appeal as a sock full of banana slugs. At least Catherine Hickland, playing slutty architect Linda, is pleasant enough to look at, even if she never quite completely doffs the duds. And Bob Champagne (who also appears in GhostHouse as a completely different character) and Annie Ross are entertaining boors as Jane’s bickering parents.

The death scenes are really the only thing to recommend, and effects artist Maurizio Trani, who served on all of Lucio Fulci’s major 1980s efforts, has a high old time with the latex and karo syrup. These include a showcase sequence where Ross’ lips are sewn shut and she’s left to dangle in the chimney while her unwitting family members complain about the cold and set about searching for kindling to start a fire, followed by Champagne’s equally grisly fate with veins exploding Scanners-style all over the place. Still, this is one of those proverbial remote control riders, where you're better off hitting the FF button and waiting for the red stuff.

Both films are packed onto a single disc, with their respective theatrical trailers as the only extra.

GhostHouse and Witchery are available now from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:



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