The recent passing of cult movie (and music video) actress Tawny Kitaen prompted me to finally watch one of her most well-known films, 1986’s WITCHBOARD. This was a key semi-low budget horror picture of the Eighties & I just never got around to it…UNTIL NOW!!!!!!
The Oujia board that we all know and fear was “created” (kind of) by William Fuld in the late 1800s. The backstory of this technical board game is appropriately tortured & full of strife…and includes Fuld’s own untimely passing. (You can read the full story in my post “Did The Ouija Board Kill Its Creator”) Thus, the alleged spirit-contacting device has been a post device in many a horror movie.
But what makes WITCHBOARD stand out from all the others? Well certainly, first of all…Tawny herself. She’s stunning in this movie. She’s her own special effect. She can’t help but captivate every scene she’s in merely by her own presence. (Though if you’re expecting a ton of naked scenes there wasn’t many, at least the version I’ve seen.)
HOWEVER. What really makes WITCHBOARD captivating to me, and a sort of “hidden gem,” is that the true focus of the movie are the two very handsome male leads and the increasing homoerotic subtext between them. It’s like the plot of one of those adult movies where the chick is just a red herring for the actual sexual chemistry between the guys. If you are a fan of David DeCoteau flicks like I am, you damn well know what I’m talking about!
This subplot has its “climax” (I mean, not literally) in a scene towards the end where the two guys, who were childhood buddies-turned-rivals, have a heart-to-heart talk with each other in a shared hotel room. “What ever happened to us, man?” Etc. Their theoretical mutual love interest Tawny getting slowly possessed by the spirit-board is totally forgotten.
Another interesting aspect of the film is the colorful punk psychic-for-hire played by cult actress Kathleen Wilhoite (not Sarah Jessica Parker, though there is a strong resemblance). I mean, I’d watch a whole movie with just her. What other female character was like this in 1980s horror? Just a very interesting out-of-left-field type of element in an already kind of unique picture.
WITCHBOARD strongly reminded me of another classic horror B-movie of the era, 1988’s NIGHT OF THE DEMONS. And lo and behold, it turns out that Kevin S. Tenney directed both of them! Very, very, very iconic mid-Eighties horror. And enough false jump scares to make you wet your pants several times over.
The film’s finale stretches Tawny’s acting ability by having her play the possessed host of a male axe murderer (complete with dude suit). She’s refreshingly savage and evil; God bless her.
The very end of the picture is surprisingly non-nihilistic for the time period in horror. We can certainly make an interpretation of WITCHBOARD in which there is a happy ending after any type of coded “homosexual” element is disposed of; the male protagonist’s childhood friend is murdered, Tawny stops being masculine, and even the aggressive short-haired female psychic is killed in a most phallic way.
So there you have it…WITCHBOARD.