Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Witching Wednesdays - Witchcraft (1989)

Cody finally gets around to watching the Witchcraft franchise in our new feature, Witching Wednesdays.

There are thirteen movies in the Witchcraft franchise. I've long been intrigued by these movies, I would always see them in video stores and watched the number of them increase over the years, but I never got around to renting them.

Now the time has come. I am going to be watching all of the films in the series and writing about them here. Every Wednesday, I'll cover another Witchcraft installment.

I don't know anyone who has watched the series and I don't see much discussion of them around, so these write ups will be giving a lot of details on scenes and story. Join me as I take a journey through the Witchcraft films and learn a whole lot about this prolific series.

It starts with WITCHCRAFT (1989).

The film begins with a flashback to 1687, as a house is raided in the middle of the night by a group of angry townspeople wielding torches, pitchforks, and crosses. They rush through the house to a bedroom, giving a young couple a rude awakening. Among the group is a couple of highly amused white-haired women, who cackle in the couple's face for a moment before they're pulled out of bed.

This is all playing out under the main titles, and as the couple are marched out of their home we get a typo on either an appropriate or ironic credit: "Origional screenplay". Poor Jody Savin.

The couple is taken to a large cross in their yard and the editing gets stylish. As they're strapped to the cross, it's intercut with shots of a woman being strapped down to a hospital bed. The angry mob sets the couple on fire. As they scream, the woman in the hospital bed screams. The woman burning on the cross is pregnant. The woman in the hospital bed is Grace Churchill, and she's giving birth.

Nervously waiting in the designated waiting room are Grace's husband John, who we'll later be told is a very rich man who "owns half of Massachusetts", and her best friend Linda. John is brought back to visit Grace and the baby, but Linda is denied access since she's not immediate family. But don't worry, with some goofy moves and the aid of some jaunty music on the soundtrack and editing wipes, she's able to infiltrate the maternity ward... Too late to meet the baby. "Oh well!"

Since John has a busy working schedule, he arranges to have Grace and the baby stay at his mother's mansion for a week. When John's mother Elizabeth and baby William are introduced, we're informed for the second time that the baby resembles both of his parents. Keep any suspicions of infidelity out of mind.

One thing my pre-viewing research has led me to believe is that William plays a big role in almost the entire series.

A franchise star is born?
The newborn is set up in a nice nursery room and Grace is taken off to her room down the hall. As Grace goes to bed later, John and Elizabeth serve her some very bitter tea, something she probably shouldn't drink in a horror movie. Leaving Grace to sleep in her own bed, John walks off to find his mother cradling William in her arms. As thunder rumbles and lightning flashes, Elizabeth and John give each other odd smiles. Something is amiss.

Grace has a nightmare that night, wherein she walks outside to find a couple hooded figures standing at a candle-covered altar, pulling the guts out of an unconvincing animal corpse. One of the hooded people turns to Grace - it's Elizabeth, who smiles at her and drools blood. Everything is fine in the morning, but we are shown what I think is a dead baby bird on the ground near where the dream altar was.

Wandering around the house, Grace goes into the abandoned upper floor, which is in disrepair. Looking around at the dust, cobwebs, peeling wallpaper, and sheet-covered furniture, Grace stirs up audio flashbacks on the soundtrack... Then she's caught by mute butler Ellsworth and ushered out by Elizabeth, who tells her it's not safe to be up there.

As Grace drinks some more tea that night, she has a pleasant conversation with John wherein he comments that "we did this together" (made the baby), then Grace gets groggy and blurry-eyed and is taken off to bed. Stop drinking that tea, I tell you.

The next day, the house is visited by a group of Elizabeth's senior citizen buddies, who awkwardly comment on William's health and sweetness. Linda stops by, finally gets to meet the baby, and is lecherously leered at by an old dude. As Grace gives Linda a tour of the house, we're informed that the place is three hundred years old. Grace doesn't know why a guy as well-off as John chose her, but Linda lists off some reasons: she's beautiful, intelligent, and (as a Polish immigrant) has a great foreign accent. Grace tries to take Linda to the upper floor, but they're stair-blocked by Ellsworth.

Grace's priest friend Father James shows up, but when Grace tries to introduce him to William, Father James stops in his tracks and breaks out in a sweat. Only he can see that the baby's crib is surrounded by flames. He rushes off to vomit in the nearest toilet, then sees more visions in the bathroom mirror, flashbacks to the cross burning. He gives Grace a cross, tells her that William needs to be baptized as soon as possible, then bails.

In an odd scene, Grace offers Ellsworth a flower that she picked from the garden. Not sure why, he wasn't noted to be a flower fan, but he does seem to kind of like it after she leaves the room.

Then it's night again, and Grace sneaks up to that audio flashback factory of an upper floor. She pulls a sheet off of a mirror and catches a quick glimpse of a couple wearing colonial garb in the reflection.

The next day, Father James doesn't answer Grace's phone calls as he sits alone in a study, looking terrible with his face covered in sores and his hands bandaged, muttering Bible passages to himself. Once again Grace returns to the upper floor and looks at the mirror she uncovered as we hear Father James whisper her name over and over.

Grace and Linda have a project to keep themselves busy: clean up the yard. After a struggle with getting the cap off an unlabeled bottle of soda, talk of family - Linda wants a baby, forget the minor detail of a husband - leads to a reference to Grace's father and revelation of, and flashback to the aftermath of, a childhood tragedy. Grace's father was a normal guy who snapped one day, killed his wife and hanged himself. Grace worries that insanity runs in the family and she might one day snap herself.

At dinner, Grace gets disturbed as she watches the others shovel meat into their mouths, and again imagines Elizabeth drooling blood at her. Maybe she is going crazy. Grace confides in John that night that she's scared, but she doesn't know of what. He tells her to get some sleep and gives her some more tea. She drinks it, the fool.

The next day, Grace is hanging out, potting some plants, when Father James comes swinging into view on a rope. Not in a heroic, "here to rescue you" way; he's hanging with a noose around his neck.

When Linda next visits, Grace takes her back up to the upper floor to show her the colonial flashback mirror. She tells Linda that she saw a vision of Father James hanging in the mirror before it happened, but we weren't shown that. Linda takes a sheet off of an old painting, which shows the same colonial couple from the ghostly reflection. As Linda leaves, Grace gives her the Father James cross for protection. Linda tells John that she's worried about Grace, but he's very blasé about it all.

Grace tries to get John to make love to her, but he says it's too soon, this isn't the place. When she continues kissing him, he pushes her away. They argue over his change in attitude since they arrived and the fact that he spends more time with his mother than with her. She storms off to her bedroom. John joins her later, does some damage control, and finally gives her what she wants. Fade to black on fully clothed embrace.

Grace tells John the next morning that she wants to finally go back home and he drops a bomb on her: they have no home to return to, it burned down a week ago. He didn't know how to tell her, he didn't want to upset her. Grace heads off to see the house for herself, but Elizabeth talks her out of taking baby William with her.

At the burnt-out remains of her home, Grace is informed by a neighbor that the fire only just happened last night. John, you lying S.O.B.! Grace rushes back to Elizabeth's to confront John, but when she can't find anyone she ends up back at the upper floor mirror. Another vision of past incidents and flames occurs, and the colonial couple is again seen - this time clearly, with very familiar faces, and one is now holding a baby. When the vision ends, Grace's wrists have been slashed.

When Grace awakens in her bed, wrists bandaged, she is comforted by John, Elizabeth, and Linda, and when Elizabeth offers her tea she finally turns the stuff down. Clearly not wanted, John and Elizabeth leave the room. Grace tells Linda that she doesn't trust them, so Linda promises to spend the night with her. And she does, sleeping right by her side.

But when Grace wakes in the night, Linda is gone. Grace wanders to the upper floor and opens a trunk, finding Father James' cross within. Then she turns and screams at... nothing, as far as we see. And then wakes up again, in bed with Linda at her side. It was a nightmare... But she's still holding Father James' cross, having apparently brought it out of the dream with her like people do in Elm Street movies. I'm confused and so is Linda, who says she left the cross at home and tells Grace to show her where she found it.

This takes the girls up into the upper floor one last time, where secrets are revealed and the climax plays out. I won't spoil the events, but I'm sure you all have a good idea of what's going on here.

As it turns out, the first Witchcraft movie is actually a decent low-grade Rosemary's Baby knockoff. I enjoyed the movie well enough, and liked Anat Topol-Barzilai (daughter of Fiddler on the Roof/Flash Gordon/For Your Eyes Only actor Topol) as Grace. Deborah Scott was also likeable as Linda, unfortunately this appears to be her only film. Worth noting: the actress who played Elizabeth is named Mary Shelley.

The movie would've been fine as one-off, but it must've done gangbusters in the video market and the first of its twelve sequels was released one year later. I will cover that one next week, in the second installment of Witching Wednesdays.

1 comment:

  1. Deborah Scott got married to director Rob Spera shortly after filming - still married to this day - and she now enjoys a successful career producing TV, such as REAPER and CRIMINAL MINDS.