Updated: Mar 12, 2020
Review by Kelly
“Friends playing with an Ouija board at a late-night party unleash a demonic spirit who begins hunting them.”
Witchboard was one of the movies that were in heavy rotation during my sleepovers when I was a teenager. My friends and I absolutely loved it! It spawned two sequels of varying quality with this one, I think, is the best. Released in 1986, Witchboard was written and directed by Kevin Tenney (Night of the Demons, Witchtrap) and stars Tawny Kitaen as Linda, Todd Allen as Jim, and Stephen Nichols as Brandon. In case you didn’t know already, Tawny Kitaen was the beautiful, ginger bombshell in the Whitesnake music video, “Here I Go Again”. She dances on the hood of a car in pure 80s fashion, as you do.
The movie opens with a party at Linda's place where her friends, her boyfriend Jim, and an old boyfriend, Brandon, are in attendance. Brandon believes in spirits, contacts them regularly, and brings over an Ouija board to the party. He teaches everyone how to use it while strongly advising no one to use it alone. Linda becomes quite fascinated by the Ouija board and Brandon, unfortunately, leaves it behind at her place. This leads Linda down an unfortunate route of using the Ouija board regularly and opening herself up to the spirit world. As she begins to change, and fall into “progressive entrapment", which essentially means the early phases of becoming possessed due to her increasing frequency of communicating with spirits. She becomes moody, aggressive and foul mouthed. Both Jim and Brandon work together to help her with some tragic consequences.
What I had remembered vividly about Witchboard was Linda’s possession. As a fan of possession movies, I have enjoyed a good number of them and with some recent reading about the subgenre, I have learned that there is much more to these movies than meets the eye. It seems as though women are mainly the ones becoming possessed by an evil or demonic spirit and the story is truly about the men and their emotional and/or spiritual crises. Witchboard is not at all an exception to this rule but is the perfect example of it. According to Carol Clover in her book Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, possession movies are about “opening up” with both female and male narratives. For women, it’s about them being portals that are easily possessed by spirits due to their feminine nature (with having literal openings in their bodies) and for the men to finally be able to confront their ailing faith or failure to emote appropriately. The possession of the woman, often, ends up being a “cover” for the men to figure themselves out.
This really has opened my mind and made me look at possession movies in a different way, especially this movie. I remember it being Linda’s story, not a Brandon and Jim story, which deeply disappointed me. Linda has a minimal back story; all we know is her dating history and that she is a law student. She has minimal screen time compared to the men. Both Brandon and Jim are in love with Linda, and they have known each other since they were kids but have since then become estranged. When we first meet Brandon he seems pretentious and kind of douchey wearing a suit at Linda’s party. Jim is the skeptic who seems to have minimal respect for Brandon's beliefs and Linda's curiosity when it comes to the occult. Jim seems rude, obnoxious and kind of hegemonic in his masculinity.
But as the movie progresses, Brandon and Jim show vulnerability and emotional openness with each other. Both of which, especially with Jim, have not been fully honest with their relationship with Linda. The Jim/Brandon dynamic is wonderful and beautiful, and I wish more men could have such honest communication with each other. However, it's really unfortunate that Linda had to suffer in order for this to happen. As per Carol Clover,
“Crudely put, in order for a space to be created in which men can weep without being labeled feminine, women must be relocated to a space where they will be made to wail uncontrollably; for men to be able to relinquish emotional rigidity, control, women must be relocated to a space in which they will undergo a flamboyant psychotic break, and so on.”
She then describes the story of Brandon and Jim as coming so close to “the terrain of femininity/effeminacy that the only move equivalently transgressive - and sufficiently accommodating - on the female side is a move into flat out madness/maleness.” Linda’s possession is 100% the catalyst for Jim's emotional awakening. She needed to be violated by a violent spirit in order for him to show vulnerability. He “opens up”, finally, to his emotions and begins to communicate them to himself, Brandon and Linda. Brandon in the movie says at one point that he has known Jim since they were kids and the last time Jim cried was when he was eight years old. We also have seen Jim unable to say the words “I love you” to Linda. Of course, by the end of this ordeal, he is able to cry and tell Linda that he loves her, but not before she becomes fully possessed by the serial killer Carlos Malfeitor and dons a black suit and male voice. The movie ends with their wedding; Jim is now seemingly a forever changed man with Linda remaining the same. I guess this is a happy ending (?).
I definitely have to mention that the Witchboard theme is Bump in the Night done by Steel Breeze, a rock band from the 80s, and now added to our 80s music playlist on Youtube!
In the end, I did like this movie but definitely not as much as I remember enjoying it as a teenager. I remember Witchboard being this spooky yet tragic story about a woman becoming possessed instead of the emotional ineptitude of men. I would recommend this to folks that enjoy 80s horror movies overall but if you didn't watch it I don't think you'd be missing that much. Oddly enough, if you want a film that is more aligned with the story being focused on a woman’s experience being possessed then watch The Blackcoat’s Daughter.