• Ghosthouse/Witchery



    Released by: Scream Factory
    Released on: June 30, 2015
    Director: Umberto Lenzi/Fabrizio Laurenti
    Cast: Lara Wendel, Greg Scott, Mary Sellers, Ron Houck, Martin Jay, Kate Silver, Donald O’Brien/David Hasselhoff, Linda Blair, Hildegard Knef, Catherine Hickland, Annie Ross
    Year: 1988
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    The Movies:

    Ghosthouse: On her birthday, young Henrietta kills a cat with a pair of scissors. Believing her possessed, her father locks her, along with her obviously evil clown doll, in the basement. Shortly thereafter, he and his wife are horrifically murdered by supernatural agents. Decades pass and a young couple, Paul and his girlfriend Martha, pick up mysterious screams and carnivalesque music on their ham radio. They trace the sounds back to a creepy old house (which will be instantly familiar to fans of Lucio Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery), where they meet an assortment of eccentric characters who have also been drawn to the estate. Paul quickly realizes that one of the voices he heard on his ham is one of the characters now loitering around the house, but the man is alive and well. In an attempt to unlock the house’s mysteries, the group explore it and are possessed and killed one by one.

    Witchery: Leslie is on a mission: she’s researching her new book about witchcraft on an island famous for its anti-witchcraft hysteria, which, long ago, resulted in the death of a pregnant woman by an angry mob. Her boyfriend is along for the ride, too, but when a storm rolls in, the two—along with a family of four—become trapped in an abandoned hotel. The hotel is haunted the ghost of a German witch who had once resided in the place. She hopes to be reborn, but in order to do that, virgin Leslie must become impregnated by a demon. Meanwhile, individuals are either lured into weird dimensions or stalked by the supernatural.

    When Evil Dead was released in Italy in 1981, its name was changed to La Casa. It did tremendous box office, so when the sequel was released in 1987, it was, naturally, retitled La Casa II. With no more sequels from Sam Raimi in the hopper, the country produced its own: La Casa III (aka Ghosthouse) from director Umberto Lenzi, La Casa IV (aka Witchery) from director Fabrizio Laurenti, and La Casa V (aka Beyond Darkness) from director Claudio Fragasso. Later entries, however, were simply retitled American films: House II: The Second Story and The Horror Show.

    Of the three that were produced in Italy, Ghosthouse and Witchery are included in this double-feature Blu-ray from Scream Factory.

    Neither film is particularly good, but both have their charms, not the least of which is a nasty, violent edge, with extreme gore effects just as influenced by Hellraiser as they are by the Evil Dead films. Of the two, Ghosthouse has acting that borders on realistic, while Witchery is decidedly over the top (re: the appearances of Linda Blair, David Hasselhoff, and Hildegard Knef, all of whom should be familiar to readers of Rock! Shock! Pop! for various reasons). The plots don’t make a whole lot of sense, but they don’t have to. Their purpose is to waylay mostly young people into frightening situations where they can be assaulted and killed for the titillation of the viewer. Body count is high and, like most slasher films of the era, of the utmost importance. But where these two films differ from the typical American slasher is that they include strong supernatural elements and a heaping of artificial blood. The effects are actually pretty good—old-school viewers should be thankful the f/x were perfected before CGI came into heavy usage.

    Direction is uneven across both films, but Lenzi is superior to Laurenti, resulting in Ghosthouse being considerably less unintentionally humorous than Witchery, though it also plays with less interesting ideas overall.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Scream Factory brings Ghosthouse to Blu-ray with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition at a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Early on, the film is fairly soft-looking, with moderate detail. A soft-focus filter doesn’t appear to have been used during the filming process, at least not most of the time, and a general lack of grain suggests that modest DNR has been applied. One supposes that Scream has been forced to use the transfer handed to them, yet it’s far from terrible. In fact, it’s a considerable improvement over the foreign DVD releases this reviewer has seen, and colors are strong and vivid, particularly during the many brutal murder sequences, where bright red gore abounds. Black levels are solid, with neither crush nor excessive grain. Once the heroes get to the house, detail improves considerably while colors remain intense. Lenzi’s direction here is a product of the ‘80s, and he has approached Ghosthouse with a fairly natural eye, one that is mostly supported by the image on Scream’s Blu-ray release.

    The second feature in the collection, Witchery, comes with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition and also features a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Of the two films, it sports the better, more robust transfer. There are times when the image is soft, though this is, more likely than not, a product of the cinematography rather than anything else, but overall detail is sharp and fine. You see what you expect to see on Blu-ray: hair, wrinkles, fibers… All mostly appear with the kind of crystal clarity one hopes from the format. Grain is usually natural in appearance, though occasionally it becomes a little too prevalent. During darker sequences, it sometimes results in crush. While some might be tempted to believe that it is compression grain, Scream has placed the two films on a 50GB disc with few extras eating up precious space.

    Both films feature DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks, though both channels carry the same sounds, making this basically a mono presentation. Not that it matters. The soundtracks are fairly dynamic, with no age-related defects to speak of. Each film is replete with plenty of screams and other sounds of death and agony, yet there’s no issue with effects overpowering each other or dialogue. Both films are pretty talky, though Ghosthouse features a pretty powerful score; neither film suffers from loud outbursts, dropout, or other issues. Subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are included on both features.

    Extras are sparse, but given that the collection contains two complete films, that’s understandable. Each includes a trailer. The trailer for Ghosthouse runs two minutes and fifty-three seconds, while the trailer for Witchery is approximately three minutes.

    The Final Word:

    Scream should be commended for releasing two closely connected cult classics from the tail end of Italy’s horror boom. Visual quality varies between the films, with Witchery looking considerably better than Ghosthouse, though both are massive improvements over their DVD counterparts. Both films are silly fun, with a high level of gore and violence for those fans for whom blood and practical effects are the be all/end all of horror filmmaking. Given Scream’s relatively low pricing on the pair, it’s difficult to see anyone going wrong by picking the double feature up.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screencaps!