Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
Released on: March 28th, 2017.
Director: Kevin Tenney
Cast: Linnea Quigley, James Quinn, Kathleen Bailey, Judy Tatum, Hal Havins
Year: 1989 Purchase From Amazon
Written and directed in 1989 by Kevin Tenney and a VHS rental staple for many of us (that Magnum cover art was awesome!), Witchtrap might not be the world's most original horror film but it does what it does quite well. In the opening scene, a man in a flashy pink suit skulks about an old house - he's haunted by something... something that causes him to leap to his death from the second story window.
Cut to a bathtub. Here a woman named Agnes (Judy Tatum) relaxes and bares her breasts. The phone rings, her husband, a medium named Felix (Rob Zapple), tries to get her to answer but she's not having any of it, until she learns who it is. From here, we learn that she leads a team of paranormal investigators made up of Felix but also another medium named Whitney (Kathleen Bailey) and a video technician named Ginger (Linnea Quigley). They've been asked by Devon Lauder (Kevin Tenney himself!) to look into a home he inherited that sits near a big old cemetery. It seems that years back a warlock named Avery Lauder (J.P. Luebsen) was killed on the grounds while trying to achieve immortality. Since then, he's been haunting the place. Devon figured he could cash in on this but the hauntings are too extreme, evidenced by the opening murder scene.
He tasks Agnes- group to solve the problem for him but he knows it'll be dangerous. Rather than let them go it alone, he brings on the guys from Q.T. Security - ringleader Murphy (Jack W. Thompson), horny guy Levi (Clyde Tally II) and tough talking former super cop Vincente (James W. Quinn). They're to keep watch over the paranormal investigators while they use an untested electromagnetic device to try and keep Avery's restless spirit under wraps. Also poking about is creepy groundskeeper Elwin (Hal Havins). As they all prepare to get down to business, skeptic will be convinced, topless shower scenes will end in mayhem and the legend of Avery Lauder will prove to be far more horrifying than anyone could have possibly imagined!
Alternately known as The Presence (which is the title card that it uses on this presentation), this is gory, trashy fun. Well-paced and full of quirky characters, you almost don't mind the fact that the entire thing was clearly dubbed in post. It just adds to the movie's bizarre charm. Tenney was never one to shy away from putting healthy doses of sex and violence in his pictures and there's enough of that to go around (this version is completely uncut) here, but at the same time there's also some decent atmosphere and low budget charm to spare. Gore scenes are well handled and impressively creative while the cinematography is polished enough to ensure that the movie is actually pretty decent looking. The main set of the movie is the interior of the old house, and it-s well shot and well lit - this helps things a fair bit.
The acting isn't always so hot, but it is always entertaining. James W. Quinn frequently steals the show as the trash talking private dick with a chip on his shoulder. His entire character is one huge cliche but Quinn either doesn't seem to notice or doesn't mind, because he just goes for it. Plenty of scenery chewing here, and the movie is all the better for it. He is, hands down, the most entertaining character in the movie and the one who you'll remember when it's all over and done with. Too bad there was never a sequel, it would have been great to see Quinn reprise the role!
It all builds to a pretty solid conclusion, ramping up the film's spookshow qualities in a big way and tying things together quite nicely. There are a few good twists in the last twenty minutes of the movie to help keep things interesting too. It's very definitely a product of its time but if you have an affinity for low budget eighties horror pictures, this ought to scratch that itch and then some.
Vinegar Syndrome presents Witchtrap on Blu-ray on a 50GB disc 'newly scanned and restored in 2k from 35mm Interpositive' framed at 1.85.1 widecreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Really, there's nothing to complain about here. The film looks naturally grainy but never distractingly so and there's virtually no print damage to note. Colors are really nicely defined and black levels are strong. At the same time, there's good shadow detail here and an absence of crush and compression artifacts even in the film's many darker interior scenes. Skin tones look nice and natural and there are no problems with any noise reduction or edge enhancement. All in all, Witchtrap looks great!
Audio chores are handled by an English language DTS-HD Mono track with optional closed captioning provided in English only. For a movie that appears to have been completely dubbed in post-production, the audio quality of the disc is just fine. Sure, it's a bit artificial sounding in the way that dubs tend to be, but there's no faulting the clarity of the track. There's good balance here, the score sounds surprisingly strong without burying anything in the mix, the dialogue is perfectly easy to understand and there are no audible problems with any hiss or distortion.
Extras kick off with a newly recorded group commentary track featuring director Kevin Tenney, producer Dan Duncan, cinematographer Tom Jewett and actor Hal Havins that covers pretty much everything you could really want to know about the making of Witchtrap. Tenney leads the talk and has the most input here but everyone else chimes in often enough that this turns out to be a pretty well rounded discussion. There's talk here of the location, the effects work, casting the picture, what it was like on set, where Tenny get some of the ideas for the film from and loads more.
From there we dive into a series of video interviews, starting with a twenty-three minute talk with director Kevin Tenney. He covers some of the same ground here that he covers in the commentary, but this is still worth checking out. Here he talks about how he got into filmmaking, some of the early projects that he was involved in, and how he eventually came to direct Witchtrap. He also talks about what it was like on set, how he got along with his cast and crew members and a fair bit more. After that, actress Linnea Quigley gets a fourteen minute piece where she talks about how she got into acting after moving to Los Angeles from Ohio, some of the early low budget films she was involved with, what it was like working with Tenney and her thoughts on Witchtrap in general. Cinematographer Tom Jewett is up next in a fifteen minute interview where he covers getting into the business, working alongside Tenny on an earlier project which led to their collaborating on Witchtrap, his thoughts on the work he did on Witchtrap and more. The final video interview is with SFX Supervisor Tassilo Baur and it's a seventeen minute piece wherein he covers his working relationship with the film's director, the special effects work that was required in the film and some of the later work he did on Witchboard.
Also on hand are two audio interviews, the first with SFX Makeup Artist Judy Yonemoto. In this eight minute talk she looks back on her appreciation for horror films, how she came to have a working relationship with Tenney, and the specifics of some of her own contributions to Witchtrap. The second interview is with composer Dennis Michael Tenney, the director's brother. He spends thirteen minutes going over what was involved in scoring Witchtrap, highlights from their childhood that led to their getting into the film business, his thoughts on scoring the picture and some of his influences.
Vinegar Syndrome has also included Book Of Joe, a short film directed by Kevin Tenney. Made in the mid-eighties, this twenty-three minute short is an odd piece in which a dead angel looks back on his life and ruminates about how he got to be where he is. Sourced from a VHS tape this one is in pretty rough shape but it's interesting to watch at least once, if for no other reason than to see a few familiar faces pop up in the picture. An alternate ending for Book Of Joe is also included here.
Rounding out the extras is a still gallery, an original video trailer for Witchtrap, menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release we also get a DVD version of the movie containing the same extras. Both discs are housed inside a clear Blu-ray keepcase that also includes a reversible cover sleeve (with the newly designed cover art on one side and the classic VHS cover art on the opposite side).
The Final Word:
Witchtrap is a lot of fun, a quirky late eighties horror picture with an interesting cast, a few decent murder set pieces and loads of weird, manic energy. Vinegar Syndrome has really rolled out the red carpet for this one, presenting the film in its uncut form beautifully restored and with a great selection of interesting extra features. If you've never seen Witchtrap before you're probably wondering why it was treated as well as it was here - and if you have seen it, you'll completely understand why it was!
Click on the image below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!