The Witchcraft series

If you were asked what was the longest-running horror franchise, you might guess something like Hellraiser, Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street. You'd be wrong. Covering 13 films over 20 years, the winner is an ultra-low budget series, produced by C-movie studio, Vista Street Entertainment. From the first entry in 1988, through 2008's Witchcraft XIII: Blood of the Chosen, the saga contained more than a dozen entries of occult-themed horror, the movies increasingly enlivened with soft-core couplings, and it would appear, never once troubled an actual movie theatre. With a couple of exceptions, they mostly tell the story of unwilling warlock Will Spanner, whose character appears in the first as a baby, and thereafter becomes a lawyer, who helps the cops out in what seems to be a steady stream of supernatural cases, typically involving satanic cults, sacrificing people for the usual reasons satanic cults do.

Despite the common pressence of Spanner, continuity is all but disregarded here, with six different actors playing the hero as an adult, and no particular consistency regarding, for example, the powers bestowed on him as a result of his mystical inheritance. Each entry largely stands on its own, without any particular need to have seen previous entries: indeed, considering the way some plot elements are shamelessly recycled, you may be better off approaching each as an independent entity. There are almost no "name" actors to be found in the entire series: Julie Strain, early in her career, shows up in the fourth installment, and Eileen Daly, her kinda British equivalent, stars in the completely insane part 10; those are likely about the only people of whom you'll have heard. Many of the other stars have IMDB filmographies that are terse in the extreme, shall we say.

But these were never about star power. They were the kind of films that you stumbled across in the bargain rental section, during a late-night run to the video store (remember those?), and were drawn in - particularly if you were staggering home from the pub - more by the lurid cover-art than anything else. If you were lucky, you thought, there might be some half-decent gore and starlet boobs. "Hell, they made 6/8/10/13 of these: they must have something to offer..." But do they? While we have covered a couple of the movies previously, these were haphazard and happenstance, as we stumbled across them in low-rent DVD box-sets. Given the series's position as a genre landmark [in length and longevity, if not perhaps quality], it seemed to deserve more, so here are new reviews of all 13 films...


Dir: Robert Spera
Star: Anat Topol-Barzilai, Gary Sloan, Mary Shelley, Deborah Scott

You simply wouldn't guess from this starting point, that the series would spawn another dozen entries, because it's almost entirely forgettable. Grace Churchill (Topol-Barzilai) has just had her baby, and husband John (Sloan) insists that they stay with his mother, Elizabeth (Shelley), while Grace regains her strength. However, courtesy of an apparently endless series of vision, nightmares and flashbacks, Grace becomes increasingly convinced there are shenanigans going on. She wants to go home, but John and his Mom won't hear of it; the priest she invites to bless the baby ends up committing suicide, his face covered in boils, and the mute butler stops her from going into certain areas of the (extremely large, it has to be said) house. Given the movie opened with a pair of witches being burned three centuries previously, it doesn't take a genius to work out where this is going. A viewing of Rosemary's Baby will suffice, equally well.

I may as well reprise a chunk of my review from 2004, which still seems an accurate enough summary, not to need revision. "Despite a severe lack of surprises, there's not much you can specifically list in the way of failings - it's simply strikingly mediocre, in the strictest sense of the word. I think the script is probably the weakest link - the baby (very clearly, not a newborn!) seems like the key, but vanishes in the final third, as does the butler. However, the latter suddenly reappears to play a key role in the climax and does supply the film's most notable death, an impressive impaling." There's almost a sense this was made for TV: the exploitative elements are toned-down to PG-level, and the film's pacing appears to pause for breath, in the form of commercial breaks. But it's mostly a series of horror staples, to the point of clichés. Though the performances didn't seem too bad this time round, so I upgraded the rating a tick for that.

[September 2013]

Witchcraft II: The Temptress

Dir: Mark Woods
Star: Charles Solomon Jr., Delia Sheppard, Mia Ruiz, Jay Richardson

Though only a couple of years after its predecessor, apparently almost 18 years have passed, as William (Solomon), the baby who was close to the sole survivor of the original is now almost at adulthood, having been raised by a foster family. Blissfully unaware of his origins, or the potential he holds as a coven leader, his main concern is getting his girlfriend, Michelle (Ruiz) to put out: a preacher's daughter, she's not having it. So, neither is he, hohoho. But, literally next door lurks Dolores (Sheppard) a peroxide blonde vixen with a pentagram who appears to have strayed in from a Poison promo video, going by her choice of attire, which comes in two kinds: tight and skimpy. Mysterious packages start turning up for Charles, and as dead bodies start to pile up, his father (Richardson) reluctantly tells William the truth about his legacy.

I actually enjoyed this one quite a lot more, largely because of the batshit insanity present, just as Michelle being raped by an invisible spirit, or the way Dolores could not be a more obvious Satanist if there was a flashing neon sign saying "I ♥ Lucifer" pointing to her. The film doesn't try to hard to conceal what's almost entirely obvious to the viewer - especially the viewer who has seen the preceding film - but has occasional moments that do actually work. For instance, there's the matching Satanic symbols with which William and Michelle are branded, and the way her father bemoans the fact that he's a Methodist, rather than a Catholic, because the latter are much better at dealing with 'this kind of thing'. We actually get some nudity too, from both the female leads, though we're still a long way off the copious bosomage to come. While still thoroughly bottom-drawer, especially in terms of visual effects, I was surprisingly entertained, certainly more than the previous installment.

[September 2013]

Witchcraft III: The Kiss of Death

Dir: Rachel Feldman
Star: Charles Solomon Jr., Lisa Toothman, Domonic Luciana, Leana Hall

It's only a year later, but the hero who was just about graduating high-school last time we met, is now apparently a fully-fledged lawyer, under his third different name, now known as William Spanner (Solomon); not sure what the Californian Bar Association's position is on this. That set-up does allow me to tell you a joke: what's the difference between a warlock and a lawyer? One is a heartless creature with no soul or moral scruples...and the other's a warlock. Hey, didn't say it was a good joke. Anyway, he has put sorcery behind him, and is enjoying life with his girlfriend, Charlotte (Toothman). Little does he know that Louis (Luciana) and Roxy (Hall) are approaching. They have a rather odd relationship: she seems to need life energy, and he procures the women from whom it can be drained. A chance encounter brings the good and evil duos together, and Louis sets his sights on Charlotte. Meanwhile, there's a voodoo priest, who fills in the blanks, and convinces William he's the only person who can stop the heartless creature with no soul or moral scruples. No... The other one.

This isn't as entertainingly loopy as its predecessor, and works less well, largely because Solomon, convincing enough as a gawky and confused teenager, is hopelessly out of his depth as either Perry Mason or Dumbledore, which are basically the two roles he is asked to play here. I doubt Daniel Day Lewis could quite pull that dichotomy off. Unlike its predecessor, none of the characters here are remotely interesting, and you could largely fall asleep for the middle hour of the movie, and not miss anything. Now, you might regard that as literary hyperbole, but I might actually have tested that statement, by doing roughly that. On waking up, I rewound this to the point at which I fell asleep, to see if anything significant had happened. Nope. Needn't have bothered. Indeed, if you're doing a marathon of all the movies [Trash City accepts no responsibility for any resulting ill-effects from such a dubious enterprise], this entire movie would be a good time to schedule a nap or a bathroom break.

[September 2013]

Witchcraft IV: Virgin Heart

Dir: James Merendino
Star: Charles Solomon Jr., Julie Strain, Clive Pearson, Lisa Jay Harrington

Will Spanner (Solomon) is now less a lawyer, it seems, than a PI, working insurance claims. However, he is convinced by Lily Wild (Harrington) to take the case of her brother, accused of involvement in the disappearance of his girlfriend. The case leads him to the Coven club, where Belladonna (Strain) works as a stripper, while simultaneously moonlighting as a blues singer. Her agent, Santara (Pearson) is a real sleazy-tpye, and Spanner eventually realizes, after seeing the agent, apparently unchanged, in a book of old photographs, that there is a pact with the devil going on here. Santara's clients' souls are being sold in exchange for "stardom" - quotes used advisedly, since what they seem to get appears to be a particularly low-rent version of fame and fortune, in line with the particularly low-rent nature of this in general.

The main difference is that this does have someone you've actually heard of, in Strain - albeit extremely early in her career, and thus still, presumably, very cheap. She plays slightly less of a maneater than you'd come to expect, though still towers over the leading man, and does get undressed as often as you'd hope expect. Contrast, say, Pearson, who according to the IMDB, would not appear in anything else for seven years: hard to tell whether his British accent is badly-affected or just badly-acted The director - the fourth in four movies, so don't look for any consistency of tone - seems to be going for a pseudo-noir feel, with lots of voiceover for Spanner, without much else to back it up. I braced myself when I saw the two-hour running time, but this is a Troma release, so it starts with Lloyd Kaufman plugging his book, Julie Strain putting on her make-up (nekkid, naturally) and ends with a lot of trailers for other films - the actual movie is the usual 90-odd minutes.

The technical aspects here, particularly on audio, are extremely bad, with the levels all over the place. However, we're not exactly talking Noel Coward, or even Quentin Tarantino, so "not hearing the dialogue" hardly can be considered the straw that broke the camel's back. It gets credit, as well as for Strain, for a concept that is kinda interesting, updating the old blues legend a bit, though how the original case ties in to the Faustian deals being cut is...dubious, shall we say. Probably still makes more sense than why Santara moonlights as a college radio DJ, or the explanation offered at the climax, which suddenly lobs the Spanish Inquisiton into the mix. [Safe to say, nobody expected that...] Given a more interesting villain, this could have had potential, but I think all hope was lost when he started quoting Hamlet. Why bother writing lines, when you can just recycle Shakespeare?

[September 2013]

First time anyone used 'virgin' and 
'Julie Strain' together for a while...

Witchcraft V: Dance with the Devil

Dir: Talun Hsu
Star: Marklen Kennedy, David Huffman, Nicole Sassaman, Lenny Rose

Reboot! While we still have Will Spanner here, there's a new actor (Kennedy) playing him, you can toss just about anything mentioned in the first four films out of the window, and this is where the makers decided to ramp up the sex quota, to the degree where a more accurate subtitle would be "Blondes With Big Hooters Get Them Out. Repeatedly." Hey, tell me you wouldn't rent that. Anyway, Spanner falls under the hypnotic spell of Cain (Huffman), a sorceror who is intent on bringing back Lucifer by collecting souls - he probably needs 666 or something - from the LA nightclub scene. Spanner becomes his enforcer, collecting from those who made Faustian deals and subsequently "forgot" from where their success came. Assisting him is Marta (Sassaman), a former hooker/con-artist who provides most of the Hooterage; but concerned by Spanner's personality change are his girlfriend, and the Reverend Meredith (Rose), a preacher who, conveniently, was recently possessed by a spirit of his own. So, as well as Marta, we have Spanner bonking his girlfriend and even the Reverend going at it with his assistant. Gotta love that liberal theology.

I can only imagine Huffman has the most powerful jaws in Hollywood: I say that because of the massive volume of scenery-chewing he does here. Really, I can understand a bit of tension when you're trying to resurrec Satan, but there's no need to be quite so... overwrought the entire time. There's a reason this was his first IMDB credit, and the sole other one is a voice in a video-game, four years later. Still, if you're a fan of what Michael Green used to call "coarse acting," this will be right up your street. It is, of course, a supporting role to the sex scenes, to the extent that Sassaman's left and right breasts probably each deserve their own credit. It's clear the producers realized the well was just about dry for the original concept, and rather than abandoning the concept, opted to revamp it and, in a smart move, head for the soft-core horror audience instead. Hard to criticize a film which is clearly more interested in breasts than creating an interesting plot or characters, when the audience are likely right there alongside them. It's a shallow B-movie at best, yet has little or no desire to be anything else and, as such, is not unentertaining - albeit not necessarily in the ways the makers intended.

[September 2013]

Bosom friends

Witchcraft VI: The Devil's Mistress

Dir: Julie Davis
Star: Jerry Spicer, Kurt Alan, Bryan Nutter, John E. Holiday

Dead bodies of young women are turning up all over LA, with no apparent cause of death, but each is carrying a gold cross. Detectives Lutz (Alan) and Garner (Holiday) suspect an occult motive, so bring in divorce lawyer Will Spanner (Spicer) to help, despite his girlfriend Keli's qualms about exposing himself. As it were. Of course, there is an occult motive: Savanti (Nutter - no, that's really the actor's name, not an observation on his character) is a Satanic high-priest trying to find the "right" sacrificial victim whose death will open a portal for Satan during the upcoming eclipse. Unfortunately, she has to be a virgin. Do you know how hard it is to find one of those in Los Angeles? Especially when just about every actress present here seems intent on doing some two-backed aardvarking at the first available opportunity [you might be able to use that as a clue to spot the eventual victim]. Savanti sees the threat Spanner poses, and sends a vampy vixen to distract hin. Will that work, allowing Lucifer to be unleashed on the world? Or will it just be an excuse for more soft-core canoodling? Take a wild stab. Go on.

Director Davis would later go on to become a minor indie rom-com darling, but you wouldn't really know it from here. The artistic highlight (once the producers abandoned their neat initial idea of calling this Witchcraft 666) is probably a montage of dubious "psychics", whom the police test by giving them a piece of clothing, which they say comes from one of the victims. It doesn't, but that doesn't stop the psychics: naturally, Savanti sees the deception immediately, and that's partly what brings him to Spanner's attention. On the "artistic" side [if you know what I mean, and I think you do], top marks go to Debra Betty as Keli, who would appear to possess mermaid DNA, going by the amount of time she spends in the bath. Otherwise, what will stick in your mind longest is likely the amazingly-bad climax, featuring optical effects which appear to have been drawn on the print with a magic-marker, and which makes little or no sense, even in the loosely-constructed world which is the Witchcraft universe. Still, I can't say I was ever bored by this, which mostly keeps moving forward at a decent pace, and covers over any slow points with copious nudity.

[September 2013]

Mistress of the dark

Witchcraft VII: Judgement Hour

Dir: Michael Paul Girard
Star: David Byrnes, Alisa Christensen, Loren Schmalle, April Breneman

My original review, written February 2005, concluded "Though Byrnes and Christensen aren't awful as actors, their flickerings here merely make the inept darkness of the rest of the movie even less bearable" - which got me an email from Christensen, who took it with good humour, I have to say [her life took a severe diversion a few years later]. This time around, I didn't hate it as much. My original opinion, that Girard was the main problem, still stands, and there are way too many uninteresting sex scenes, but in between those, you could do worse. The focus is Martin Hassa (Schmalle), a vampire from Romania whose company is moving in with a corporate mission to take control of the nation's blood supply. A party at his mansion ends in the death of a prostitute, and detectives Lutz (Christensen - yes, I know, the same character was male in part VI. Don't expect any explanation) and Garner, are startled when the stiff gets up off the mortuary slab and starts roaming the streets of LA. Spanner (Byrnes: no, not the guy from Talking Heads) is also at the hospital, though his incredibly-whiny girlfriend Keli (Breneman) is unimpressed that he's seeing another woman, even if her 'rival' is clinically-dead.

There's occasionally a bizarre loopiness here that's quite endearing. We first meet the cops, staking out a house, waiting for an escaped con to return: he does, only to have sex with his lady, using a blue police-light as a prop. What? Or when Martin seduces his first victim, he bukkakes her with milk from a straw. Who comes up with this stuff? [As an aside, the police are baffled by a security tape which shows only the victim, not the vampire. Apparently, I guess they must have missed the straw hovering in mid-air] However, this weirdness soon gives up, and the sex returns largely to vanilla-flavoured, though I did enjoy the cat-fight between Lutz and a topless dominatrix. Where things really fall down is at the end, where the film aims for the stars (Martin supposedly transforming into a bat), with a budget which might just cover a bottle-rocket and a packet of sparklers past their sell-by date. The results are embarrassing, even by the low expectations one has in the production department for this series. Shame, as the corporate satire involving vampires which is occasionally hinted at, could have been worth a look. If the series had ended here, as promised by the sleeve, it wouldn't have been much of a surprise. But, wait! There's more...

[September 2013]

The end is not as night as the 
sleeve wants you to believe.

Witchcraft VIII: Salem's Ghost

Dir: Joseph John Barmettler
Star: Lee Grober, Kim Kopf, Tom Overmyer, David Weills

It's only when you watch this one that you realize the acting in the others really isn't that bad, at least by comparison. Because there are many occasions on which this doesn't even reach the level of local amateur rep. It's a complete reboot, with Will Spanner entirely absent: instead, it's the story of Sonny (Grober, who could moonlight as a Chevy Chase lookalike) and Mary Ann (Kopf) Dunaway, who move from California to Salem, after Sonny was caught dallying with a student at the college where he taught, only for them to free the spirit of the warlock Renfro, burned at the stake 300 years previously, which has been walled up in their basement ever sinze. It's released by over-zealous neighbour and local plumber, Mitch (Weills), who then becomes the warlock's minion. Fortunately, there's a representative of the "Protestant Church of England" - like there's any other Church of England - on hand, in the shape of McArthur (Overmyer, in his only IMDB credited role, sporting an Irish accent which makes Dick Van Dyke sounds like Christian Bale). He provides the necessary exposition, being a descendant of those who walled Renfro up to begin with, and offers helpful tips on what Sonny needs to do.

There has been some suggestion this is an unrelated film from the same producers, plugged into the series, and the cheap copy-paste job on the opening logo, as well as the complete separation from everything which has gone before, lends credence to that theory. However, there are other elements in common, such as composer Miriam Cutler, who had done the music for the previous seven parts, and the storyline is certainly in the same area - though with at least one scene directly lifted from The Omen. Curiously, there are also echoes of the recent American Horror Story series, which also had a couple moving cross-country as a result of marital difficulties, only to find their new home containing supernatural occupants. However, if this contains 1% of the style or imagination, I must have blinked and missed it. Even the sex scenes are largely repellent, mostly because Grober and Weills should simply not be taking their clothers off: look, while I'm not exactly Adonis, neither am I appearing in video soft-porn or re-enacting scenes from 9 1/2 Weeks [the bit with the fridge, should you be wondering].

But it's the acting where this really bites the big one, with hardly a single performance that's even adequate. Kopf is okay, and Jack Van Landingham as Renfro at least looks the part, and chews the necessary sceney. Otherwise, dear god, these are rotten to the core, to the degree that I can't pick any one actor out as the worst. Each time I thought I'd come to a definitive conclusion on that, the next scene would make me re-evaluate that by bringing new wretchedness to proceedings. The script isn't much better: apparently, if you break through a wall in your cellar, and bright light streams out from the other side, that's a cue to wander off and forget all about it until you have "settled in." That's the level of idiocy you can expect here, and if the preceding entries were hardly genre classics, they seem so when stood beside this one.

[September 2013]

Pale imitation

Witchcraft IX: Bitter Flesh

Dir: Michael Paul Girard
Star: David Byrnes, Landon Hall, Stephanie Beaton, Mikul Robins

If this makes less sense even than usual, it's because the producers chose - probably wisely - to ignore part 8 completely, instead crafting a sequel that follows on from #7, with the same actor (Byrnes) playing Will Spanner. Except, it starts in an art gallery, where Spanner was apparently killed. Don't remember that in part seven. It turns out he's not really dead: more like, someone has hijacked his body for nefarious purposes, leaving his soul to wander, unable to communicate with anyone. Anybody, that is, except for large-breasted hooker Sheila (Hall), who can hear his voice. The reasons for this are explained, but let's just say, they probably shouldn't have bothered. Together, they have to find out who is marching round town in Spanner's body; meanwhile, in a plot thread that seems almost entirely independent, Detectives Lutz and Garner (Beaton and Robins) are investigating ritual murders, in which young women are cut open, their hearts remoived, and symbols scrawled in the vicinity, such as the good ol' "eye in the pyramid." Oh, look: this is not as completely unconnected to Spanner as it seemed.

And that may be a large part of the problem, with a fairly consistent feeling like you're flicking between a soft-porn version of Ghost and a remake of Blood Feast: neither are as interesting as they sound, and you keep just missing all the good bits [and I mean good bits, not "good bits," if you know what I mean, and I think you do...]. Concentrating on one or other story would have likely have been much better: both of them have kinda interesting elements, but neither are given enough chance to develop. Despite the supernatural elements, the horror aspects are all but forgotten entirely, with the most frightening things here being some of the unnatural breasts. I'll be having nightmares. To be fair, the performances are not too bad, and the film does sometimes work better than you'd expect, as a result - it's certainly a significant improvement on the nonsense which came before. However, the execution of most other aspects is as weak as ever, and you'll probably find yourself flicking channels for real, well before the end.

[September 2013]

Long live the new flesh

Witchcraft X: Mistress of the Craft

Dir: Elisar Cabrera
Star: Wendy Cooper, Kerry Knowlton, Stephanie Beaton, Eileen Daly

This entry deserves extended consideration, so please make your way to our extended review. We'll wait for you!

[September 2013]

Bad to the bone

Witchcraft XI: Sisters in Blood

Dir: Ron Ford
Star: Miranda Odell, Kathleen St. Lawrence, Lauren Ian Richards, Don Donason

As in a previous entry, this one completely ignores its predecessor, going back to California without mentioning the apocalytic disaster of part X. This time, it's three college students, who are playing the part of witches in Macbeth, ahem, "the Scottish play." To get into the spirit, they carry out a midnight ritual in a graveyard, but turns out, the spirit gets into them instead, with one (Lawrence) actively engaged in a plot to provide "vessels" for the Three Sisters, witches who were stopped three hundred years ago from summoning a demon. One is quickly recruited, but the other (Odell) is more resistant. How this ties to the series is that her sister is girlfriend to Will Spanner (supposedly the same one from parts 5-9, though played by another actress, spelled differently, and apparently completely oblivious to everything that happened there), and Detectives Lutz and Garner are investigating the trail of bodies as the witches seek the Stone Key that will allow them to open a portal to hell.

There's much that's ludicrous here: the poverty-row production values, random musical notes which pass for a score, typos in the credits ("Dectective" appears more than once) combine to give the impression of an entirely amateur production. Most obvious with regard to the first of these, is the Halloween masks representing the witches, though just behind is the finale: if you can't come up with anything approximating a demon rising from hell, better not write one into your script, eh? However, the film doesn't skimp on the nudity, has an eye-gouging that's probably the goriest moment in the entire series, and at least the three leads are all-natural, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. There's also the bizarre presence of veteran Anita Page, who at one point was second only to Garbo in terms of fan mail, and is just about the only woman with a speaking role who keeps her top on. Since Ms. Page was approaching 90 at the time of filming, there's something for which to be thankful.

For all its flaws - and I could go into these at some detail, for about the next two hours - I was actually entertained, albeit more at the film, than by it, if you see the difference. As noted in my original review (to which I refer you for additional gems of dialogue and facial hair), the plot has some potential, and in the right hands, could have been a small cult gem. Those hands, however, are not Ford's, and the results here are closer to Incredibly Bad territory, though without the necessary loopy invention, which made its predecessor such an undisguised hit in that area.

[September 2013]

Weird sisters

Witchcraft XII:
In the Lair of the Serpent

Dir: Brad Sykes
Star: Chip James, Janet Tracy Keijser, Garrett Clancy, Monika Wild

After the previous couple of outings, which made up for in loony imagination what they lacked in... Well, everything else, to be honest, we're back to much more prosaic fare here. And by "prosaic", I mean utterly predictable, to the extent that the first 75 minutes of this could basically be the first fifteen, repeated on a loop. Bonk session. Cult sacrifice. Rinse. Repeat. In between these, we have the latest incarnation of Will Spanner (James), investigating the murders with the aid of Detective Greaves (Clancy), while fitting in the occasional bonk session of his own with Cindy (Keijser): which is a bit tasteless, since we know Cindy's boyfriend was the first victim. Will figures out that where the bodies are being dumped is the key, forming an occult sign on the map: and there are a couple more dots to be joined, so there are clearly a couple more murders to be done, somewhere between the low-rent warehouse the cult calls home, and the really low-rent stripclub where they trawl for victims.

About the only surprise this has to offer is the discovery that Spanner can apparently shoot lightning-bolts bad visual effects from his fingers, something utterly unused or even mentioned over the previous 11 movies. Aside from the utter lack of logic - even by the low standards of the series - the micro-budget seems even more painfully evident than usual, and new director Sykes fails to bring anything of note to the table. James is also pretty bad as Spanner. According to the IMDB it was his feature debut: that shows in his performance, and it's also telling that it's virtually his sole career credit (save an apparent bit-part in what appears to be a Shakespeare pastiche). In a series of hugely-variable entertainment value, this one was truly a chore to sit through, and likely represents the low-water mark of the entire saga.

[September 2013]

Witchcraft XIII:
Blood of the Chosen

Dir: Mel House
Star: Tim Wrobel, Zoe Hunter, Jennifer Lafleur, Anjanette Clewis

There's a scene right at the end of this, that made me go "Hmmm," and showcased exactly how this series could have developed. It's where Spanner (Wrobel this time) embraces his inner darkness in a quite-surprising way. The whole saga supposedly was focused on the struggle between the good and evil components in his make-up, but up until that point, it had been an almost entirely one-sided battle, with Spanner little more than a slightly tormented goody two-shoes. It's probably one of the best moments in the entire series, and leaves you wondering "What if...?" Otherwise, it's more or less the same as usual, even though half a decade elapsed between parts 12 and 13. with Spanner being drawn in to the usual series of ritual murders, in this case men having their hearts ripped out and gnawed on, after being lured in by an all-girl coven - probably about the closest we'll get to female empowerment here.

"If I'd wanted to make love to a glass of water, I'd have gone to my kitchen." I just have to document that non sequitur, spat out by one of the coven's victims before his demise. If ever I have my heart ripped out by Satanists, I hope I can come up with something better than that. This does continue the "magical lightning" angle invented in its immediate predecessor; however, as there, just because you can write a scene featuring this talent, doesn't mean you should do so, when your budget and effects talents are so obviously short of delivering it. I did like the portrayal of Spanner as a working stiff lawyer, and Wrobel makes a decent everyman. House does better with the material than Sykes, with a couple of well-done dream sequences that create more atmosphere than usual, and the film does make some effort to provide an all-encompassing story, covering all 13 films. On the other hand, the plot takes far too long to get to the good stuff - there's a whole relationship between Spanner and an employee which doesn't go anywhere - and the exposition is clunky, with one guy wheeled on for no purpose other than to explain the back-story. There's also an almost-exact repeat of the "plotting the bodies on a map" scene from XII, which had me rolling my eyes, even if this time it formed a pentagram.

If only they had reached this point by the second or third movie, with Spanner genuinely torn between using his powers for good and evil, and struggling with the need to do bad things to stop a greater one. There could potentially have been a genuine cult series in exploring that, rather than a series which, to be honest, deserves more to be remembered for the wrong reasons. It has now been five years since this came out, and there has been no word of any upcoming 14th entry. I suspect Vista Street Entertainment may be dead, as their website doesn't appear to have been updated since 2008 - and stylistically, appears to date from about a decade prior to that. If this is the last entry ever, it's a respectable enough way for things to end, even if (as with most of the 13 movies) it's not necessarily a film I'll ever want to watch again.

[September 2013]

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