|Directed by||Kevin Tenney|
|Produced by||Gerald Geoffray|
|Written by||Kevin Tenney|
|Music by||Dennis Michael Tenney|
|Cinematography||Roy H. Wagner|
|Box office||$7.4 million (US)|
Witchboard is a 1986 American supernatural horror film written and directed by Kevin S. Tenney in his directorial debut, and starring Tawny Kitaen and Stephen Nichols. The film focuses on a female college student who is harassed and later possessed by an evil spirit after communicating with it through a friend's Ouija board at a party.
The film had a limited release in December 1986 and received a wide release in March 1987. Although critical reception remains generally mixed, the film has obtained a cult following since its release. Two unrelated sequels, Witchboard 2: The Devil's Doorway and Witchboard III: The Possession, were respectively released in 1993 and 1995.
One night at a party, Brandon Sinclair brings out his Ouija board and attempts to contact David, the spirit of a dead ten-year-old boy with whom he has communicated numerous times. The spirit responds, but Brandon's nemesis Jim insults David, making the spirit angry and provoking him to slash the tires of Brandon's car.
The next day, Jim's live-in girlfriend Linda sees Brandon's Ouija board (which Brandon left behind from the previous night) and tries to contact David. It is revealed that the spirit is actually a ghost of a deceased murderer named Carlos Malfeitor acting under the guise of David. This malicious spirit initially starts being nice and helpful to her, informing Linda where her lost diamond engagement ring is. Meanwhile, at the construction site where Jim is working, Lloyd is killed from fallen sheetrock by the murderous spirit. After Jim is questioned by Lieutenant Dewhurst at Lloyd's funeral, she again contacts Malfeitor (still believing to be David) about the accident, and the spirit lies that he did not cause it.
Soon, Linda begins to fall under progressive entrapment, in which the spirit changes and starts to terrorize the user, rendering the person weak and easy to possess. Brandon brings over a psychic medium named Sarah "Zarabeth" Crawford to contact David, and if necessary to exorcise him from the building. The spirit puts up little resistance and leaves, but after leaving, Zarabeth is suspicious and wants to research the occurrence. Not long after getting home, she is attacked and killed by Malfeitor; her throat is slashed before being thrown out of a window and impaled onto a spike. The next morning, Brandon is shocked to hear about Zarabeth's death on the newscast, and immediately suspects the spirit David murdered her. After Brandon leaves for more information, Linda is unconscious by Malfeitor and she is sent to a hospital after Jim contacts an ambulance. During this time, Brandon and Jim conduct research on David, and later initially accuse the spirit of terrorizing Linda. They use the Ouija board and discover that Malfeitor is frightening Linda instead. Malfeitor then attacks; he renders Jim unconscious with fallen barrels and kills Brandon with a carpenter's hatchet. Upon the discovery of Brandon's body in the water, Jim is grieved over his friend's loss.
Released from the hospital, Linda uses the board but gets no response. After taking a shower, she is then attacked and possessed by Malfeitor. The next morning, Jim returns and discovers the apartment in disarray, before he is attacked by a possessed Linda wearing formal men's clothing and wielding a fire axe. During the fight, Lt. Dewhurst enters the apartment and falsely accuses Jim of the attack before he's knocked unconscious by Linda with a fire poker. The possessed Linda tells Jim, now armed with Dewhurst's revolver, that he is the "portal" and taunts him into committing suicide. Suddenly, Jim tricks her and shoots the Ouija board many times right before he is pushed out of a window by the entity and lands on a car.
After the events, a normalized Linda and a survived Jim resume their now back to normal lives and are seen marrying each other at a church. As a girl and the apartment landlady clean up the apartment, they both find the wrecked Ouija board and questions if it stills works before throwing into a box with the planchette. The camera then zooms to the word "yes" on the board before the planchette points to it by itself and the film fades to black.
- Todd Allen as James "Jim" Morar
- Tawny Kitaen as Linda Brewster
- Stephen Nichols as Brandon Sinclair
- Kathleen Wilhoite as Sarah "Zarabeth" Crawford
- Burke Byrnes as Lt. Dewhurst
- James W. Quinn as Lloyd
- Rose Marie as Mrs. Moses
- Judy Tatum as Dr. Gelineau
- Gloria Hayes as Wanda
- J.P. Luebsen as Carlos Malfeitor
- Susan Nickerson as Chris
- Ryan Carroll as Roger
- Kenny Rhodes as Mike
- Clare Bristol as Anchor woman
When director Kevin S. Tenny was writing the screenplay as a film student at the University of Southern California, he had the concept to do an Ouija-themed horror film, but he did not know much about Ouija boards so he researched information about them including the "progression entrapment", which was used briefly for The Exoricst. The inspiration behind scene where Jim was angering the spirit when Linda and Brandon were playing with the board came from his friend that went to a party where someone was making fun of the board, resulting his tires blown out since he was in control of the board and the spirit blamed him; since oddly the lug nuts were not able to move when the party guests tried to do so, they called up AAA and the lug nuts were able to move again when AAA changed out the tires. He also mentioned reading about somebody having a bottle of ketchup dropped and a knife fell into it, where the ketchup formed into a silhouette of a person; this particularly was used for the scene where Linda sees a kitchen knife fling into the ground and a bottle of ketchup drips around the blade. He believes that upon people watching the film, it resonates with them because even though it is fictitious almost everything that happened to him is based in the "facts" as people believe.
Tenny, despite never believed in the board, admitted that the board was creepy when people did use it and would use that effect for the film. In the story, apart from the connection between the board and the film itself, he simply needed to develop the characters. He views the film about a character who doesn't think he is capable of love, and the Ouija board, in which he views also as a character, forces him to look back at his relationship with his wife and how he feels about the friend he has lost. Once he knew about it, it was easy then to work this all around the story he had just read about the Ouija boards.
One of the central themes of the film was the "bromance" of Jim and Brandon, which was previously broken apart as friends from both of them loving Linda too much, before re-friending again as the situation involving the Ouija board progress with Linda's condition. Tenny had wrote what he thought was good story with relatable characters that the viewers understand and care about, this in which was pulled from Tenny's background to make the roles three-dimensional, and thought it would be interesting to see a friendship that once started out, then was gone, before coming back together again. He felt to Josten and Geoffray that despite the film being a horror film, he wanted it to be about the characters and having them with strong performances.
When Tenny's friend, Rolan Carol, had to drop out of the university due to financial issues, he got a job at a commodities' firm where the owner, Walter Josten, was getting bored of commodities. Rolan mentioned to Josten about how Kevin S. Tenny wrote up a script, and since Rolan was interested in raising money from brokers and his firm for a movie he met up with Tenny and his friend Jeff Geoffray, who he met at filming class at the university. Tenny and Geoffry, having come out of the university, presented Rolan with the project they wanted to do and he loved the script, which he felt was a great supernatural thriller with a love triangle and had a great marking hook in the fact that it was about an Ouija board. Although Josten never had an ouija board worked for him since he never believed in it, his wife had previously used the board when she was college and was soon afraid to use one of them again; even people that he has spoken too had said the same thing as his wife did.
Josten, having raised the money for the film, called up Kevin S. Tenny about this and he left the university to work on the film, while only having four units left for his master's degree.
The character of Jim was based upon Kevin S. Tenny himself, as Tenny was a sarcastic yet non-malicious person. While many actors had come in for the role for Jim, the role was given to Todd Allen as Tenny found his sarcastic characteristics funny which was what he was aiming for. When Allen went into the audition, he recalled sitting in the room auditioning and in the corner of his eye, seeing Tenny with the producer of the casting director and began cracking up. Todd at first worried that he messed up for the role, but Kevin Tenny had wrote the role to be fairly close to himself, and he believed that he made him crack up because of how it reminded of the way the director acted and said things in reality. Once he got cast for the role, he got the benefit of being able to go back in with the producers and Kevin S. Tenny to read the actresses that signed up for the role of Linda. While Allen had never met Tawny Kitaen, she had read the role when he wasn't there.
When Kitaen came in for the role, Kevin Tenny found her and the casting producer Rebecca Boss to a good choice and noticed that they had many beautiful women come in and go for days, but everyone he knew at the office that were all males noticed Kitaen more than any of the other women that auditioned for the role, and felt that she had some sort of appeal to them. When they were beginning to shoot, she had flown to New York so Tenny called up her agent about making a deal for the film, and she flew back to show up on the set. When Allen got on set to meet her by saying hello and giving her a hug. Five minutes later they had begun shooting and their relationship had become very intimate quickly. Allen felt what he came across was how much he liked her immediately and vice versa. Kitaen, vice versa, loved Allen and found him to be a "dreamy" co-star with great integrity and morals. Tenny felt Kitaen brought something that he initially had not seen, but he was smart enough then to see she had something that affected everyone else.
Three months prior to Witchboard, Stephen Nichols had starred in the soap opera Days of Our Lives in which the show planned to kill off his character Steve "Patch" Johnson. At the same time where the show's producers wanted him to sign a contract, he got the job for Witchboard and he told the producers he could not sign the contract due to his new role in the film. Nichols found the film was good for himself when it came time to negotiate again to returning to Days of Our Lives because of how the show's producers really wanted him to come back. On set, Nichols recalled sitting next to Kitaen and remembering how good she smelled, presumably from her hairspray; this made it really easy for him to imagine how much he was in love with her for his role. Kitaen also recalled how much fun Nichols was, and how he was cast perfectly for his character much like with Allen's role. Because of his role on the soap opera, he would have constant attention towards fans, which Allen would give him trouble about, but generally he and Allen had a very good liking on-set.
J.P. Luebsen, who was previously a photographer, met Kevin Tenny through a friend of his at a 4th of July party, and chosen Luebsen for the villainous role of the spirit Carlos Malfeitor. Whenever he was on-set, Kitaen made a point about being self-apart from him to get her anxious enough, to the point where she'd be terrified of him and not being near him..
Much like with Kitaen's role, Kenny cited about 50 various women had come in for the role of Sarah "Zarabeth" Crawford, but Kathleen Wilhoite was the first to come in. Prior to Witchboard, Kathleen Wilhoite had just graduated from school in 1982 and had big ambitions which she felt was the "prime" of her life. After she came in for the role, Tenny told Boss that she couldn't imagine anyone else doing the part better than Wilhoite. When she came in back for the part after Tenny had suggested it to her, she hadn't responded at that time, but after Tenny found her someplace shortly after, she confirmed to him that she would definitely play the role.
James Quinn, playing the role of Llyod, was long-time childhood friends with Kevin Tenny and his brother Dennis Michael Tenny. Quinn cited about Tenny made small homemade films out in his garage as a kid, and on the weekends they would go steal things from construction yards to build sets; Tenny and Quinn would work on these movies from 6:00 am to 12:00 pm doing squibs and stunts. Before taking the role, Quinn had taken a drama class which he liked. The idea of Llyod being a construction worker all came from Kevin, Quinn, and Dennis, who previously worked in construction before they moved to Los Angeles; he also felt much with the other cast, Quinn was perfect for the character as he had been the person on-set that kept making him and Dennis laughing. Looking back to his role, Quinn felt his role at the time was cool, but compared to today it did not age well.
When actor Kenny Rhodes was approached by Boss about the film, he had shown up for the film but he didn't recall auditioning; he thought it was the only time in his career that he did not come in to audition. He worked primarily with Allen, which he recalled that he was originally going to be the main lead, and worked well with Allen as "cheerleaders for the lead". For his character, the costumer gave him a bandanna to make him appear more "tougher", and is presently proud to have the used bandanna considering he was a Bruce Springsteen fan.
Principal photography was shot primarily in 637 S Lucerne Blvd in Los Angeles and Big Bear Valley in San Francisco, California, in 1985. The film is dedicated to Christopher J. Tenney, a family member of the director Kevin S. Tenney who died during filming.
Originally, the movie was filmed as Ouija, but they had found they didn't own the title and their attorney told them they could not use the title, say the word "Ouija", or use a Parker Brothers Ouija board. When they shot the scene where Brandon and Jim go to Big Bear and use a second Ouija board to contact the spirit of David, they had already shot the first Ouija board and since the E&O carrier didn't like this, they had to put up a $50,000 bond to prevent any potential litigation; Josten cites that fortunately no lawsuit had occurred, but he wished that this would have been cleared before shooting had begun. While the filmmakers waited for the insurance to change the title to Witchboard, they were really waiting on the verdict of an E&O maven named Fred Leopold to see if he was going to rule in their favor. Because of this, Geoffray used the ouija board alone to see what will happen, but he got no answer from the board. Leopold allowed the filmmakers to pay the bond and go forward with the film, and they were able to use some of the early Ouija board footage and integrated with a new Ouija board. They earned about a 50/50 split on the new title as some people were disappointed film didn't stay as Ouija while others thought the new title was cooler.
The nightmare sequence, where Linda gets decapitated by Malfeitor (to where her hands exaggeratedly move around) in the hospital, was done with a stand-in that came for Kitaen where her head was ducked low and had a Styrofoam head on-top connected with a poll, with a wig that matched Kitaen's hairstyle. Luebsen cited that he was nervous from the scene as the axe used was a real one, and he was swinging it very close to the stand-in. Special-effects artist Tassilo Baur explained that although they used a real axe, they had also used prop axes for safety reasons, but as well as to improve their performances. Baur also had some props that were hinged so that they preciously hit a specific spot.
With the scene where Llyod throws a carpenter's hatchet near Jim's head, Allen himself was dismissive about the scene as he feared it won't work well, but Tenny reassured him. Originally, the scene was supposed to be shot with an FX man and shoot the hatchet directly, but as the film's cinematographer Roy H. Wagner suggested it be shot in reverse, they would also show the scene to Allen to see how he would react if it was for real so that he can act in reverse. With this, they had a fake hatchet put into a piece of balsa wood and yanked it out with a wire.
The moment where Llyod is killed from sheetrock fallen onto him was cut repeatedly, mostly due to Quinn's comedic personality on-set kept making Allen crack up. Quinn explained how they used a dummy for the sheetrock to fall, and when it fell it caused the dummy's legs to slightly fling up which made him hysterically laugh. When the sheetrock fell down, Allen's reaction was real as the sheetrock falling was very loud, almost equivalent to a gunshot. They ended up dropping it from a floor above with a bunch of sheets of fake sheetrock with two real ones on both sides, and Baur, accompanied with special-effects assistant Mick Strawn, practiced with it until they could drop it reliably and to make it look convincing.
One of the biggest challenges for Wagner was shooting the shower sequence with Tawny Kitaen, as she won't allow the director nor the camera crew to shoot the scene with her. However, she assured trust in Wagner when she seen him with a wedding ring. The moment where the spirit turns on hot blazing water in the shower while she was trapped inside the stall, they had used a couple of effects including a breakway shower door, as they had made a number of shower doors with breakway glass, and a fog machine to represent the hot water's moisture. Almost inevitably on the day of, there was a big uproar to where the set was cleared to only the director and second-camera loader assistant, as all of the men were temporarily kicked off-set; this prepared Kitaen to be more comfortable with the scene.
According to Kathleen Wilhoite and Roy Wagner, there was a number of running gags on-set most of which Wagner was included in. For one, there was a gag where Kitaen's poodle was thought to have been accidentally run over by the props truck, and this devastated her before she was relieved that the dog was safe. There was also apparently a running gag where Kitaen had been dating O.J. Simpson with him visiting her on-set from time to time, and would call up the production office under a pseudo name to speak with her. The crew at lunch one time went to Kitaen's trailer and rocked it back and fourth according to Wagner; they had other gags including flipping the outhouses upside down with the actors inside them, and locking the crew insides rooms where they couldn't get out to the set on time.
However, during production, the crew had some eerie occurrences on the set. Some of the crew, especially those that came in earlier, had significant problems inside the 637 S Lucerne Blvd house such as things that would bump into them that were not there, and things that would move that no one else around could have done around that time. Wagner personally felt a strong presence at the staircase where someone was walking behind him, as well as numerous occurrences where the cast and crew heard whispering and talking.
On the last day of filming, the shot of Jim getting pushed out of the window and landing on top of a car's hood was shot in a park far away from 637 S Lucerne Blvd. They built a replica of the window that Allen's character would fall, but from he could not flail his arms around as it would show the crane arm behind him − so had to sit there and used his shoulders to block out the arm.
When the film's production wrapped up, Kevin S. Tenny was worried trying to make sure that the characters were real and whether he had made the film "scary" when it was screened by the distributors. Geoffray, in contrast, felt confident in the film and they managed to screen the film a lot before it reached full theatrical release.
Prior to its theatrical release, Witchboard had a 15-screen limited release on December 31, 1986; the film grossed $95,435 that weekend. After this, the distributors picked up the film for a full theatrical release in 1100 screens nationwide on March 13, 1987. bringing in $2,582,408 that weekend. Through its course, the film's final box office gross was $7,369,373.
The film is exclusively available on iTunes.
HorrorNews.net gave the film a negative review, citing that "While the film garners recollection of being an 80’s cult film, I think it has more to do with the fascination of it’s lead actress Tawny Kitaen more than anything. Tawny is at her peak, beautiful and stunning… but at the heart of a mediocre film."
Alex DiVincenzo of BrokeHorrorFan.com gave the film a positive review, citing that "[Witchboard] pales in comparison to Tenney’s follow up Night of the Demons, but it’s still a fun flick. It was successful enough to warrant two sequels in the '90s and develop a small cult following. Tenney’s youthful exuberance practically oozes onto the screen, which aids Witchboard’s B-movie charm."
- "Witchboard". American Film Institute. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
- "Witchboard (1986)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2 June 2010.
- James, Caryn (March 15, 1987). "LOVE TRIANGLE IN 'WITCHBOARD'". The New York Times.
- "Film Review:Witchboard". HorrorNews.net. Retrieved December 18, 2016.
- DiVincenzo, Alex. "Retro Review: Witchboard". Broke Horror Fan. Retrieved December 18, 2016.
- Kevin S. Tenny (2014). Interview (Blu-Ray). Scream Factory
- Walter Josten (2014). Interview (Blu-Ray). Scream Factory
- Todd Allen (2014). Interview (Blu-Ray). Scream Factory
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- Stephen Nichols (2014). Interview (Blu-Ray). Scream Factory
- J.P. Luebsen (2014). Interview (Blu-Ray). Scream Factory
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- James Quinn (2014). Interview (Blu-Ray). Scream Factory
- Kenny Rhodes (2014). Interview (Blu-Ray). Scream Factory
- Jeff Geoffray (2014). Interview (Blu-Ray). Scream Factory.
- Tassilo Baur (2014). Interview (Blu-Ray). Scream Factory
- Roy Wagner (2014). Interview (Blu-Ray). Scream Factory.
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