Leslie and her boyfriend Gary are researching for her new book about witchcraft at a resort hotel on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. The hotel is haunted by the ghost of a German actress who practiced witchcraft. The couple are joined on the island by the Brooks family, who are looking to buy the property, and the realtors looking to sell it. But when a storm traps them on the island, the group quickly come to realise that hotel is haunted by the ghost of a German actress who practiced witchcraft and is now looking to resurrect herself through the unborn baby of one of the Brooks’ family.
The good old Italians and their confusing re-titling and cashing in on American properties. Bear with me here because this is highly confusing. Just like George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was renamed Zombi in Italy and then given a non-related Italian follow-up in the form of Zombi 2 (more commonly known to most Westerners as Zombie Flesh Eaters made by Lucio Fulci), as well as given further ‘sequels’ which all got re-titled under the same Zombi moniker (and were just unrelated, standalone zombie films), so Sam Raimi’s first two The Evil Dead films were released in Italy under the names La Casa and La Casa 2. La Casa is Italian for The House. When Ghosthouse was released (an unrelated Italian haunted house flick), it was given the name La Casa 3 which made it sound like an unofficial sequel to The Evil Dead. And then when Witchcraft (or Witchery as it’s also known) was released, which is actually considered a sequel to Ghosthouse, it was given the title La Casa 4.
If that is enough to bamboozle your brain, then you’d best off staying well clear of Witchcraft itself. It is an incomprehensible mess from start to finish, saved only by some decent set pieces and the fact you’ll have given up any hope of trying to make sense of it long before the half-way point. I honestly gave up trying to work out the correlation between different scenes and why things were happening. It’s a skill you learn from indulging in Italian horror over decades – forget the script and narrative and just sit back and take in the nightmarish visuals and creative flair that most of them do exhibit. Logic goes out of the window. Scenes just happen with little relevance. Things occur because they sounded good on paper. It’s all filler in between the death scenes but this is a slog to get through, with unappealing characters randomly coming together on the island. Anticipating what is to come but being frustrated at how long the journey is taking can take a painstaking toll on audiences trying to get through the opening salvos of a low budget Italian horror from the 80s. There’s a void of atmosphere despite having a cool-looking location to shoot inside.
Once the set-up has been readied and the characters stranded inside the hotel, the witchery then begins, and this is where Witchcraft plays to its strengths as best as it can. You can view this part of the film as a slasher flick with a witch as the main killer, as she works her way around the cast, thinning them out in a variety of gruesome set pieces. One woman has her mouth sewn shut and then stuffed upside down in a chimney before the rest of the characters decide to warm themselves up and have a fire (could no one smell burning flesh?). Another guy is crucified and then set on fire before he has died. The disturbing imagery on display is ramped up even further with a distasteful rape scene, as the Hoff’s virgin girlfriend finds herself being held down and raped by a demon. Witchcraft doesn’t deliver the high-end gore that a Fulci film would deliver but it’s admirable work, even if some of the effects do look a little shoddy. Effects man Maurizio Trani worked with Fulci throughout the 80s and so the style and tone of the deaths are very similar.
The appearances of Linda Blair, still coasting on her The Exorcist fame, and David Hasselhoff, fresh off his Knight Rider stint, should give you some clue as to the quality of the acting on show: Blair becomes possessed by a demon (again) and the Hoff takes his shirt off (again). Guess they’re playing to their strengths – Blair spends most of the film doing and saying very little and it’s clear her only purpose is relive her most moments from The Exorcist later on. To give them their credit, they probably had no idea what they were getting themselves in for and fancied a holiday for a few weeks work in Italy. Hasselhoff’s ex-wife Catherine Hickland (who he was then married to at the time) also co-stars and I thought I'd throw out a random Hoff-related fact which made me laugh. After her marriage to Hasselhoff ended, Hickland went on to marry a man called... wait for it... Michael Knight.
Witchcraft is definitely a film you’ll be fast forwarding to the red stuff - it’s a trashy film, bordering on the bad, but with just enough blood, guts and nastiness to see it over the line. It doesn’t make up for the horrendous acting, complete lack of logic and nonsensical storytelling but it’s a small consolation as I’m sure the only people who will ever bother to consider this as a viewing experience are those like me, rather than a mainstream audience.
Also Known As: Witchery, La Casa 4
Director(s): Fabrizio Laurenti
Writer(s): Harry Spalding, Daniele Stroppa
Actor(s): David Hasselhoff, Linda Blair, Catherine Hickland, Annie Ross, Hildegard Knef, Leslie Cumming
Duration: 95 mins