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Ghosthouse/Witchery Double Feature

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Release Date: 
Scream Factory
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Umberto Lenzi
Fabrizio Laurenti
Greg Scott
Lara Wendel
Linda Blair
David Hasselhoff
Bottom Line: 
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Heads up, Italian horror fans! Umberto Lenzi – the horror maestro responsible for such classics as Cannibal Ferox, Nightmare City, Spasmo, and a virtual smorgasbord of other Italian genre classics – is represented in Scream Factory’s latest double-feature offering, with 1988’s Ghosthouse (aka La casa 3), paired alongside journeyman director/producer Fabrizio Laurenti’s bizzare Linda Blair/David Hasselhoff outing, Witchery (aka La casa 4 - Witchcraft).

This double dose of extra sharp Italian cheese opens with Lenzi’s (credited as Humphrey Humbert - one of the director’s many pseudonyms) Ghosthouse. The film opens in the late 1960s, with the brutal murder of a middle-aged New England couple whose daughter is seemingly possessed by an evil spirit that arrives accompanied by what sounds like the backwards-talking midget from Twin Peaks and a chimpanzee playing a calliope.

Jump forward twenty years to “present day” Boston, where we meet Paul (Greg Scott) – a college student with a penchant for ham radios and computers that do things that people who know nothing about computers think they do. During one of his late night ham-sessions, Paul picks up a rogue signal that features the aforementioned midget/calliope music as well as the hilariously unconvincing cries of a man. Paul plays a tape of the incident for his girlfriend, Martha (Tenebre’s Lara Wendel), who convinces Paul to use his ham radio/computer expert skills to pinpoint the location from which the broadcast took place. Paul says a bunch of science stuff (so we KNOW he’s smart), and Martha nods and makes coffee as he rolls up his sleeves and gets into some heavy-duty hammin’! The next day (I think), Paul and Martha are driving toward the source of the signal (which just so happens to be right outside Boston), when they happen upon the house where the family was murdered in the opening scene. It’s here they find Jim (Martin Jay), a fellow ham radio junkie who, along with his brother Mark (Ron Houck), little sister, Tina (Kate Silver), and Mark’s girlfriend, Susan (Mary Sellers), is camping out nearby. Jim’s decided to turn the attic of the abandoned (yet still fully-furnished) house into his temporary broadcast station, but, despite his voice clearly being the one heard on Paul’s tape, he swears he hasn’t even set up his antenna yet, meaning the broadcast Paul intercepted is…from the future?!  

Obviously curious (despite hearing himself die on tape), Jim enlists the aid of his fellow campers to help Paul monitor the signal from his broadcasts that evening, with Paul electing to do so from “a few miles” down the road. Jim and Mark, meanwhile, man the attic radio, while Tina waits it out in the camper. It isn’t long, however, before Tina’s visited by the visage of the possessed little girl from the film’s opening, followed by an unseen force rocking the camper violently. Meanwhile, in the house, Jim hears the strains of calliope music and midget hymnals and follows them to the basement, where he meets his demise in the same manner as documented by Paul’s tape. To make matters worse, the group is attacked by a creepy old neighbor who seems hellbent on protecting the secret of the house! Can Paul’s ham-radio expertise save them? Does anyone care? Of course not!

Ghosthouse is an absolutely howlingly funny mess of supernatural horror tropes, bad 80s fashion, general Italian weirdness, and some of the worst performances ever set to celluloid. The film’s gory as all get out, as one would expect from a Lenzi film, and there are a few solid scares, but I’ve a gut feeling that viewers new to the film will laugh a lot more than they flinch, and that’s precisely why I enjoy this flick as much as I do. Make no mistake, this IS garbage, but it’s my kind of garbage!

Speaking of unintentional laughter and trash, Laurenti’s Witchery – released in Europe as a “sequel” to Ghosthouse, despite sharing only a New England location in common – stars Blair as Jane, an expectant mother who, along with her uptight mother Rose (Annie Ross), lecherous father, Freddie (Robert Champagne), and little brother, Tommy (terrible child actor who shall not be named) visit an abandoned hotel on a secluded New England island that investors Rose and Freddie are considering renovating into an exclusive resort with the help of young architect, Linda (Catherine Hickland). While there, however, Jane has a supernatural experience that mirrors an earlier episode involving a mysterious woman dressed entirely in black (Hildegard Knef). Jane is found passed out on the bathroom floor, and her mother demands they leave the island at once, but the boat hired by realtor, Jerry (Rick Farnsworth, and no, not that one) has abandoned them, forcing them to seek refuge back inside the hotel.

The family is shocked to discover, however, that writer Leslie (Leslie Cumming) and her photographer friend, Gary (The Hoff!) have been secretly lodging on the private island, documenting its mysterious history of witchcraft and Satanism. From here on out, Witchery plays like an Italian supernatural version of And Then There Were None, with each of the hapless protagonists being picked off one at a time by the creepy lady in black.

While Witchery does feature a more capable cast (save for the terrible child actor who shall not be named) and, in my opinion, more competent direction and atmospheric cinematography than Lenzi’s film, it’s still an incoherent mess of slapdash Italian corner-cutting and supernatural film clichés. Still it’s worth it just to see Hasselhoff and Blair hamming it up in their semi-prime, and, as with Ghosthouse, the unintentional laughs go a long way toward making this one a must-see.

Scream Factory presents both films on Blu-ray for the first time, with each film presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio 1080p transfer. I’d seen both of these films back in the early 1990s on ratty ol’ rental VHS, but haven’t laid eyes upon them since, so I was really surprised by how dynamite they both look in HD. Ghosthouse, in particular, looks gorgeous, with vibrant dayglow 80s colors and a tremendous amount of fine detail evident beneath a warming sheen of filmic grain. Between the seemingly perpetually overcast skies and the dark interiors of the house, Witchery’s color palette is a bit less bold, but, in terms of sharpness and quality, it’s every bit as impressive as Ghosthouse. Yes, there’s a bit of print damage in both films now and again, but, overall the transfers here are as close to pristine as we’re likely to get with this pair.  Both films feature 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks, and each offer a surprising amount of fidelity and depth given the source. In both cases dialogue is crisp and up front, with no discernible distortion.

Bonus features include trailers for each film, presented in HD.

Ghosthouse and Witchery were released as parts four and five of the La casa series of films which started with…The Evil Dead! Yes, believe it or not, these films were produced and distributed by Italy’s king of exploitation, Joe D’Amato, as “sequels” to Raimi’s films despite having nothing to do with them (gotta love that 80s-era Italian ingenuity)! Scream Factory’s Blu-ray presentation is very impressive, offering really surprising picture quality and audio, and, while neither film is particularly “good” in the traditional sense, connoisseurs of incoherent Italian horror and fans of bad movies in general will definitely want to clear shelf space for this one!  

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