An absolute supernova of a bad film, this Filmirage production manages to top the company’s usual output (including, lest we forget, Troll 2) by roping in the dubious talents of Linda Blair and David Hasslehoff. Giving the former an obligatory possession scene and allowing the latter to adlib to embarrassing effect, the usual delights of Aristide Massacessi’s horror productions – overlit studio interiors, bewildered no-name American actors, badly-translated Italian dialogue, gloopy effects – are here dunked in an enormous vat of fondue designed to delight lovers of 80s cheese.
Filmirage – an Italian production company usually associated with low-rent erotic thrillers, terrible horror films and gob-smackingly awful dramas – here jumps on the Evil Dead bandwagon. Raimi’s films were released in Italy under the titles La Casa 1 & 2 and the company follows in the grand tradition of Italian exploitation by simply appropriating the title for some unrelated sequels. Hence Umberto Lenzi’s Ghosthouse (1988) became La Casa 3 and this film – released in international territories as Witchcraft became La Casa 4. Aside from a residential setting – something that could be said to be true of the majority of features – and plots which revolve around demonic forces and bodily possession, the films bear no similarity with the hyperkinetic Evil Dead franchise, but Laurenti’s film has a manic charm of its own.
The film’s bears a script credit forAmerican screenwriter Harry Spaulding – who, curiously, penned a 1964 film entitled Witchcraft – but the dialogue and story bears all the hallmarks of a cheap Italian genre production, with the frequently confused-looking US cast spouting inane, nonsensical lines while a series of barely-connected events move the plot from one bizarre set-piece to another. The story isolates three groups of people on a Pacific island during a storm: a young woman studying witchcraft and the origins of a house on the island and her photographer boyfriend (the Hoff himself); a dysfunctional family, including a pregnant Linda Blair and a precocious young boy, who are interested in buying the property; and the estate agents, including a woman played by the then Mrs Hasslehoff – Catherine Hickland – who would in future go on to marry a man called, I kid you not, Michael Knight. Over the course of the evening, the assembled cast are sprited away by the spirit of the previous owner – a Garbo-like foreign actress – to a cut-price Hades where they are subjected to a variety of latex-rupturing effects. Blair is possessed so she can redo her Exorcist role, the Hoff gets his shirt off and his girlfriend wanders the house reading random passages from a supposedly ancient German text which may hold the key to foiling the resurrection of the witch-actress via Blair’s baby.
Apart from the sheer joy of watching Hasslehoff and Blair on screen together (for trash-mavens, a pairing suerly on a par with De Niro and Pacino), the film delivers the cracked goods in spades. Witness, for example, the majesty of the scenes where characters are transported to the evil dimension by standing still and waving their arms while a swirling red graphic is overlayed on their screaming mugs. Or the evil dimension itself, which appears to have been built by an Italian set designed in around 3 mins out of some 2-by-4 and some black bin bags. Some of the special effects are pleasingly gloopy, especially the demise of the father, as the stabbing of a voodoo doll causes ruptures in a series of vains. The film bears Filmirage’s usual cruel sense of black humour, with the mother with her mouth sewn shut, hung in the chimney to be burned alive by her family.
Elsewhere budget restrictions mean that a plot which requires its cast to be stranded by a ferocious storm, has no actual shots of said weather – with a placidly undulating sea hardly justifying the lack of rescue. The father of the young estate agent spends much of the film arguing with local law enforcement to stage a recovery attempt, which finally pays off when a helicopter is procured. The subsequent scene, where the father who has been passionately arguing that his son may be in danger, meekly gives up the chase when the house shows no sign of occupation, is just one of the examples of the twisted logic of Filmirage’s output. The actor – one timer Frank Cammarato – is one of the badly-dubbed non-US cast members. It’s unfortunate that heroine Leslie Cumming is not also dubbed, as her mumbling, incoherent delivery renders much of her dialogue unintelligible and makes her scenes with Hasslehoff even more one-sided. Perhaps she was intimidated.