For as many good things as Lloyd Kaufman has done, seeing his face at the beginning of a movie he had absolutely nothing to do with just rubs me the wrong way. Not only is he an idiot (he thinks “organised labour” is just as bad as the military-industrial complex, for one), but he’s a shameless self-publicist who seems to get away with using the intro to a movie as an advert for his book in a way that few others would. I find him boring nowadays. This Troma special intro to “Witchcraft 4”, filmed 15 years later, features co-star Julie Strain in her bathroom talking about the movie, entirely naked. They tried to grab your attention at the start, I suppose? Well, in a bad sign, Strain also completely spoils the twist, but on the off-chance you’re about to watch this without the intro and want my non-spoilery opinions, let’s not say exactly what that twist is.
We’re now at the quarter-way mark of this series, and…they’ve done a sort of “Angel Heart” ripoff. Now, “Angel Heart” is a classic, an amazing work of cinema with a couple of nearly perfect central performances, a truly riveting plot, and a gorgeous look to its grossness and depravity. Obviously, this has none of those things, but if you’re going to take your inspiration from anything, might as well be something good.
Charles Solomon is back for his final appearance as William Spanner. Having watched three movies with him in, I’m still at a bit of a loss who he’s supposed to be. He’s just…there, and as he was a lawyer in the last movie they feel duty bound to make him a lawyer in this one too, even though he acts like a PI, has a PI’s office, does the classic PI’s voiceover, and never goes anywhere near a court. He has no appreciable character traits, no quirks – you’d think even a poor actor like Solomon would have thought of something for his guy to do over the course of three movies. He’s asked to take on the case of Pete, a kid who’s suspected of killing his girlfriend, and he goes from “no, I’m not a public defender any more” to threatening to beat up a cop for withholding information that could help his client in about 2 minutes.
That whole opening scene is a curious one. From the opening credits misspelling the writer’s name (Michael Paul Girard, of “Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars” fame) to the way a guy falls out of a tree, makes “I’m in pain” noises then passes out; to the way his girlfriend gets to a phone box to call for help, calls 911 and gets an engaged tone (!) but gets through to some random old lady; to the way she drives past a cop on her way to the phone box…it’s a curiously put together scene, that’s for sure.
The next day, William and Lily (Pete’s sister) go to inspect the girlfriend’s last known location, and find a matchbook for a club called Coven. Now, thinking on this little segment after watching the movie, none of it makes sense; but given what a huge clue it is, why didn’t the police pick it up when they investigated? They fingerprinted the coins, for heaven’s sake, but didn’t pick up a matchbook? Anyway, this takes William into the world of erotic dancing, where he meets Belladonna (Strain), who not only strips but is also an amazing singer, performing at a late night blues club after she’s done with the disrobing. Now, as this is the IMDB headline for the movie, it’s not really a spoiler – there’s some very weak plot about musicians selling their souls to the Devil, and I guess if you’ve recently suffered a severe head injury you won’t be able to tell who the Devil is in this one. I like the atmosphere of the club, which means there’s some set designer who deserves to be paid more; it has a Twin Peaks / Vamp feeling to it.
I could just recap the movie, but I don’t like reading those sorts of reviews and I hope you don’t either. “Witchcraft 4” has the worst sound of any non-Donald Farmer movie I think we’ve ever covered on here. Approximately two-thirds of the conversations are drowned out by the incidental music, which indicates to me some sort of shot on video with live sound deal, or just a very very bad sound guy. It’s also a reminder of why movies have foley artists, as the scenes where people are walking, and all you can hear is the sound of their feet, are really off-putting. Also, someone involved in this movie was allergic to light, as it’s murky as hell. When you have both sound and light operating in the same scene, then it’s sort of a guessing game as to who’s there and what they’re saying. I like it!
William gets closer to cracking the case, he and Belladonna become closer, and he – again – resists using magic. Now, I’m not title literalist. But. If you’re going to have a movie series called “Witchcraft”, it might be fun to have some witchcraft in it from time to time, I reckon! Just a bit, to sprinkle over the duller parts of the plot. Given that William barely uses anything approaching magic in these movies, and he’s referred to in the promotional literature as a “warlock” anyway, we’ve now had two movies in this series without a single witch in them. I don’t know, it seems a stupid thing to fixate on, but I just don’t think these plots are good enough on their own. Also, there’s a lot of smoking in this movie. More than would be necessary, even if the plot were about a bunch of smokers who really enjoyed smoking. Maybe Philip Morris sponsored the movie?
After all this insult, it’s probably the best of the series so far. While she’s a long way from being great, Julie Strain at least looks like she’s happy to be there, and Solomon has improved (marginally) as an actor. The rest of the cast are almost uniformly terrible (special non-kudos to Santara, the English DJ at obvious-clue-station-title K-STN), but there’s an energy to proceedings which the first three parts definitely didn’t have. And, like I said, the “Angel Heart” template is a strong one – it’s like ripping off “Die Hard”; the plot does half the work for you.
Rating: thumbs in the middle