Ghosthouse/Witchery - Double Feature [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - Unset - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (7th August 2015).
The Film

Say what you will about American cinema’s love of sequels, prequels, remakes and “reimaginings”, but at least when you walk into a theater to see, say, “Poltergeist II: The Other Side” (1986), you can sit comfortably knowing the film which you are about to watch is a legitimate follow-up. That sense of security is wholly absent in the world of Italian moviemaking, where any and every successful film’s title is bled dry by unauthorized and unrelated “sequels”. One of the most infamous examples of spaghetti franchising is the “La Casa” series, featuring seven films that only share a common theme: haunted houses. The first two films – “La Casa” and “La Casa 2” - are “The Evil Dead” (1981) and “Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn” (1987). So far, so good. The third entry is “Ghosthouse” (1988), directed by one of Italy’s foremost maestros of gore, Umberto Lenzi. Then “La Casa 4”, which is “Witchery” (1988), featuring The Hoff and Linda Blair. “Beyond Darkness” (1990) was released as “La Casa 5”, featuring direction from Claudio Fragasso, the man who made “Troll 2” (1990). Then on the home video front, “House II: The Second Story” (1987) was released to VHS as “La Casa 6” and, finally, “The Horror Show” (1989, released in some markets as “House III: The Horror Show”), starring Lance Henriksen, was released as “La Casa 7”. As you can see, other than the first two films none of these have any relation outside of subject matter, and even that’s a stretch since the hauntings aren’t exactly consistent from film to film.

Not that it matters because, despite being objectively pretty bad, both “Ghosthouse” and “Witchery” are just the sort of malevolent, bizarre horror that revelled in the late-80's glory of excess.

Umberto Lenzi, the man responsible for Italy’s second-most infamous cannibal film, “Cannibal Ferox” (1981), delivers 95 minutes of total insanity with “Ghosthouse”. After a particularly nasty opening, in which cats and the elderly are offed with equal gruesomeness, the film segues to a couple decades later when an amateur ham-radio enthusiast, Paul (Greg Scott), receives a disturbing transmission filled with cries for help and screams of pain. So, of course he and his girlfriend do the sensible thing – don’t contact authorities, find the source of the call and go investigate it by themselves. They arrive at a dilapidated home and find the CB radio inside… but there’s no one else around. Well, no one other than a weapon-wielding vacationer, who has decided to camp out in front of the old home for some inexplicable reason. There’s also a groundskeeper present. He’s a bit unhinged, making him the perfect red herring.

As the first night wears on, everyone splits up (of course) and many are treated to visions of death, usually accompanied by young Henriette (Kristen Fougerousse) – the girl seen in the opening, who killed her cat – and her doll, which looks like a grey market bootleg of the “Poltergeist” (1982) clown. After one of the guys gets killed, and cops show up to investigate, it would be right to assume everyone would take this opportunity to leave the creepy home. And they do… for about half a day. But later that night the survivors are right back in the action, willfully subjecting themselves to additional torment. Thanks to Paul’s constant investigation, though, there may be hope to lift the house’s curse and end the constant death that occurs within its walls.

The sheer lunacy of “Ghosthouse” makes it quintessential 80's horror through and through. Italian horror films are usually noted for their brutality and gore, which this film has in spades. Right from the start, wherein a friendly older couple is viciously slaughtered, it’s clear Lenzi wants every death to have an impact. The special effects, done by a team with no notable credits to their names, are visceral and, for lack of a better word, just plain nasty. Many of the victims die via “No!” deaths, meaning they sit and stare wide-eyed as the killer slowly approaches while they shout “Nooooo!” until being butchered. Whatever happened to getting up and making a run for it? No matter. Logic isn’t important when you’re watching a woman be sliced up by an exploding mirror before having her throat savagely cut.

Don’t get confused into thinking “Ghosthouse” is anything more than a raucously entertaining camp fest. The story is secondary to the kills – and, really, have many Italian horror movies been noted for their coherence and plot? – and the musical score by Piero Montanari, while undeniably creepy and atmospheric, repeats itself so often you’d think the sound mixer fell asleep at the controls. So while this film may have been shot in Massachusetts (in the very house where Lucio Fulci lensed 1981’s “The House by the Cemetery”), it is very much an Italian production in every sense.

Unfortunately, the “series” takes a major dip in quality with “Witchery” (“La Casa 4”), which manages to do little more than induce sleep. You have to know there’s trouble brewing when David Hasselhoff is the best actor on the payroll by a nautical mile. All of the gory excess found in “Ghosthouse” has been lost here in this “sequel”. The only thing terrifying when watching this movie is the realization that you’re watching THIS movie. Nobody in the cast looks particularly happy to be there, aside from Tommy (Michael Manchester), an annoying little sh*theel of a kid who had to have gotten his role through nepotism; there is no other way. He’s the worst child actor to ever stand in front of a camera, and with “Witchery” being his sole cinematic credit it would seem others share this opinion.

Long ago, as we learn, a pregnant woman was accused of witchcraft, chased down, and killed rather dramatically. Now, a really long time after, a group of people interested in buying a resort property located on the island where that pregnant woman died wind up stranded there with a few others, like The Hoff and his current fling. It’s also rumored a famous celebrity may have killed herself here, too. Basically there’s just all kinds of evil hanging around on this island. And now everyone has to hang around here, too, because a massive storm has hit the seaside town and the group is stranded. Pay no mind to the clear fact there are no waves, and no rain, and no thunder, and not a bit of this apparently huge storm is ever glimpsed. In fact, when the film does cut to the sea it looks so calm you’d be convinced everyone could probably just swim to shore. Yes, even sh*theel Tommy.

This film is dreadfully stupid and never quite sure what to do with the plot, which seems fitting given the film isn’t quite sure what to be called. Labeled “Witchery” for home video, we know it also goes by “La Casa 4”, and the opening title cards reveal it could also be either “Witchcraft” or “Evil Encounters”. Torturous deaths are what this film has going for it - some of the island’s temporary inhabitants meet their maker by way of being burned alive (on of which is nailed to an upside down cross), while others explode with blood thanks to the old black witch’s voodoo magic. Other than gore, we have The Hoff, who is an absolute in the world of acting. He never sucks, but then he never amazes with his acting chops; he simply is. And here one of his character’s quirks is doing different voices, which at least makes him memorable against a sea of forgettable faces. “But what about Linda Blair?”, nobody wondered. Blair is here for one reason – to be possessed. When it happens there’s almost a sense that the entire proceedings took place simply to get Blair in possession mode. And that’s really pathetic.

So, while “Witchery” isn’t likely to get much replay action there is certainly more than enough fun to be had with “Ghosthouse” that this double feature was not produced in vain. Horror fans with extensive film collections and some time on their hands could curate a truly bizarre septuplet marathon, watching all of the disparate films in the “La Casa” series and wondering what the hell anyone was thinking. Wait, actually, the answer is clear: $$$. Still, in the annals of weird, cobbled-together franchises this one takes the cake.

“Ghosthouse” film rating: C+
“Witchery” film rating: D+

Video

Both “Ghosthouse” and “Witchery” make their Blu-ray debut here, sporting 1.66:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded pictures. Overall the results are quite similar, with each film featuring minor dirt & debris, decent color saturation, stable contrast and acceptable definition. “Ghosthouse” looks to have had some minor DNR applied, causing the grain field to look a little smoothed over and adding a slightly waxy quality to faces. Black levels are also slightly hazy. “Witchery”, on the other hand, looks a tad more filmic thanks to no DNR application and stronger blacks. Neither film features crisp definition, though it is certainly above DVD standards.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono tracks can be found on each film. The tracks are clean and fairly strong. At times the audio sounds a bit compressed and tinny, and both tracks are definitely thin in terms of range. If a gun were to my head I’d give the edge to “Ghosthouse” simply because it has the better score. Subtitles are available on both in English.

Extras

There isn’t anything to be found here other than a single theatrical trailer for each film.

“Ghosthouse” theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 53 seconds.

“Witchery” theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 3 minutes and 1 second.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case. The cover art for both films is very creepy and haunting; excellent work there. Inside the case, on the inside of the cover art, there are images for each film.

Overall

In the mood for a double dose of Italian horror madness? Scream Factory has you covered with this twofer of haunted terrors.

The Film: C Video: B- Audio: C+ Extras: D Overall: C

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.