Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #61
Also known as The Witch
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: August 26, 1982
Country of Origin: Canada
Running Time: 86 minutes
Director: James W. Roberson
Producer: Ed Carlin, Michael Sajbel, Andrew G. Vajna, Mario Kassar
Screenplay: Donald G. Thompson
Story: Michael O Sajbel, Bret Thompson Plate, Brad White
Special Effects: David B. Miller, Steve LaPorte, William Munns, Dick Albain, Roger George, Garth Van Dam
Cinematography: Leon Blank
Score: David Gibney
Editing: Al Rabinowitz
Studios: Carolco Entertainment, Panaria
Distributors: Stablecane, VTC, Palan Entertainment, Lightning Video, Momentum Pictures (DVD)
Stars: James Houghton, Albert Salmi, Lynn Carlin, Larry Pennell, Robert Symonds, Heidi Bohay, Maylo McCaslin, Carole Goldman, Stacey Keach Sr., Kim Marie, Billy Jayne, Johnny Doran, Bennett Liss, Josh Cadman, John Alderman, Jacquelyn Hyde
Suggested Audio Candy:
David Gibney Superstition
Sometimes one image is all it takes. To this day, one particular image from my childhood brings a smile to my face and it belongs to James W. Roberson’s Superstition. Arriving in 1982, before certification was introduced, on the VTC label, it featured in one of their promotional pamphlets alongside the likes of William Fruet’s Spasms and Steven-Charles Jaffe’s Scarab, and its poster depicting a hand strewn with bloody jewels grabbed my attention instantly. I wasn’t alone in my infatuation and its popularity led to a theatrical release two years later under the new guise The Witch, something of a first at the time. However, not all the attention was positive and, while never officially prosecuted, it was seized by police in the midst of the 1983 video nasty debacle. Not bad for a small insignificant Canadian picture.
Ironically, the film that Superstition most closely resembles is Uwe Lommel’s The Boogeyman which did appear on the BBFC’s felonious list and consequently gained a far greater level of notoriety. However, Roberson’s film was every bit as mean-spirited and perhaps a marginally better overall movie. Haunted house flicks were all the rage at the time with Stuart Rosenberg’s The Amityville Horror and Peter Medak’s The Changeling both terrifying audiences but this was a far different proposition as bumps in the night wasn’t even the half of it here. Once our first victim was decapitated and his head microwaved to the point of explosion, that much was very much clear.
Of course, any house possessed by evil spirits needs itself some tenants to torment and Superstition gives us the hapless Leahys. However, the downtrodden parishioner in question, his wife, two ripe co-ed daughters and pre-teen son are not the sole focus here and only ever present to provide additional fodder. Instead, we follow fellow clergyman David Thompson (James Houghton) as he learns the foul history of the New England house and realizes that he has placed the family in mortal danger by offering them this particular fixer-upper. Bizarrely, the Leahy family aren’t dissuaded by the recent spate of unexplained deaths or ominous history behind their New England domain and more than happy to take their chances.
It takes all of five minutes for Superstition to crank up the heat and pacing is never an issue as the witch in question makes herself known to her in no uncertain terms and post-haste to boot. There are a plethora of potential perishers on the platter and they are shown absolutely no lenience regardless of age as Roberson’s film hits the ground running and barely slows up for its 86 minute duration.
Meanwhile, we are provided with the customary flashback to 1692 as we break bread with the dastardly Elondra Sharack (Carole Goldman) and learn a little more about why she felt it necessary to place a curse on the property in the first place. Drowned as a witch for her nefarious necromancy, she then pledges to have her foul revenge, leaving us under no illusion as to the ominous fate about to befall the Leahys and anyone foolhardy enough to go poking around the cellar.
Aside from the ill-fated Leahys, there are a number of other quirky characters lurking about the grounds. First we have cynical law enforcement officer Sturgess (Albert Salmi), who seemingly has nothing better to do than sniff around the premises and watch the reverend’s teenage daughters parade about in their bikinis. Admittedly, that beats paperwork hands down. a strange nine-year-old girl named Mary (Kim Marie) repeatedly shows up unannounced and bad things tend to happen every time she does. Then we have caretaker Elvira (Jacquelyn Hyde) who resides in a dilapidated cabin by the lake and appears very much aware of both Elondra’s curse and the only way to lift it. Meanwhile, the blackened pond on the premises is the last place on Earth you wish to be swimming.
The fact that Roberson keeps the blood flowing from offset to conclusion cleverly disguises any weakness in either dialogue or delivery and there are a superabundance of variations to her grisly work ethic on display. Meanwhile, he upholds her ambiguity for as long as feasible, taunting us with her blackened talons until which point as he feels it necessary to reveal her in full. When this time comes, she parades only in silhouette form, blue light dancing around her daunting frame and is all the more disconcerting as a result. Indeed, I’m not alone in my rose-tinted recollection as this striking imagery later became the basis for the cover art when Stablecane re-released this uncut in 1986.
However, despite Elvira’s nightmarish representation, it is her meanness of spirit which has stuck with me for almost three decades now. We cannot ever shake the feeling that there will be no resolution here and this becomes increasingly evident with each body that hits the floor. We’re talking absolutely no reprieves, just pain and suffering, followed by more pain and suffering. By the time Superstition consumes our sole survivor like the demonic worm hole that it is, leaving no poor bastard behind to tell their tale, we are left decidedly unsettled and, if a film tackling witchcraft lives or dies by its ability to get right underneath your skin, then it’s job well and truly done.
Curiously, Roberson rarely returned to the director’s chair afterwards and is now a successful director of photography, most recently for crowd-pleasing sit-com Melissa & Joey of all things. Superstition is certainly no classic and no amount of affectionate remembrance can mask its numerous flaws. However, it does possess a certain kitsch eighties charm that sees it good and a streak commendably meaner than most of its contemporaries. The term “they don’t make ’em like this anymore” certainly applies here and, if that’s not enough reason to celebrate, then you may as well go ahead and drown me as a witch myself. Just remember, in three hundred years give or take, I’ll be back to wreak my bloody revenge on your descendants.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Despite occasionally opting for off-screen kills, Superstition still provides all manner of grisly dispatches. These range from dissection by haunted window, shattered glass facials, runaway circular blades with a single murderous agenda, microwaved heads, and crushing by wine-press. My personal pick of the bunch involves a young girl having her cranium hammered to the floor by a large wooden stake and this particular brutality still packs a migraine-inducing punch all these years later.
The Discarded Dozen
Robert Ginty was hot property in 1983 after The Exterminator, but Charles Band’s eerie and atmospheric obscurity regrettably fell largely on deaf ears.
Another early effort by Band, this entertaining low-rent creature feature boasted a young Demi Moore in her first starring role and plenty of glorious B-grade splatter.
Oliver Stone’s maiden feature from 1974 is one he chooses to neglect which is a shame as it’s a moody little number about a novelist haunted by recurring nightmares of a knife-wielding dwarf, queen of evil and brutal executioner.
Ken Wiederhorn’s distinctive nazi zombie flick may have been low on gore but it more than made up for it with tension, and presented the legendary Peter Cushing in a small cameo as additional sweetener.
Another unsettling watery nightmare, this time featuring George Kennedy. Alvin Rakoff’s effective chiller boasted one of the most iconic poster designs of the entire era and was a pretty decent movie to boot.
Alfred Sole’s 1976 mystery featuring a young Brooke Shields, has long since become something of a cult favorite and this classic piece of late-seventies cinema is worth any self-respecting horror nut tracking down post-haste.
Not to be confused with its 1990 Stephen King namesake, and also known as Central Park Drifter, Jerry Ciccoritti’s strikingly shot and stylishly executed vampire flick is well worth sinking your incisors into.
Featuring an impressive cast including Emilio Estevez, Veronica Cartwright, Richard Masur and Cristina Raines, Joseph Sargent’s enthusiastic horror anthology sadly never managed to escape the eighties and most modern audiences still remain oblivious to its charms.
Little known 1985 Swedish slasher from Mats Helge Olsson, centering on a glam metal band falling foul of a cannibalistic family while shooting a music video in the glacier peaks. Unquestionably trash but since when has that been a negative?
William Sachs’ 1977 monster movie about a returning astronaut slowly turning into a gelatinous blob featured impressive effects and some wonderfully schlocky kills.
Greydon Clark’s extra-terrestrial 1980 shocker had a cast to die for. Jack Palance, Martin Landau and Cameron Mitchell all appeared to be having a ball and they weren’t the only ones. Glorious fun.
Roger Christian’s telepathic terrorizer was both intense and memorable. Apparently, Quentin Tarantino lists this as his favorite horror movie of 1982 and it would certainly make my top five.
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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2015)