SEQUELITIS – WITCHCRAFT II: THE TEMPTRESS (1990)

Previously on WITCHCRAFT:

A pair of witches, burned at the stake hundreds of years ago, returned, the male half (presumably a warlock) marrying a young woman recovering from a drug addiction.  Upon the birth of their child, they move in with the father’s mother, actually the other witch.  The child’s mother suspects something is off after a few deaths, and it’s revealed that the child is meant to be the spawn of Satan.  The witches are killed and the mother and baby survive.  ROSEMARY’S BABY with a couple tweaks and without the artistry.  Click here for more details.

 

The cover art of WITCHCRAFT was enough to overcome the general sub-mediocrity of the film itself, so Vista Street greenlit a sequel that should have been called LOOK WHAT’S HAPPENED TO WITCHCRAFT’S BABY, but instead received the moniker of WITCHCRAFT II: THE TEMPTRESS. The opening credits add an extra word, citing the film as WITCHCRAFT PART II: THE TEMPTRESS, and the British DVD cover flips the name around as THE TEMPTRESS: WITCHCRAFT II.  In any combination, it make sense, as the film includes witchcraft, is a sequel to WITCHCRAFT, and involves a temptress.  The film also includes a blonde bombshell wearing a skimpy outfit and some pentagrams, so the cover art this time is at least not a total lie.

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Taking place a couple decades after the events of the first film, WITCHCRAFT II opens with the transformation of what appears to be the older mother witch turning herself into the cover-depicted platinum vamp (Delia Sheppard) in what is presumably an homage to Larry Cohen’s WICKED STEPMOTHER.  (We’re never given confirmation that this is, in fact, her, but who else would it be?  Original actress Mary Shelley is credited in the film, even if her last name is misspelled, but so are Anat Topol and Gary Sloan, who “return” as the child’s parents only in footage from the first.  It’s confusing.)  There’s some incantations and chanting about “baboons blood,” and a concoction that looks like messy spaghetti sauce.

Our now Brigitte Nielsonesque title character lives next door to the Adams family, an average three-person household whose adopted son Will turns out to have been the baby from the first film.  We later find out that Will wasn’t exactly adopted so much as stolen from the witch cult his parents were a part of, as he’s meant to be the “supreme warlock,” and his new parents decided witchery wasn’t so great.  His birth mother is revealed to have committed suicide somewhere along the way.

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The “boy,” played by future producer and NASCAR driver (!) Charles Solomon, a rather lunkheaded young man currently in a relationship with high school girlfriend Michelle (Mia Ruiz, who met a memorable end in the same year’s DEMON WIND), whose crucifix necklace Will calmly moves out of the way before grabbing her boobs because symbolism.  Their relationship seems to be solid as Will heads off to college (given Solomon’s age, he seems to have taken a decade or so off after high school to get his head together) even though they haven’t yet had sex.  How solid is it?  After a nudity-free make out session, Dolores tells Will she loves him, and he responds in the most romantic fashion imaginable – “I know.  So what are we gonna do now?”  It’s a touching moment.

Their make out session is interrupted by the temptress’s arrival, who introduces herself as their neighbor Dolores, and Will comments that she looks different.  (Not that we ever see what the “original” Dolores looked like, but whatever.)  After some innocent flirtation, Will receives the first of three packages that will eventually combine to create his warlock powers.  Or something.

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Will’s parents (Cheryl Janecky and DTV movie regular Jay Richardson in one of 8 films he made in 1990) know something’s up and eventually tell Will his origin story, which naturally freaks him out.  Meanwhile, quirky pal Audrey (Kirtsen Wagner) is tossed out of a window by the witch and we keep hearing about how Will’s best friend Boomer (non-teenager David Homb) is such a prankster, even though we never see him do anything remotely pranky.

People slowly start realizing that the badass blonde lady with a pentagram around her neck dressed like she’s in a shitty metal video might be a little off, but before then, Will’s mom finds herself killed and replaced by the vixen, and dad gets hypnotized by what appears to be a waft of glitter.  Will could get suspicious after his “mother” licks her lips when he reveals the pentagram carved into his chest, but like I said, Will’s not the brightest bulb.

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Eventually a priest gets involved thanks to Michelle’s dad (who says “Catholics are so much better at this than Methodists”) and there’s some super-imposed fire and a final confrontation between the witch and her would-be warlock.  While much of the film is sexual tease, the climax does provide some brief toplessness by someone other than Solomon, and it all ends in a bizarre moment that switches to a freeze frame several seconds after the credits start, as though director Mark Woods momentarily forgot to yell “cut.”

Woods came from a background shooting videos for Playboy, and WITCHCRAFT II: THE TEMPTRESS often feels like a Playboy pictorial without any nudity.  It’s never harsh, even when there’s allegedly something violent going on, so like its predecessor, WITCHCRAFT II never feels as much like a horror movie as it does a low-budget character drama with a bunch of people wandering around a house in occasionally slutty outfits.

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There’s not really a reason for this to be tied into the first WITCHCRAFT outside of the fact that Vista Street felt that the original was enough of a name that they could lure people back in with a very similar ad campaign.  Not only does it not bother explaining how the witch from part one could still be alive, it even lies about the ending of the first film, claiming that John was killed by Grace, rather than the butler Ellsworth!  Ellsworth, in fact, has vanished completely from the flashbacks, as though actor Lee Kissman just couldn’t see lending his image to such a questionable franchise twice.

The rest of the film is just as inexplicable as this bit of retroactive history, as the rules of witchcraft seem to be made up as the film goes along.  It often feels like the first draft of a script that got fast-tracked into production before anyone really thought it out, so attempting to follow the logic of what’s happening on screen is often a fool’s errand.

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As for what’s actually happening on screen?  A lot of ridiculousness.  Solomon’s Will is strangely compelling, not because the character is such a dullard but because Solomon’s blissfully clueless expressions are a hell of a lot more entertaining than they should be thanks to some bizarre cinematography choices that often render his expressive non-emoting in close-up.  The moment where he realizes his parents’ fates is a schlocky moment that would give REVENGE OF THE SITH a run for its money.

Even more engaging is Sheppard’s scenery chewing, as she plays the witch with a strange accent that seems to be somewhere between Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and a Bond girl with a cold.  She preens, flaunts and sticks her neck out with virtual every line of dialogue.  It’s almost as though she’s trying to make up for the bland performances that surround her.

WITCHCRAFT II: THE TEMPTRESS is a mildly more fun film than the original, in that at least things HAPPEN in it.  They’re stupid things, sure, and they’re often inexplicable things reacted to in ways no human would, but at least it’s not just ROSEMARY’S BABY minus the artistry.

In any case, it was good enough to sell enough people into thinking that the series was a genuine franchise, and that, despite the fact that he doesn’t really make that much of an impression as a leading man, the character of Will was enough to latch more movies on to.  Would WITCHCRAFT III truly be the series’ KISS OF DEATH?  We’ll find out next week!

(Hint: No, it will not.)

 

@Paul Freitag-Fey

 

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