SEQUELITIS – WITCHCRAFT III: THE KISS OF DEATH

Previously on WITCHCRAFT:

Conceived and born as part of a some sort of Satanic ritual involving witches, “young” Will found out about his heritage after one of the witches turned herself into his family’s sexy next-door neighbor and began offing those around him.  Battles raged, breasts were bared.  You can read all about the whole ordeal here, but in the end, Will Adams ended up safe and sound with his girlfriend, Michelle…

…whom we never see or hear any sort of reference to again, at least not in WITCHCRAFT III: THE KISS OF DEATH.  Somewhere between the end of WITCHCRAFT II: THE TEMPTRESS and the beginning of WITCHCRAFT III, our ostensible hero Will has changed his last name, gone through law school and become a defense attorney.  He’s also had his new girlfriend Charlotte (HARD ROCK ZOMBIES’ Lisa Toothman) for four years by the time of WITCHCRAFT III, leading me to think that it was Will’s decision to choose law school that may have caused a rift in his relationship with Michelle.  Could Michelle have been worried that a man conceived by Satan becoming a lawyer may not actually be the best idea in the world?  Some enterprising WITCHCRAFT fanfic writer needs to get on this, stat.

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Seriously, though, I’m glad the WITCHCRAFT series has continuity, as nonsensical as it is.  Lesser franchises would have taken the easy way out, especially with such a vague title, and tossed together some vague, unrelated storyline about witches into a coherent movie, released it under the name WITCHCRAFT III, given it the same font and pentagram-heavy logo and thought nothing of it.  WITCHCRAFT series producer Jerry Feifer, however, has a whole universe in mind, even it’s completely being made up as they go along.  It’s ambitious, and I respect that.

The KISS OF DEATH subtitle of WITCHCRAFT III comes from a  warlock named Louis (Domonic Luciana in his only credited film) who picks up ladies at trendy Los Angeles clubs, takes them to alleys and then sucks the life out of them via smooching and lighting effects.  (Don’t expect any ELM STREET 4-like deaths, they just fall to the ground.)  He then transfers this life-force to his blonde, bubbleheaded girlfriend who would read as a coke junkie in any other movie.  He also wears lots of loose-fitting shirts, presumably because sexy demon lifeforces transfer more easily without all that constricting fabric.

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Anyway, the new, legally-aware Will, now taking the last name “Spanner” presumably due to his huge love for the short-lived comic book “Spanner’s Galaxy” (SERIOUSLY, MOVIE, IF YOU’RE NOT GOING TO FILL IN THE BLANKS, I WILL HAVE TO.), is tending to the case of a “young” man named Reuben, accused of murdering a woman he worked for.  (While Will’s appearance now jibes with the age of the character, Ahmad Reese, the actor who plays Reuben, is clearly in his 20s playing a character that appears to be in high school from the fact that he lives with his mother and everyone is shocked when it’s revealed that he’s been having an affair with a woman 15 years his senior.)  It’s a tough case, made tougher by his rival lawyer Vivian Hill (Nicole Lauren), who mocks Will for caring about justice for kids “from the ghetto.”  Charming!

Soon, the paths between the malicious, evil life-suckers who prey on the weak and the evil warlock cross (sorry, last lawyer joke) when Will and Louis meet at a bar after they both defend a woman from an apparently abusive suitor.   Louis and his girlfriend soon work their way into his life, even to the point of offing the lawyer that’s been causing him so much trouble.

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Meanwhile, the relationship between Will and girlfriend Charlotte sours, especially after she plans a romantic evening that goes bad when Will freaks out about her finding a necklace of his.  It’s got a pentagram, which makes him all crazy!  Her sex life unfulfilled, fashion designer Charlotte finds some attention when Louis meets up at her fashion shoot, claiming to be a former fashion photographer and buying a dress from her.  (Why the hell Charlotte never thinks that Will and Louis are having a fling is beyond me, but it’s possible she has no idea what a gay person is, a conclusion easy to come to when you take a look at the “fashions” she’s “produced.”)

Good warlock Will figures it all out eventually, leading to a climax wherein he actually uses his warlock powers, making the first three WITCHCRAFT films all feel like one long origin story, ending with the cinematic equivalent of a bat flying through Bruce Wayne’s window as Will final decides to actually do something.  He also tells the bad warlock not to call him “Willy,” because he is now a badass.

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The most outrageous moments of WITCHCRAFT III involve the mystical Reverend Jondular, the practitioner at the church Reuben’s mother attends.  Constantly dressed as though he’s got an “American Horror Story: Coven” audition to go to from here, William Lewis Baker delivers some amazing dialogue readings, overpronouncing every word as though it would be his last.  I wanted a scene where this guy orders fast food, his booming voice demanding FRIIIIIIES while rattling the tribal stick he constantly carries.

The WITCHCRAFT films have been called “horror for women” by some reviewers, which seems a terribly sexist way to think.  As far as I’m concerned, “horror for women” just means that the women in the films are established characters and, maybe, just maybe, don’t get sexually assaulted.  (That the guys don’t look like trolls and occasionally take their shirts off also helps, but I consider that a treat for everyone.  Or at least a gentle reminder to put down the damn fries once in a while and go to the gym.)  “Horror for women” should just be the same as “horror for men” – well-crafted characters doing interesting things in a way that doesn’t needlessly insult vast swathes of people.

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But WITCHCRAFT III isn’t so much for “women,” it’s for a very specific audience, one that hangs out in the romance section of Barnes & Noble asking about the latest vampire-laden bodice-ripper from a Nora Roberts clone.    WITCHCRAFT’s idea of erotic horror is lots of slow jazz, frilly pillows and scented candles.  It’s like a feature-length Sybaris commercial* with a little bloodshed thrown in.  And there’s nothing really female-specific about wanting a little vapid wining and dining with your soul-sucking, even if it tends to be something more accepted on the lady side of things.

It’s hard, then, to exactly figure out the audience the producers of WITCHCRAFT III was going towards.  Directed by Rachel Feldman (a prolific television director, credited here as “R.L. Tillmans”), WITCHCRAFT III feels like it’s just doing random guesswork as to what an audience would want, with no clear indication as to what that audience would be.  The romance aspects would likely never be seen by their intended viewers, as they wouldn’t be likely to pick up the third chapter of a random horror movie no matter how pretty the font was, and the continuation of the storyline is mostly lip service, so horror fans desperate enough to have rented this after seeing the first two would just be perplexed by the fact that it suddenly feels like a late-night special that should be hosted by Louis Jourdan.

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That said, WITCHCRAFT III is actually a step up in the series in a lot of ways.  Sure, the acting is all over the place and Solomon’s confident, lawyer-y portrayal of Will doesn’t really connect with the unassuming dimwit from THE TEMPTRESS at all, but at least the film takes place in several locations and no longer feels like it’s stuck in one house they happened to be able to use.  The special effects are ridiculous and not used enough to have marked charm, but at least WITCHCRAFT III is perfectly watchable.  And there’s even female toplessness in scenes before the climax for those into that sort of thing!

WITCHCRAFT III is full of unanswered questions and strange scenes, but I’m sure they’ll all be tied up in the next chapter.  Check in next week for WITCHCRAFT IV: VIRGIN HEART, when Solomon says farewell to the role that made him famous, when all will be revealed.  I’m sure!

*It has occurred to me that Sybaris is a very regional thing, but I’m sure there’s an equivalent in most metropolitan areas.  Sybaris is a fancy hotel for anniversaries and soft lighting, or, as their website describes it, “a romantic paradise to ignite feelings, rekindle romance and enjoy quality time together.”  Apparently every room has a pool, which is nice.  Here’s a commercial for it, which you can now imagine running 91 minutes long.

@Paul Freitag-Fey

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