SEQUELITIS – WITCHCRAFT IV: VIRGIN HEART

 

Previously on WITCHCRAFT:

In a tale fully related here, lawyer Will Spanner, the offspring of a pair of witches burned at the stake and a recovering drug addict, faced off against another warlock that was sucking the lifeforce or something out of women.  After neglecting to use his own powers because of the potential evil they represented, Will finally relented and used his abilities to defeat his enemy.  With newfound knowledge and experience, Will accepted his powers and set forth to potentially have great supernatural adventures.

 

Will (Charles Solomon again) begins his new chapter. “It’s been three years since I was last forced to use my powers—“  oh, GODDAMMIT, movie!*

 

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The first WITCHCRAFT was a ROSEMARY’S BABY copy.  The second was a teen angst thriller.  The third was a supernatural romance.  WITCHCRAFT IV: VIRGIN HEART (or just WITCHCRAFT IV, as per the credits) changes the franchise’s genre again, this time taking its cues from the then-popular neo-noir genre with a little bit of “Twin Peaks” thrown in for good measure.  But all four films have one thing in common – they take forever to get anywhere because the lead character just refuses to learn anything.  If Will used his warlock powers, WITCHCRAFT IV could have been over in twenty minutes.

Maybe thirty, as the film begins with a ridiculously long prologue.  Pete and Nora are just two innocent kids out for a drive in the country when they stop to have some sexy times.  When Pete bonks his head falling out of a tree, Nora goes to get an ambulance and finds herself knocked out and placed into the trunk of a car.  Pete wakes up and looks for her as the police arrive.  This sequence takes twelve and a half minutes.

 

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Better yet, we never see these characters again, even though they play a huge part in the plot itself.  Nora eventually turns up dead and Pete’s sister Lily enlists the help of Will Spanner (first seen in a traffic jam, and now just doing insurance cases, both great uses of his warlock heritage) in order to get her brother out of jail, but Pete himself is always conveniently offscreen.  A police lieutenant tells Will how he’s doing and even his feelings on the end of the movie, but we never see either actor again.  It’s probably for the best, as if I didn’t know better, I’d swear the characters were cast as part of a “Win a Supporting Role in a WITCHCRAFT Sequel” contest, where bleary-eyed viewers would dial a 1-900 number and get some advice from Will Spanner, played by a Charles Solomon impersonator.

Will and Lily (Lisa Jay Harrington, in her only film credit) begin their investigation, returning to the scene of the crime and, after a walking sequence so long it starts to border on an optical illusion, finding a random matchbox pointing to a night club called “Coven.”  Will looks into it and discovers the club is a shady mostly-made establishment that I first took for a leather bar because of these guys:

 

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Disappointingly, it’s just a fancy strip club, one so fancy that Will has to borrow a jacket to get in (or they just don’t understand how coat checks work) and filled with fellows of questionable repute looking to “check out the naked ladies.”  One said lady is Belladonna, a dancer whose seductive ritual tempts everyone around her, which isn’t surprising as she’s played by the buxom Julie Strain.  Even the waitress thinks “she’s like a real star,” ogling her moves on the stage.  With the dark lighting and the desperation on the faces of the audience, it’s all a bit more CAFÉ FLESH than STRIPPED TO KILL, but that’s certainly not a bad thing.

After an incredibly awkward conversation backstage where Will asks her where the bathroom is and she invites him in, then continues talking after he leaves, saying “Don’t worry, I used to disappear a lot too when I was sixteen,” Will starts following her around, and discovers she’s also a performer at a nearby jazz club.  Further investigation leads to her manager, a mysterious disc jockey named Santara, who has a British accent, so we know he’s evil**.

 

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Eventually, the, well, witchcraft aspect of WITCHCRAFT IV kicks in, as we find out that Belladonna has sold her soul to Santara for her rather low-level fame, and it’s all part of a huge set-up in order to get to Will.  There’s a double-cross and, in the end, a bit of violence and gore (we actually get to see a heart, but there’s nothing “virgin” about it) but WITCHCRAFT IV is about as low-boil a movie about musicians selling their souls to the devil as you can get.  TRICK OR TREAT this ain’t – hell, this isn’t even SHOCK ‘EM DEAD.

But director James Merendino and co-writer Michael Paul Girard don’t seem to be intending to make a horror film.  WITCHCRAFT IV is, instead, a low-level noir, filled with a solidly jazzy soundtrack and oddball dialogue that makes the “Twin Peaks” influence pretty clear.  Granted, some of the movie’s off-kilter elements may have been due to budgetary constraints or general ineptness (like how Will and Lily follow a motorcycling Belladonna in their car so closely that they’d hit her back tire if she approached a “yield” sign) but there are some attempts at genuine weirdness.

 

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“Do I look like Big Ben?  Am I Swiss?  Am I ticking?  It’s time for you to shut the fuck up, that’s what time it is,” one bad guy snipes to his crony when he’s asked for the time.  Windows are peered through, eclectic characters make random appearances, the police are worried about copycat killers even before the body is found, and a little girl finds a body, dead, wrapped in – er, a tomato plant.  The film’s sole cop seems to spend the entire film sitting on his porch. It doesn’t exactly work, but at least there’s something there.

The sound mix, at least on the Troma DVD I watched (and filled with Lloyd Kaufman hyping the hell out of his “Make Your Own Damn Movie” book along with some footage of a naked Julie Strain in her bathroom talking about how she was fined by SAG for doing the non-guild film) is outright terrible, so you’ll excuse me if some of the plot points are a little unclear.  The music often overpowers the quiet dialogue, especially troublesome in scenes where characters are trying to explain what’s going on.  Maybe it all makes sense.

 

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Merendino became a little bit more practiced with low-budget exploitation with the likes of HARD DRIVE and the Heather Graham oddity TERRIFIED, along with the thriller THE UPSTAIRS NEIGHBOR, which seems to have yet to have landed a release outside of festival screenings.  He had a hit with 1998’s enjoyable SLC PUNK!, about growing up as a punk in 1980s Salt Lake City, and has been trying to make a sequel for a while.  Girard, however, would return to the realm of WITCHCRAFT sequels, stepping behind the director’s chair for parts 7 and 9.

WITCHCRAFT IV: VIRGIN HEART marked the end of Charles Solomon’s run as Will Spanner, but the character would live on for many more incarnations.  It’s possible that Solomon just had no idea what genre the series would turn to next, or he started paying attention to the series’ time jumps and figured that he’d end up playing an 83-year-old Spanner by the time WITCHCRAFT VIII rolled around.

Will Spanner’s further adventures will continue in two weeks!

 

@Paul Freitag-Fey

 

*If the first WITCHCRAFT took place in 1988, when the film was released (and there’s no reason to believe it didn’t), THE TEMPTRESS took place 17 years later, and KISS OF DEATH 7 years after that to allow for law school, this means that VIRGIN HEART is set in 2015.  The WITCHCRAFT series officially becomes futurism, and should be classified as “science fiction.”

 

**There were three types of bad guys allowed in ‘80s movies – the British-accented (representing the elitists), the gangs of street thugs and drug dealers (representing the poor) and the Russians (representing the Russians). The Vietnamese were also acceptable in war films.  It was a Reagany time.

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