Today’s features include Ouija boards and haunted town homes, enough to strike up the fear for the week leading to Halloween
October is here once again, which means all things spooky, creepy, and outright horrifying are currently making their way into the homes of millions of people – through their screens, of course. All Halloween aficionados know that this is the month where we attempt to watch as many horror movies as we can, marathoning as much blood and guts as anyone might be able to stand (or delight in). It may as well be a sacred tradition.
In that spirit, Knotfest has called on our very own Ryan J. Downey as well as resident film critic Nicolás Delgadillo to put together two individual lists of vital Halloween horror picks for every day of the month. The wide variety of macabre favorites range from classics to more obscure cult films and feature zombies, demons, serial killers, vampires, and monsters of all kinds from all different eras.
Today’s picks are both supernatural horror with malevolent spirits, but the ways in which they’re conjured are drastically different.
‘Witchboard’ (1986) Directed by Kevin Tenney
Tawny Kitaen was the penultimate ‘80s video vixen. (I say “penultimate,” because Bobbie Brown, star of Great White’s “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” and Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” music videos, came later and really closed out the era.)
Kitaen began her video vixen odyssey with Ratt’s “Back for More,” followed by four different Whitesnake videos alongside then-beau David Coverdale, most famously “Here I Go Again,” in which the sultry redhead danced and writhed on top of two parked Jaguars (and inside a moving one). When she died in May 2021, I immediately revisited Witchboard, a supernatural horror movie with Kitaen as its star.
Witchboard was a minor box office hit, released in 1986, two years after Kitaen’s turn as the bride-to-be opposite Tom Hanks in the R-rated comedy Bachelor Party.
Kitaen plays Linda Brewster, who plays with a Oujia board solo, against her friend’s advice, who accidentally left it at her apartment. It all seems innocent enough until (mild spoiler) the evil spirit of a murderer named Carlos Malfeitor (J.P. Luebsen) decides to communicate.
Kevin S. Tenney, in his directorial debut, wrote and directed Witchboard. Two years later, he made Night of the Demons. I don’t recommend either of the Tenney/Kitaen-less sequels, but the first Witchboard is a lot of fun.
The movie was supposed to be called Ouija, until Parker Bros., who makes a “Ouija” board game, objected. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice there are different board designs in the movie due to the mid-production change.
It isn’t perfect, but it gets the job done, and Tawny Kitaen is fantastic, particularly during the action-packed climax.
Kitaen is oft remembered for her romances with Coverdale, Ratt guitarist Robbin Crosby, and (yikes) O.J. Simpson. But Witchboard is a much cooler legacy for the late star than her list of paramours. It’s a shame she never made a movie as good as Witchboard again.
‘His House’ (2020) Directed by Remi Weekes
Remi Weekes’ electrifying debut takes a standard haunted house setup – complete with ghosts lurking in the walls and hiding in every corner – and turns it into perhaps one of the profound representations of the refugee / immigrant experience. Sudanese couple Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) have just arrived in the UK after a harrowing experience fleeing their war-torn home country. The government sets them up in a shabby town home that’s in need of serious repair and upkeep, and as the pair struggle to assimilate themselves into their new surroundings, they find that the house is full of the ghosts they thought they’d left behind.
The film is as thoughtful as it is terrifying, and with a stunning 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s certainly not one to be missed. There’s a desperate desire for these characters to be born again and leave their tragic past behind, and Bol in particular is eager to assimilate as best he can. But this new environment is hostile in its own ways. Weekes shows the immigrant / refugee experience in all of its difficulty – from microaggressions like Bol being followed by security when he journeys to the mall for new clothes, to outright racism as a simple walk to the local doctor for Rial becomes a disorienting and torturous experience when her accent is mocked and she’s told to “Go back to Africa.
Bol’s desire to toss aside the past and be “one of the good ones” comes into conflict with Rial’s need to hang onto their Sudanese customs and the memory of their daughter. The family drama and sociopolitical themes would normally be enough for a film, but Weekes then inserts one more turn of the screw to really spice things up: supernatural horror.
The more personal story of guilt and trauma overrides the broader social themes that Weeke’s screenplay provides – much to the film’s benefit – but the two are still seamlessly meshed together to create a humanizing portrait of refugees blended with an old-fashioned haunted house tale. It’s horror at its finest; well-written, superbly directed and acted, and most of all, pretty damn scary.
Knotfest 2021 Halloween Horror Coverage: