The Series Project: Witchcraft (Part 1)

Welcome back to The Series Project! September has begun, the annual Los Angeles early autumn heatwave is in full force, and movie theaters have become something of a dumping ground for studios, allowing them to release their lower-budget, lower-profile movies that are neither summer blockbusters, nor late-year awards bait. It’s also, according to some retail stores, the beginning of the Halloween season, so spooky movies and spooky decorations will soon be on everyone’s minds. What better time to finally belly up to the notoriously awful and smutty straight-to-video Witchcraft movies?

What’s that? You’ve never heard of the Witchcraft movies? That’s not entirely surprising. Starting in 1988, and lasting 20 years, the Witchcraft series was one of those notorious video store staples that was readily available to porn-hungry pubescent teenage boys who lived in the pre-internet era. It lasted a whopping 13 chapters, finally ending in 2008. They were mostly put out by Academy Entertainment, whose VHS logo will be familiar to all video store rats about my age. Many of the films in the series frequently round out bottom-100 lists, and rightfully so. They’re all largely and notoriously awful.

The first four movies had the pretense of a supernatural plot and an interconnected mythology, but after that, the series began to slump (or improve, depending on your point of view) into outright softcore pornography, incorporating copious amounts of nudity, simulated sex, and the most bizarre sexual fantasies this side of an Andy Sidaris movie.

Any video store worth their weight in magnetic tape always had at least a few Witchcraft movies on their shelves, usually on the bottom shelf, and only rented by people who didn’t have access to the more hardcore stuff. Softcore smut had a huge market in this era. The Witchcraft movies were some of the more popular – and infamous – of the softcore boom. Oddly, no video store I ever visited ever had all of the films; there were always a few maddening gaps. They had 1-4 and 6, but not 5. Or they had 5 onward, but not the first few. In my experience, there are no video outlets, online or in a brick-and-mortar store, that carries all 13 of these things.

Unless you count me as a video outlet. I, using my connections, savings, and a bit of digging, managed to find all 13 of these things on both DVD and VHS. I will watch them all, dear readers, and I will report my findings. I am proud to say that I may be one of the only people on the planet to own all 13 Witchcraft movies. It took some doing, but they are mine. Only one of them is missing its box.

What have I found? Well, let’s see:

All but one of the movies concerns the dealings of a character named William (whose last name changes from Adams to Spanner), who will be played by several actors throughout. The first film will see the birth of William, and many of the sequels will deal with the grown William, a lawyer, running afoul of evil warlock and witch covens. William is a warlock himself, and doesn’t want to use his powers for evil. Along the way, he’ll bed numerous busty hotties, including famed scream queen Julie Strain, among others.

But the humble beginnings weren’t so sexy.

Witchcraft (dir. Rob Spera, 1988)

Indeed, the first Witchcraft is so incompetent and boring, it’s a wonder than sequels got made at all, much less an entire 13-film franchise. Nothing happens in this movie. Apart from an early-film witch burning, and a few scenes of an actress named Mary Shelley (no kidding) spewing stage blood from between her lips, there is nothing remotely odd or scary or even entertaining about Witchcraft. The bulk of the film’s 90-minute runtime is filled with the heroine wandering about a single house, having not-so-scary visions about something bloody and portentous.

The heroine is Grace Churchill, played by Israeli actress Anat Topol-Barzilai. Grace has just given birth to an infant son name William, and, for vague health reasons, has been moved to her mother-in-law’s house at the insistence of her dorky husband (Edward Ross, a.k.a. Gary Sloan). Grace’s mother-in-law (Shelley) is a creepy and controlling type, and there is some low-rent Rosemary’s Baby drama as to what she’s really up to, and why she wants to spend so much time with the infant William. Could it be… SATAN? There is a best friend character who is the only decent actress in the film (she is played by one-time actress Deborah Scott), and the cranky old lady from Mystery Men (Gayle Vance) has a cameo.

I don’t mean to sound like a prurient perv, but when I watch a film in a series that is well known for its nudity, I expect a little bit of bare flesh. The Brotherhood movies were better about removing shirts.

Don’t see this film. Not that any of the Witchcraft films are stellar, but this one breaks its leg right out of the gate. I’ve seen vaguely-remembered Amityville sequels that were better than this flick. The usual mode is that the first film in a series will be a classic, the sequel will up its game, and the series will start to stink around part three. The Witchcraft series will prove to me more of a repair-as-you-go job.

Let’s take a look at the wholly entertaining…