19th Jun2020

‘Witchcraft’ Blu-ray Review (88 Films)

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Linda Blair, David Hasselhoff, Hildegard Knef, Catherine Hickland, Annie Ross, Leslie Cumming, Robert Champagne, Rick Farnsworth, Michael Manchester, Frank Cammarata, Victoria Biggers, Ely Coughlin, Kara Lynch, Jamie Hanes, Richard Ladenburg | Written by Harry Spalding, Daniele Stroppa | Directed by Fabrizio Laurenti

If you grew up reading Darkside Magazine in the early 90s and regularly frequented your local video rental shop, as I did, you couldn’t help but know all about the UK VHS label Colourbox. Not a huge distributor, at least compared to others at the time, Colourbox were probably one of the most iconic – at least for me – VHS labels the UK had; and that’s mainly thanks to the fantastic line-up of films they released on VHS: Bad Blood, Bad Taste, Creepozoids, Dr. Alien, The Imp (or as most people know it, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-rama), Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (though without the word “chainsaw” in the title thanks to stupid UK censorship at the time), the ever-awesome Intruder and Ghosthouse. So why do I mention this?

Well Ghosthouse, directed by Umberto Lenzi, would get a “sequel” in the UK, Ghosthouse 2, which was in fact Witchcraft! Yes, much like the Italians did with the La Casa series – of which Witchcraft is La Casa 4 and Ghosthouse is La Casa 3 – the UK weren’t adverse to renaming films to fit a particular theme. In this case haunted houses. Though Witchcraft‘s lady in black isn’t a patch on Ghosthouse’s killer kid IMHO…

When pregnant Jane (Linda Blair) and her family visit a secluded island to check out a proposed real estate deal, things start to go wrong when they come across two trespassers, supernatural expert Leslie and her boyfriend Gary (David Hasselhoff). Forced to spend the night in a dilapidated house, the group are soon plunged into a nightmare of death and destruction at the hands of the powerful and mysterious Lady in Black (Hildegard Knef).

Do I really need to go into an in-depth review of Witchcraft here? The film is well-known to the shelves of UK retailers, having been released a myriad of times in the 31 years since Colourbox’s cut VHS release. And yes, like the many DVD copies of the film – most of which have carried the US title Witchery – this new 88 Films Blu-ray release restores the blood-splattered slashed neck scene (yes, despite all the madness in this film, stitched up mouths, people burnt alive, another crucified etc., the BBFC took umbrage with THAT!) and also restores all the nudity in the films demonic orgy scene, something that was apparently edited and slow-moed on other UK releases to NOT look cut (though I haven’t seen any of the previous UK discs prior to this – this release, for me, is an upgrade from the US Scream Factory double-bill Blu).

So we all know about the film, but what about this Blu-ray. Well, the print used on 88 Films’ release is in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio and looks, frankly, superb. So good in fact that the films cheesy effects really look like that… cheesy effects. You can see the make-up used to hide the joins between prosthetics and people in some cases – the film is THAT crisp and clean! And the audio is just as good. But the big seller for this new Blu-ray from 88 films are the extras… with which this disc is packed:

Lighting Witchcraft is an 18-minute interview with cinematographer Gianlorenzo Battaglia, who worked as the DOP on Witchcraft, as he discuss working with Aristide Massaccesi (aka Joe D’Amato), Massaccesi’s studio Filmirage and his fascinating opinion that Massaccesi could have been a huge director if he’d “applied” himself to making better movies (surprisingly he thinks Massaccesi’s 1982 take on Caligula is a classic!). He also discusses Metamorphosis (released by 88 films as Beyond Darkness, aka La Casa 5) and working with George Eastman, aka Luigi Montefiori, another Italian horror icon who he thinks was underrated and too could have been a bigger star. It’s fascinating stuff, especially hearing how much praise Battaglia has for Massaccesi and the entire Filmirage crew. Even mores when you consider how many would consider their films the “lesser” of Italian horror.

The Music of Witches, is a 13-minute interview with Composer Carlo Maria Cordio, which is a little dry and very matter of fact – even though Cordio throws in some juicy gossip about working in Italian cinema AND he composed the music for a number of now-classic genre films. Just as dry is the extra The Sound of Witchcraft, which is an interview with the films sound technician Piero Parisi. Return to Witchcraft Before and After is a brief walkthrough, filmed by director Fabrizio Laurenti, of the house in which Witchcraft was made as it stands today.

The highlights, in terms of extras, are the two director interviews on this disc. Luigi Cozzi, director of films like Starcrash and Contamination, who talks about this relationship with Witchcraft producer Aristide Massaccesi, making Witchcraft and the whole situation with Italians essentially ripping off American films – not to cheaply copy, but to survive in a film industry that didn’t allow for experimentation or innovation, instead aiming straight for the commerce of films and filmmaking rather than the creativity. Meanwhile the interview with Witchcraft director Fabrizio Laurenti touches on his life, his work and his short Super 8 black and white film The Immigrant – which is also included as an extra on this Blu-Ray release! It’s interesting to hear how Laurenti was struggling to be a filmmaker in the US and returned BACK to Italy to find success behind the camera and his story of how he met producer/director Aristide Massaccesi is, like Cozzi’s, a fascinating set of circumstances and shows just how involved Massaccesi was behind the scenes across all of Italy’s genre cinema – be it through Filmirage or just by being so prolific!

Slightly tamer than your average Italian horror (though that isn’t really saying much given how over the top the countries genre films can be), Witchcraft is still a LOT of insane fun and an essential purchase for those who rented this over and over (like me) back in the day. If you’ve got the US disc, this 88 Films release is well-worth losing at too, just for the wealth of extra material.

Witchcraft (aka La Casa 4) is out now on Blu-ray from 88 Films.

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