Saturday, June 2, 2012

Witchcraft V: Dance With the Devil (1993)

I just can’t stay away can I? This was bound to happen anyway folks. Years before I even thought of starting up this little blog, this film was staring me in the face, commanding me to preach it’s gospel, and I certainly have on other sites in the past. Before I go any further I’d just like to say that I’m always a bit miffed whenever I read reviews of films from this series. Not in the sense of people saying they sucked because, yeah, their bad, but some of the reactions people have had are oftentimes more hilarious than the actual films. You’d think the film had personally offended the writer in some way. Now I’m not saying these movies don’t deserve the harsh criticism they get but man, stop taking yourselves so damn seriously people. I can  understand such an extreme response if these movies were pseudo-intellectual trash posing as an art films claming to contain some heavy social commentary or something, but it’s fucking Witchcraft! Sex and Satan baby. With a series like this I’d like to think you’d have at least SOME idea as to what your getting yourself into, therefore the results shouldn’t be surprising, plus you really can’t go into one of these films like you would for say an, erm… “normal” movie. Ok, now that that’s out of my system, the films that came before Dance With the Devil in this franchise were dumb fun, but this one took it to another level, and back when I first watched the entire franchise this one instantly became a favorite and over the years it’s become my own personal favorite best “bad” movie or whatever you want to call it.

The devil’s disciple Cain (David Huffman) has returned to Earth to collect souls for Satan. If he collects enough souls, Satan can break through the gates of Hell and rule the Earth. Problem is, he has to collect a lot of souls and in very little time. Along with the seductive power of his lustful new servant Marta (Nicole Sassaman), Cain hypnotizes the powerful warlock attorney and franchise hero Will Spanner (Marklen Kennedy) to do his bidding, as Will has to power to collect ones soul. Under Cain’s control and against his own will, Spanner murders those who owe their debts to Satan. Desperate to rid Will of this curse, his girlfriend Keli (Karolyn Taye-Laruen) enlists the help of her Reverend Meredith (Lenny Rose), although there is a complication as Meredith’s body has been overtaken by an ancient spirit named Softra. Along with this conundrum, Marta has become jealous of Keli and want’s Will all to herself. Cain however, is ecstatic at the mention of Softa, as he is worth “hundreds of souls” and if Cain can obtain Softra’s spirit, his work will be complete and Satan will rule the Earth. Will is forced to summon his white magic powers to try and free himself from Cain’s spell, also saving Meredith, Keli and ultimately the world from Cain’s dastardly deeds.

This must have just been used for posters,
as I've never seen it used on any of the actual
If you’re going to see just one Witchcraft film if your lifetime, make it this one. With this one, you pretty much get the aesthetic of the entire franchise without having to watch all 13 films. The only thing missing is the characters of detectives Lutz and Garner who were introduced in the 6th entry. It’s in this entry that the character of Keli is introduced, who would remain Spanner’s girlfriend (eventually fiancé) until the 12th film in the series. It’s also some of the must fun you can have in 94 minutes which is why I find it impossible to hate on, it’s just too goddamn entertaining. One of the many (and I mean many) complaints people have made about this series over the years is that for a franchise hero, Will Spanner is pretty lame, acting like a total bitch for the majority of the films, waiting until the VERY last minute to finally use his warlock powers. That’s pretty much the case for this entry as well. Hell, for almost the entire movie he’s out murdering people for Cain, or the spell is making him beat on his girlfriend. When he’s not doing either of those things he spends his time whining to Keli. You’d think with him being such a “powerful” warlock as we’re supposed to believe he is, it’d be a lot harder than it was for Cain to get control of him, or at least have him TRY and fight off his spell. I guess the point was to make Cain even more powerful, and I realize they had to stretch the story out for a feature length film, but you get what I’m saying. I also love when he has his final “epic” sword fight with Cain the most impact thing he can come up with to voice his displeasure with what Cain did to him was “You tricked me!” This is our hero for the 12 films, a real lion heart he is. That sword fight  leads to another Witchcraft tradition, the anti-climatic, abrupt ending. Seriously most of these films just end like “that”, no wrap up story or nothing. It’s like the entire crew wanted to get off set as fast as possible.  

It has to be said that Dance With the Devil is where the sex and nudity became the main focus of the series and it would only become more and more prominent as the series went on. But here’s the funny thing, at least some of the sex scenes in this one make sense in terms of the storyline. Well, 2 of them do at least, the ones with Spanner and Marta, seeing as how Spanner is under Marta’s seductive lust spell. The set up to Spanner and Keli’s sex scene is prime for late nights on Cinemax and couldn’t have been more obvious. There’s a water leak in the basement and seeing as how both Will and Keli get all sopping wet trying to fix it what else is there for them to do while their down there? Logistics, you know? Even Reverend Meredith has a steamy (ok that’s a bit of a stretch) liaison with his secretary. Witchcraft V also has the distinction of being the entry that had the biggest budget, (around $1 Million according to IMDb) so there is some production value here. If you read my reviews of the first and eight Witchcraft films you’ll notice that I mentioned that both film do have the occasional moment of atmosphere, so there is some directing to be found in the series. This film actually has some really cool shots, the sequence of Marta walking to seduce Will is legitimately awesome looking, as is the shot of her ascending the staircase to his room, the former thanks in part to the crafty use of fog machines the color blue. The second encounter between her and Will is surprisingly well staged with good lighting and again with the neat use of colors. I’m quite fond of the music that plays during those scenes as well. It’s one of the rare instances where I can actually say the erotic occult vibe the series often goes for is actually achieved, so director Talun Hsu did know what he was doing behind the camera. Having said that, the filmmakers didn’t spend the budget on visual effects that’s fore sure. While there aren’t that many, when they do appear their worth more than a chuckle, most notably the spirit of Softra being transported to Reverend Meredith’s body is represented by a lone yellow squiggly line and the human souls Cain sucks into his cape look like fucking transparent fried eggs. Transparent fried eggs. Yep. That’s all I got.

UK only DVD
Let’s not kid ourselves here, the number one reason to see this movie is for the performance of one David fucking Huffman. His performance of Cain is the reason video reviews were invented but I’ll do my best with basic text. Enthusiastic doesn’t even begin to describe him, and you thought Deborah Reed was over the top in Troll 2 as Creedence Leonore Gielgud? His lines are instantly quotable. My favorites being “It is the SIXTH day of the SIXTH month of the SIXTH yeah since I last appeared! No one can break the cycle!”, and “…if you serve me well, you may be chosen to serve SATHAN!” No that wasn’t a typo, that’s how he pronounces it. I don’t know if he’s British or not, but if he is, he sounds like he’s trying really hard to hide his accent but failing miserably at it. Everything about him from his annunciations to his mannerisms just screams community theatre god. On top of all that, he looks like the late, great Ronnie James Dio. He rules, plain and simple. Marklen Kennedy was the first to take over the roll of Will Spanner from Charles Soloman Jr., and while Soloman may have been incredible awkward in the role, (not exactly aided by his southern accent) he was entertaining and stood out. Kennedy is so anonymous in the role it’s ridiculous. Then again there’s really not a lot to sitting in a circle of candles and being licked by hot blonde women is there? If that’s all it takes to play Will Spanner I’m the man for the job if Witchcraft 14 ever gets green lit. Nicole Sassaman isn’t the worlds best actress but who cares? She’s probably the hottest women to ever have graced this series. The second I saw her I knew I was going to enjoy this movie immensely. There’s some intentional comedy in the beginning of the film that actually funny and she does do fairly well in those moments though. I’ll say this about Karolyn-Taye Lauren, at least she’s sympathetic. Plus I love the fact that the Keli character has no moments of disbelief when it comes to the supernatural stuff, totally accepting that her boyfriend is possessed, no questions asked. No time for that shit here. Lenny Rose is probably the best actor here, mostly playing it straight as Reverend Meredith, although he’s not immune to awkward hilarity. I can only imagine the direction he was given when his character is trying to locate spirits in Will’s house. “We’re rolling, quick, start looking like you’re about to have a seizure!”

Tragically, Witchcraft V has yet to get a DVD release in America. I’m guessing Troma owns the rights to it, as parts 1-9 are listed on their website. They did release parts 4, 6, and 7 a few years back, so they might want to get on this one soon, as this entry is just crying out for a special edition release. I want, no, I need commentary from David Huffman, explaining his methods and motivations during each scene. Apparently the only other thing he did after this film was a voice over for a video game called The Journeyman Project: Pegasus Prime. An interview with Nicole Sassaman would be an interesting thing, seeing what she thinks of her past work as an “actress”, especially since she’s now a wicked successful interior designer, and I know, there is no defendable reason why I know such information. It is what it is. It’s not rocket science folks, and it wasn’t meant to be. When it comes to schlocky B movies, Witchcraft V defiantly fit’s the mold.  If you’re a fan  of such films like Troll 2, The Room or even the Leprechaun films then I really don’t see why you shouldn’t get a kick out of this one. Like I said it’s become a personal favorite of mine for all it’s “eccentricities”, let’s call them. It’s sure to liven up a boring day and if you’re bummed out about something it’ll probably cheer you up on account of Huffman’s bombast, and if you want to know the truth out it, I’d much rather watch one of these than the majority of the garbage that gets crapped out of Hollywood these days. At least I know I’ll be entertained.

Promotional pin, this had to have been made by Academy Entertainment,
the home video distributor for the first 6 films  

On a side note, some clips of Huffman displaying his supreme thespianism made it onto the YouTube as the kids call it a few years back, albeit it in very low quality. They can be seen here, here, and most awesomely here. There’s also this clip, which features actor Greg Grunberg from the show Heroes in an early small role. This means absolutely nothing to me as I’ve never seen that show nor do I plan on it, but it’s something that others who’ve seen this movie have picked up on so I figured I’d throw it out there as well, maybe someone will find it of interest if anyone reads this.

1 comment:

  1. Came across this writing incidentally and I was very impressed by your candor. Finally this little gem gets a proper treatment/ pseudo review. This movie is unfairly shunned and has remained underrated a long time. Yes, it is by anyone's account video 'junk' amid a muddy pool populated by its 90's brethren, yet (as you point out) Witchcraft V, with all it's sleek, B-flick nuances, is something of a stand-out entry in the checkered series and a decent stab at that Satan & satin formula that keeps discerning (yes, discerning) viewers of this fare satiated. Thanks for the sincere and objective coverage. You've given props to one sleek, cheeky, under appreciated flick which I happen to adore. Bravo!!