A year before she unleashed her hotness on the music video scene by appearing in several Whitesnake videos (and some two decades before she assaulted then-husband Chuck Finley and was arrested for cocaine possession), redhead Tawny Kitaen starred in Witchboard, which I consider to be one of the better non-blockbuster horror films of the glorious 1980s. Having just seen it again for the first time in over twenty years, I have to say it still holds up well all these years later. Well, there is one horribly bad special effects shot near the end, but its impact is somewhat mitigated by the fact that this movie doesn't really rely on special effects to do its thing. Witchboard is all about instilling suspense and fear into the atmosphere swirling around a trio of well-developed characters. At first, it looks like you're in for another boring ride on the arrogant rich boy vs. impudent poor boy train, but that begins to change once the spirits come out to play.
I'm not exactly sure why Linda (Tawny Kitaen) would invite ex-boyfriend Brandon (Stephen Nichols) to a party with her new boyfriend Jim (Todd Allen), especially when she knows both men are now ex-best friends, but she does. As the snarky comment meter begins to push in to the red, Linda overcomes her misgivings and actually welcomes the idea of trying out Brandon's Ouija board. The pair succeeds in making contact with the spirit of a little boy that Brandon has spoken with before - but Jim's litany of condescending comments angers the spirit. In all of the commotion, Brandon leaves his Ouija board there at Linda's and Jim's apartment. Over the next few days, Linda unwisely - albeit unknowingly - starts using the board alone to speak to "David," and that is when the troubles start coming fast and furious. Lives are lost as Linda's obsession with using the Ouija board increases, ultimately putting her own life in danger. Brandon soon comes to realize what is happening (progressive enchantment by a sinister spirit), but he can do little to help Linda without Jim's help - and that's a pretty long row to hoe.
Witchboard is by no means scary, but it does sneak a few surprising moments into the mix, and the creepy atmosphere is effective even if it never becomes palpable. Jim is a rather stoic character, and Todd Allen plays him as such pretty well; Tawny Kitaen earns her scream queen stripes with a more than satisfactory performance as the vulnerable (and hot) potential target for possession; but it is Stephen Nichols' performance that really makes this something of a 1980s classic horror film. With Jim playing the doubting game so well, Brandon really has to appear sincere and genuinely troubled by the potential danger the Ouija board poses for Linda - and Nichols pulls that off amazingly well. I also have to mention Kathleen Wilhoite, who is impossible to forget in the minor role of California's kookiest medium, and Rose Marie. You have to be doing something right when you can get Rose Marie, of all people, to appear in your horror film.
From what I hear and read, the two Witchboard sequels aren't very good - but don't let that stop you from watching the original film. Even the ending of Witchboard plays out quite effectively. Writer and director Kevin S. Tenney really delivers the goods with this 1986 release, and I think Witchboard deserves a place somewhere on any viewing list of recommended 1980s horror movies.