Seven years and four movies after making his feature directorial debut with the cult classic Witchboard, writer/director Kevin S. Tenney returned to the concept with a sequel connected to the original movie only through the idea of characters communicating with a deadly spirit by way of a Ouija board.
The lead character is a young woman named Paige Benedict, who is torn between her potential career as a CPA and her true aspiration, to be an artist. She has always been meek and submissive in her life, but now that her father has passed away and she has broken up with her police officer boyfriend Mitch, neither of whom supported her dreams, she’s starting to consider taking her own path.
Her new approach to life begins with moving into her own apartment. While putting things away in a closet, she finds an item left behind by the previous tenant. A Ouija board (with designs like the board in the first movie). Placing a hand on the planchette, Paige jokingly enquires, “Hello, anybody home?” She is shocked when the planchette moves on its own and a spirit answers: Yes.
That begins Paige communication with the spirit of the apartment’s previous occupant, a “smart, sexy, independent, tough” exotic dancer named Susan Sydney. The more Paige talks to Susan, the more she begins to take on the qualities Susan had. She takes control of her life, confronts those who have done her wrong. And she starts creating art, like she always wanted to.
In between Ouija sessions, she also strikes up a friendly and potentially romantic relationship with photographer Russel Upton, younger brother of her landlord Elaine, a woman perpetually mentally stuck in 1969.
But things aren’t all perfection and life improvement. This is a horror movie, you know? Sometimes while Paige is in contact with Susan, the spirit will branch out into other places and strike out at people the viewer must assume have done her wrong. Like Elaine’s husband Jonas, who Susan’s spirit kills with a blast of steam from the building’s boiler… Sometimes the spirit will even lash out at Paige.
In the first film, Tenney had included some very impressive spirit P.O.V. shots, and he does the same here, with shots that glide through the building, swoop in on cranes, and even pass through windows, keyholes, and cars.
There also arises a mystery that Paige has to solve, with the help of Russel and Mitch: as far as anyone knows, Susan Sydney is still alive. She just moved out of the apartment two years ago… So if Susan is still alive, who has Paige been talking to? If Susan is dead, what happened to her? And how dangerous might it be for Paige if she solves a murder?
Ever since renting it as soon as it came out on VHS, I’ve always found Witchboard 2 to be a very satisfying sequel, a great horror movie with an intriguing mystery at its core. A mystery that is seen through by a fine group of characters.
Paige is played by Ami Dolenz, an actress who I was a huge fan of around this time for her work in Miracle Beach, Ticks, Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings, and White Wolves: A Cry in the Wild II, and she gives a strong performance as this film’s heroine. Timothy Gibbs is great as her ex Mitch, who at first comes off as a potentially dangerous jerk, but softens up as the film goes on. John Gatins, who would also appear in Pumpkinhead II as well as have a lead role in Leprechaun 3 before eventually embarking on a solid screenwriting career (Real Steel, Flight) does good work in the role of Russel, and Saturday Night Live veteran Laraine Newman makes Elaine a fun character with a goofy way of speaking.
Susan herself eventually makes an appearance, portrayed by stuntwoman Julie Michaels, who also had memorable roles in Road House and Jason Goes to Hell.
In addition to being well written and stylishly directed, Witchboard 2 is the type of sequel that takes the route of upping the carnage. While it’s not a gory movie, it does have a larger bodycount than part 1, and some of the murders committed or attempted by the homicidal spirit are done in spectacular fashion, including an extended out-of-control car sequence and a wrecking ball smashing.
While I wouldn’t put Witchboard 2 on the same classic level as I do the first film, it is a great follow-up that takes the rules established in its predecessor and uses them to spin its own spellbinding tale.