Kevin S. Tenney had written and directed both previous Witchboard movies, even making his feature film directorial debut on the original Witchboard, but he did not return to helm the third film in the series. At a Q&A with Tenney that I attended, he said he wasn’t brought back to finish out the trilogy because Witchboard 3 was a Canadian production, so the producers wanted a Canadian director.
Tenney did, however, provide the screenplay for the third installment, co-writing it with Jon Ezrine from a story Ezrine came up with.
Peter Svatek, who has worked primarily in television and documentaries over the course of his career, was the Canadian director who was hired to bring Tenney and Ezrine’s script to the screen. With cinematographer Barry Gravelle, Svatek brought a style, look, and tone to his Witchboard that is much different than the films Tenney had made. The cinematography is very warm, with Earth tones and pleasant lighting, although that pleasant lighting also casts areas into deep, dark shadows. The atmosphere of The Possession is much darker, heavier, and more oppressive than the previous two movies, giving it a feeling that makes it less appealing than its predecessors. It doesn’t help that the characters aren’t as interesting as those who came before, either.
The lead characters are a married couple; Brian, who has just lost his job as the film begins, and his wife Julie, who teaches cultural anthropology. Brian’s bad luck takes an otherworldly turn when he spends one evening hanging out with the owner of the apartment building he and his wife live in, a wealthy man named Francis Redmond, who has a strong interest in the occult.
The movie tips its hand a little bit by opening with a narration done by Francis, wherein he tells the audience of his experience using Ouija boards, or witchboards as they were once called. Francis says he contacted “the spirit of Nargor and his cult of fertility” with a Ouija, and ends his narration by saying that he is now dead. But if he’s dead, what is he doing hanging out with Brian? He doesn’t appear to die within the film until after he has introduced Brian to the wonders of the Ouija.
Francis has made his riches through stock tips provided to him from the spirit world, and shows Brian how knowledgeable the dead can be about the future of stocks when a spirit advises them to buy into California Orange Juice, a stock which skyrockets the next day.
Soon after, Francis talks to Brian about the fact that he always wanted to have children but was infertile. Then he says “See ya in the funny papers” and leaps to his death from a high balcony, landing with a spike going through his head. That wound allows for one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen, when at his funeral Francis’s wife sticks her finger into the hole the mortician did his best to conceal in her attempt to make sure Francis is really dead. Yuck.
Still unsuccessful in his job hunt, Brian takes Francis’s Ouija board home to get some stock tips of his own. His stock buying days get off to a rocky start, but when an investor he owes $62,500 to threatens him with physical harm, a spirit shows up on the scene to kill Brian’s attackers.
That experience is enough to make Brian to toss the board into the furnace in the apartment building’s damp basement, but before he can do so he gets electrocuted to death, his spirit leaving his body and floating off. Paramedics arrive in time to resuscitate Brian, but after his return from the dead, he’s not the same… He has undergone the possession the subtitle promised.
Brian’s demeanor changes, he becomes sleazy and lascivious (and rich, earning $500,000 through stocks), he forgets the sayings he and Julie have with each other, and at night he sneaks off to the apartment that used to belong to Francis to perform a ritual in another language. A ritual that mentions the name of Nargor. He asks Julie to bear his child… He also attempts to breed with Julie’s best friend, and kills her with his supernatural abilities when she doesn’t go along with his plan.
While the trapped spirit of Brian watches in horror and rage from reflective surfaces, Julie has to figure out just what’s going on with her husband and how to get the demon Nargor to leave his body before it’s too late. As Julie comes to find out, Nargor has been moving from body to body in his quest to conceive a demon child with a human woman. The Francis that Brian knew was just another vessel for the demon, the real Francis truly was dead before the character made his appearance on screen.
Witchboard: The Possession has a very different type of storyline than the ones Tenney directed. While they had followed characters as they tried to solve the mysteries of who they were communicating with through the Ouija and what happened to them in their lives, the Ouija becomes incidental once the possession occurs.
The Possession is really just a variation on Rosemary’s Baby for the most part, Julie even has a nightmare that’s similar to Rosemary’s “This is no dream, this is really happening!” moment in the classic Polanski film.
The execution is quite subpar, and the film is never as intriguing, intense, or exciting as the ones that it follows. The cast do fine work in their roles, but that doesn’t save the film they’re in. There’s something off about it, it feels to me like it’s lacking energy. When there’s a horned demon menacing characters in an apartment but there’s no sense of urgency and still not interesting, something went wrong between the script and the screen.
I’ve always been hard on Witchboard: The Possession. As an established fan of Witchboard and Witchboard 2: The Devil’s Doorway, I rented the third film as soon as it reached video store shelves… And as I began watching it for the first time, I was almost instantly disappointed and put off by it. In fact, until watching it for this write-up nineteen years later, I don’t think I ever managed to sit through the whole movie. He may have had a hand in the screenplay, but part 3 is definitely lacking the Tenney touch.