Witchcraft III: The Kiss of Death (1991) 0
Considering how awful the first two movies in the Witchcraft series were, it’s hard to believe that the franchise could have gone anywhere but up from there. Yet somehow, Witchcraft III: The Kiss of Death manages instead to make me long for the elevated standards of its predecessors.
There is one sense in which the Academy Entertainment bosses did the smart thing with Witchcraft III. It would take very little to make audiences lose interest in the continuing efforts of the Stockton cult to regain their hold on William Churchill, and so another sequel on the model of Witchcraft II: The Temptress would have been an exceedingly bad idea even if that movie hadn’t sucked the sweat off a dead man’s balls. What they gave us instead was a shrewd attempt to reap the benefits of the in-name-only sequel while still maintaining the focus on a single recurring character. Beginning with the second sequel, the Witchcraft series would come to resemble an unholy hybrid of “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” and “The Red Shoe Diaries,” and what Witchcraft III: The Kiss of Death reminds me of most is the pilot episode of a television show. And honestly, had this movie’s running time been limited to the 44 minutes, plus commercials, that is now the standard for drama- and action-oriented TV series, Witchcraft III might well have risen to the level of the merely horrible. Those extra 40 minutes are absolutely lethal, however, since for the most part, they’re nothing but solid padding.
In what will become the standard template for the series, Witchcraft III begins by establishing the threat. A man whom we will later come to know as Louis (Dominic Luciana) picks up a girl in some meat-market bar. Louis takes his paramour for the evening out to the nearest alley, where they proceed to make out until his eyes start glowing and a crappy overlay of digitally-created “sulfurous smoke” fills the edges of the screen. Then there’s another lame special effect which is meant to indicate the girl’s soul being sucked out through her open mouth. Leaving the dead girl behind, Louis skulks off to a convertible, where another lifeless, female body (Leana Hill, who, in an interesting coincidence, really did have a role in the Red Shoe Diaries pilot film) slumps in the back seat. Louis kisses the second corpse, and she comes to somewhat listless life. The two of them talk for a bit, and reach an agreement that the time has come to skip town for somewhere a bit more hectic, where dead girls in alleyways will garner slightly less attention. Somewhere like Los Angeles, for example.
Meanwhile, in LA, we see that William Adams, originally known as William Churchill, is now calling himself “William Spanner” (Charles Solomon again), and is practicing law as a criminal defense attorney. His newest client is a black boy named Ruben Carter (Ahmad Reese), who stands accused of raping and murdering the divorcee for whom he did odd jobs. According to prosecuting attorney Vivian Hill (Nicole Lauren), the state has an open and shut case. Ruben’s fingerprints are all over the victim’s house, and the medical examiner has found semen matching Carter’s inside the woman’s body. Ruben isn’t doing much to cooperate with Spanner, either. It’s supposed to be some big, dramatic revelation when it comes out later on that the boy’s reticence stems from a desire to conceal the affair he was having with the dead woman, but only the most profoundly stupid of viewers will have failed to grasp that point almost immediately. Nor will anyone with a tested IQ in excess of 70 fail to recognize at once that Vivian Hill is trying to railroad the easiest available suspect so that she’ll have a fresh victory under her belt when the governor nominates her for the post of assistant district attorney in a few days. Anyway, along with Ruben himself, Spanner also consults with the kid’s mother (Shaz Bennett) and the Reverend Jondular (William L. Baker), the voodoo priest whom the Carters follow in spiritual matters. Mrs. Carter doesn’t do much except moan and wail, but Jondular is one sharp customer, and he only has to shake hands with William in order to figure out that he’s a good deal more than a lawyer with a taste for defending the downtrodden. Jondular comments that there is great power within Spanner, and then advises him to take a closer look at the victim’s ex-husband.
It’s been a rough day, and William stops for dinner and a few drinks on his way home from work. While he’s out, he flirts a bit with a young woman who introduces herself as Marlena (Alexa Jago, of The Puppet Masters and Waterworld), and nearly gets himself beaten up by Marlena’s jealous ex-boyfriend. Spanner is unexpectedly rescued by none other than Louis the Soul-Sucker, who then proceeds to out-flirt him for Marlena’s attentions— which is just as well, really, because we’ll soon see that William already has a girlfriend, with whom he’s been living for over four years! After William goes home to Charlotte (Lisa Toothman, from Hard Rock Zombies and Eyes of the Serpent), Louis escorts Marlena back to her place, kills her, and feeds her soul to the blonde from the convertible. Louis and William will be meeting again soon, however, because the tipsy lawyer left his wallet on the table at the restaurant, permitting Louis to see both his driver’s license and a photograph of Charlotte. Roxy, Louis’s undead girlfriend, thinks Charlotte looks like she’d have a tasty soul indeed.
Using the forgotten wallet as a pretext, Louis pays a visit to William’s house, which doubles as Charlotte’s sewing and photography studio. (She designs clothes for a living.) William is at the office having another of his frequent battles with Vivian, and Louis makes the opening move in a leisurely campaign of seduction. That evening, Spanner meets Louis and Roxy for dinner to thank them for returning his wallet. Vivian happens to be at the same restaurant, and the rendezvous leads, through a chain of preposterous contrivances, to Louis “accidentally” running her over while driving William’s car. Louis and Roxy convince William to go home and let them worry about taking Vivian to the hospital and dealing with the authorities— so just you guess who vanishes without a trace over the course of the night…
Vivan’s disappearance solves Ruben Carter’s problem, at least; without the glory-hungry prosecutor riding their asses, the police have time to investigate a bit more thoroughly, discovering that the victim’s ex murdered her, presumably after spying on her last tryst with Ruben. William, on the other hand, is now liable for any sort of blackmail Louis and Roxy might care to lay on him, and he has to deal with Charlotte drifting steadily into his rival’s orbit. Once again, Jondular comes forward with the key piece of information, revealing to William just what Louis really is, and counseling Spanner that his own magical heritage, black though it may be, makes him the only person around with the power to stop Louis from claiming Charlotte, whether to feed her to Roxy or to take her on as a parasitic companion in Roxy’s place. William resists at first, but he gets his ass in gear when Louis kills Jondular— obviously the houngan must have known what he was talking about if Louis would go to the bother of eliminating him. Before he dies, however, Jondular gives Mrs. Carter a magical staff that has the power to destroy Louis, together with instructions to pass it along to William.
It’s a bit odd to see what amounts to a superhero origin story as part three of a series— at the very least, it would seem to speak of a franchise with definite identity problems. Then again, identity problems ought perhaps to be expected, seeing as no two Witchcraft films up to this point have employed the same writer or director, and even the producers didn’t come onboard until the first sequel. The TV-like feel of Witchcraft III also makes more sense when you consider that Rachel Feldman’s only previous directing experience had been on series television, and that she would not direct another stand-alone feature until 2001’s She’s No Angel (itself made for TV). But while those facts make a certain amount of sense of Witchcraft III: The Kiss of Death, they do nothing to excuse its end-to-end wretchedness. With the running time inflated to nearly twice what the story could comfortably support, this movie feels like it’s simply never going to end. The acting is the worst in the series so far, with Charles Solomon hopelessly out of his depth as both the world’s most powerful warlock and a crusading criminal defense lawyer, while William L. Baker resolutely scuttles his own ponderously grave performance with a fake West African accent that would have shamed the bit-players in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. The sex scenes, while less hypocritically demure than those in Witchcraft II, remain determinedly unerotic, and those involving Louis suffer from the fact that Dominic Luciana’s body appears to be constructed out of injection-molded polystyrene— a man in the throes of sexual passion ought to show some sweat, some heavy breathing, a hair out of place, something! And unlike its predecessor, Witchcraft III offers not even the faintest flicker of endearing absurdity, no dialogue that sticks with you because of its goofiness, no scene that makes you shake your head in amazement that somebody thought it was a good idea. Witchcraft III: The Kiss of Death is a challenge to the viewer’s endurance and nothing more.