Witchcraft II: The Temptress (1989) -½
Most long-running direct-to-video horror franchises are extremely fervent in their embrace of the in-name-only sequel. On the theory that it’s the title more than anything else that ropes in the audience, their producers pay no heed to any of the things that once defined a series, stringing together what should by rights be a set of unrelated and unconnected films. Does your movie involve a curse of some kind? Fine! Then we’ll call it Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice, even though it doesn’t have a goddamned thing to do with any of the first three Curse installments— none of which had a goddamned thing to do with each other, either, for that matter. But incredible as it may seem, that isn’t quite the case with the longest-running direct-to-video horror franchise of them all, the awesomely miserable Witchcraft series. For while it would indeed be a stretch to say that the twelve Witchcraft movies form anything like a coherent story in aggregate, the great majority of them do at least concern the same central character in some way, and for three episodes running, that character was even played by the same actor.
You remember how I said that Witchcraft ended without ever addressing the central issue of its story, the presumably demonic nature of the baby born to Grace Churchill and her reincarnated warlock husband? Well evidently somebody in authority at Academy Entertainment noticed that too, because the bulk of the inexcusably numerous sequels chronicle the travails of the grown-up William Churchill at the hands of a succession of supernatural evildoers many of whom want to make sure that he fulfills his Hellborn destiny. And in doing so, the sequels increasingly shift the focus from the 70’s Satanism hash of the original movie toward softcore sex of the 3:00 AM-on-Cinemax variety. Appropriately enough, the movie that set the trend in motion was called Witchcraft II: The Temptress.
That temptress is Dolores Jones (Delia Sheppard, of Haunting Fear and Body Chemistry III: Point of Seduction), a skanky blonde who appears to have been created by the supposedly dead Elizabeth Churchill (Mary Shelley, who will be confined to stock footage once the opening credits have wrapped up) for the express purpose of bringing little William back onto the Left-Hand Path. Since subsequent dialogue will indeed confirm that the Churchills are no more, and since Elizabeth certainly didn’t have either the time or a reason to manufacture any Hell-floozies during the preceding chapter, I really don’t know what to make of all this. In any case, William (who has by now grown up to be The Channeler’s Charles Solomon) ought to be highly susceptible to temptation, because he’s about to enroll in college and his girlfriend, Michelle Cross (Demon Wind’s Mia Ruiz), is such a good little preacher’s daughter that she has steadfastly refused to put out for however long it is that the two kids have been dating. The transition between high school and college is a notorious killer of teenage romances, and jockish boys like William tend to have limited patience with abstinence under the best of circumstances. Michelle, for her part, seems to be waking up to those facts, for she behaves as if she’s about to drop the purity act one Saturday night when she and William are alone in the boy’s house. But suddenly there’s a knock at the front door, and the kids panic at the possibility that it might be either William’s parents returning early from their evening out or Michelle’s dad (Frank Woods, from Hot Tub California) come looking for his wayward child. Michelle sneaks out the back door while William answers the knock, and she thereby misses the action when her boyfriend is confronted by his inappropriately amorous new neighbor, Dolores, who claims to be looking for her cat. Yes— it’s the same Dolores we saw being activated during the credits. She probably does have a cat, too, but really, the synthetic witch has dropped by to sneak something onto William’s front porch, a box wrapped in heavy brown paper with an attached note reading “The curse of death is not for thee— eternal life is your destiny.” When the boy opens the package later that night, it proves to contain a small tin dish which William takes to be an ashtray. It also contains a whole lot of nightmares. All night long, William dreams of stock footage from the last movie, and having now sat through that lame-ass witch-burning scene in two different films, I can assure you that seeing it again in my sleep would be the last thing I’d want.
William’s parents (Jay Richardson, of Witch Academy and Bad Girls from Mars, and Princess Warrior’s Cheryl Janecky) find the mysterious box on the kitchen table the next morning, and they immediately know what it represents. Screenwriters Jim Hanson and Sal Manna and director Mark Woods will spend the next hour or so pretending we don’t know this, but they’ve already made it pretty well obvious that the Adamses are white magicians who have renounced their membership in the Stockton/Churchill coven, and who snuck off with the infant William when they did so some eighteen years ago. Their son, meanwhile, is still completely oblivious. He thinks maybe the “ashtray” was given to him by his moron friend, Boomer (David Homb, from Shock ‘Em Dead and Alien Species), as some sort of inexplicable prank. Boomer denies any responsibility, though, and that leaves William with just one clue— the Latin inscription on the convex side of the thing from the box. As soon as he can, he heads over to the library to talk with Audrey Denver (Kirsten Wagner), arch-nerd and part-time library clerk. She agrees to decipher the inscription on the condition that William will persuade Boomer to go out on a date with her (I can’t for the life of me imagine why— it would be like Daria going out with Beavis!), and William goes on about his business, secure in the knowledge that all will be explained soon enough.
That business takes him to the Cross house (after a short detour during which some really contrived silliness results in William holding Dolores by the ass while she does some work on her gutters), where he hangs out with Michelle until Audrey calls to report her findings. Audrey doesn’t want to go into detail over the phone, and her boss is breathing down her neck anyway, but suffice it to say that the situation doesn’t look good. The inscription is some sort of black magic incantation, and Audrey will come over to William’s house after work to lay everything out for him. Actually, things turn out just a little bit differently. While William is talking to Audrey on the phone over at Michelle’s place, Dolores lets herself into the Adams house for a showdown with William’s mom. Audrey arrives almost immediately after Dolores finishes off the white witch, and she gets thrown to her death from the second-story picture window just as William and Boomer are walking up the street. Dolores takes advantage of the distraction created by Audrey’s “suicide” to stash the body of Mrs. Adams in the attic and pull a quick vanishing act.
That evening, Wiliam’s father sees his son reading Audrey’s notes and decides that the time for coming clean has arrived at last. Dad tells William all about the Stocktons and their coven; all about the Churchills and the birth of the child who was supposed to lead the devil-worshipers to unprecedented heights of power; all about how he and his wife broke from the coven, turned from black magic to white, and snatched the devil-child away from their erstwhile comrades to raise him in secret as a normal suburban boy. That’s when Dolores knocks on the door with a bullshit story about how Mrs. Adams is at the hospital with Audrey, and how Mr. Adams ought to go to her; a little magical finger-twiddling makes the story a bit easier to sell. With Dad out of the way, Dolores makes a play to seduce William, but the kid knows what’s what— you think maybe it was the giant-ass pewter pentagram Dolores wears around her neck that tipped him off? Anyway, the seduction goes nowhere, and Dolores flees, leaving another mystery box behind her. This one contains a tapered cylinder made of the same tin-like metal as last night’s “ashtray.” William gets so freaked out that he turns to Mr. Cross for guidance, but while he and the preacher are discussing faith and free will in the living room, Michelle is being gratuitously raped by an invisible demon upstairs. Both kids wind up with pentagrams burned into their chests for no readily apparent reason, and the Reverend Cross becomes very unhappy when he takes a second to think through the implications of their preternatural wounds.
The final battle comes 24 hours or so later. Dolores transforms herself into the likeness of Mrs. Adams, and spends the whole day posing as the dead woman. Then she leads William up to the attic and gives him a slightly more Satan-positive version of the story his father told the day before, revealing thereby her true identity and setting in motion a cascade of chaos that leaves Mr. Adams dead and William considering suicide. Michelle comes over just in time to talk him out of eating the shotgun, and they enlist the girl’s father (who seems to have gotten over his pentagram scare) to bless them up a whole shitload of holy water and throw together some incantations of exorcism. Alas, the Reverend Cross fares no better in opposition of the forces of darkness than did Father James in the preceding movie, and so there’s nothing to stop Dolores from returning with a third and final demonic party favor for William (the three artifacts form a chalice when stacked end to end) while turning the remainder of Witchcraft II: The Temptress into a reasonable facsimile of the video for Motley Crue’s “The Looks that Kill.”
I suppose Witchcraft II: The Temptress is very slightly more entertaining than the original Witchcraft, even though it is substantially worse by any defensible standard of quality. If nothing else, it has a tiny bit of nudity and a great deal of hopelessly inept tease on the order of what you’ll see in those commercials for phone-sex lines on late-night television. And it contains this triumphant declaration from Dolores to Michelle on the subject of William: “His father was a great warlock! And now his son will fuck me, and our child shall rule the world!!!!” That might be worth something if you’re in an extremely generous mood. It’s not nearly enough, however, to absolve Witchcraft II of being a disjointed, compulsively derivative, and almost unrelentingly boring film. Just about all of the complaints I had leveled against Witchcraft apply here as well: the noxious acting, the slovenly and illogical plotting, the vexingly complete absence of originality, the distracting chintziness of the production. Then on top of those, Witchcraft II adds 30-year-old “teenagers” and the irritating tendency so often exhibited by direct-to-video genre films to attempt to be smutty without actually showing anything. In light of the direction in which the Witchcraft series would go from here on, I think the latter might be this movie’s gravest shortcoming. Boys on the cusp of adolescence, who are in the habit of sneaking into the bathroom with the latest Victoria’s Secret catalog, might find Witchcraft II meaningfully erotic, but they’re likely to be the only people who do.