Witchcraft IV: The Virgin Heart (1992) 0
It was while I watched Witchcraft IV: The Virgin Heart that I noticed something strange and possibly significant going on with the Witchcraft series soundtracks. Much like the movies to which they were set, they couldn’t seem to settle on any one approach from one installment to the next. The first film, which devoted most of its energy to ripping off all the major possession and devil-worship movies from 1968 to about 1980, had a drab and unimaginative score in which a bargain-basement synthesizer attempted to substitute for an orchestra the budget could never have covered. The tame porno-wannabe Witchcraft II: The Temptress, in contrast, opted for Spice Channel-inspired wanking guitars, while the more honestly smutty Witchcraft III: The Kiss of Death brought back the keyboards but didn’t try so hard to make them sound like anything but electronic instrumentation. Then, in Witchcraft IV: The Virgin Heart, we get honking, skronking saxophones of the sort that were accompanying just about every dime-budget erotic thriller on the scene during the early 1990’s. And why not? After all, Witchcraft IV wants so badly to be one of those movies that the supernatural rears its head only in the form of stock-footage flashbacks to the events of its predecessors until the final act, when screenwriters Michael Paul Girard and James Merendino (the latter of whom directed as well) grudgingly promote the villain from a slimebag music impresario who extorts sexual favors from his female clients to an undying slimebag music impresario who extorts sexual favors from his female clients and consumes the hearts of young women to maintain his immortality. It might honestly have been marginally more enjoyable if Girard and Merendino had left the devil out of it altogether, and concentrated on gunfights and strippers instead.
This time around, we start with— and you’ll never see this coming— a couple of 30-year-old teenagers driving out to Lovers’ Lane. Pete Wild (Brien Richman) and Nora Breckinridge (Diane Fowler, who also makes hardcore porn like Lesbians in Tight Shorts and Double Penetration Virgins under the name Sunset Thomas) follow very much the standard progression for kids on a date in the first scene of a horror movie; they make out, they fight, and then Nora runs off in a huff and vanishes. Pete makes a big show of not going to look for her, but eventually relents. Being a clumsy twerp, he knocks himself unconscious almost immediately by falling out of the tree he had climbed to get a better vantage point on the surrounding territory. Nora comes back a moment later, notices what has become of her boyfriend, and speeds off in Pete’s car to look for a phone booth. Evidently too incompetent to dial 911 successfully, she wastes time trying to talk to a deaf old lady (played by a man in drag) before a burly, Hispanic-looking man drives up in a 1966 Impala and offers to help her out. Impala Guy (Jason O’Gulihur) opens up the trunk of his car, and when Nora asks him what he wants out of there, he whacks her on the head with a wrench and stuffs her inside, then calls somebody on the phone to announce his success. The next time we see Nora, she’s lying on a table in a nearly lightless room with her heart cut out, and the next time we see Pete, he’s waking up, wondering where his car and his girlfriend have gotten off to, and getting picked up by the cops while trying to make a call from the same phone booth where Nora met her end.
A day or two later, William Spanner (Charles Solomon, in his third and final appearance in the role) receives a visit from Pete’s big sister, Lily (Lisa Jay Harrington), who wants to hire him to defend her brother in court. The police, led by the shifty-eyed and obviously untrustworthy Lieutenant Hovis (Erol Munuz), are charging Pete not just with the murder of the missing Nora Breckinridge, but with a whole slew of killings perpetrated in the same general area over the course of the last year. Spanner protests that he gave up being a “public defender” (Girard and Merendino don’t seem to realize that “public defender” and “criminal defense lawyer” aren’t quite the same thing) a long time ago to turn his attention to the more lucrative field of insurance litigation. Nevertheless, Lily spins him such a sob story that he takes the case, seemingly just so that she’ll shut the fuck up and get her ass out of his office.
It is at this point in the film that we first realize just how far Girard and Merendino really are from being qualified to write and direct a film about a lawyer. First, Spanner goes to see Hovis, and he seems honestly surprised when the lieutenant refuses to drop the case against Pete Wild on the sole basis of Will’s say-so that Peter is a good kid. Now to begin with, police lieutenants generally have no real say over whether a prosecution proceeds or not. Their job is to gather together the evidence and take it to the office of the district or state’s attorney once they believe it adds up to a plausible case. That office then appoints one of its lawyers to take over, and said prosecuting attorney runs the show from there. If Pete has already been charged with the murders, then Spanner is barking up the wrong tree by making himself a pain in Hovis’s ass, even leaving aside the question of why anybody would expect Hovis to be swayed by some Johnny-come-lately lawyer who hasn’t even met the accused yet waltzing in with a lame-ass argument like “you can’t prosecute Wild— he’s a good kid!” Secondly, Spanner later mentions to Lily that he’s going to have to crack the case himself, because the district attorney refuses to release the evidentiary files on her brother. Not only does this exchange show us that the screenwriters don’t have any more of a handle on the difference between a lawyer and a private detective than they do on the difference between a defense attorney and a public defender, it also puts the lie to Lily’s earlier statement that she came to William because she heard he was an unusually capable lawyer. You say the D.A. won’t release the files? Then why don’t you go down to the courthouse and file a motion for discovery, you fucking moron?!?! Once you do that, the prosecutor is required by law to give you access to every piece of evidence he plans to use in the trial; if he refuses to comply, you might be able to get him cited for contempt of court, and even if that fails, you’ve got nearly surefire grounds for reversal on appeal! They cover this shit in high school civics class— what, did you get your J.D. from Bubba Dupree’s College of Law and Tractor Maintenance? Finally, when William begins his investigation, he starts by checking out the phone booth where Pete was arrested, in which he finds a pair of preposterously obvious clues which Hovis and his boys somehow missed, and which Impala Guy somehow managed to leave behind, even though he was so thorough as to wipe his fingerprints off of the booth once his business there was concluded!
Those clues are a bumper sticker advertising a nightclub called “Coven,” and a matchbook from same announcing the hour when someone or something called “B.D.” will perform. B.D. proves to be a stripper named Belladonna (Julie Strain, from Sorceress and Battle Queen 2020), whom Will presumes to have some connection with Nora Breckinridge’s real killer (‘cause, you know— the guy who dropped that matchbook couldn’t possibly have been just a recent customer who ran out of propane for his Zippo). Can this really be the “Virgin Heart” we were promised in the title? Shit, if Belladonna’s a virgin, I’ll fucking eat her stiletto heels. Regardless, when Spanner sneaks backstage to pump her for information, the stripper rightly summons a bouncer to toss him out on his ass. Luckily for Will, he happened to pick up another book of matches in Belladonna’s dressing room, this one listing the time and date of her upcoming performance at the 2:00 Club.
The 2:00 Club is not another titty bar, but rather a divey little blues club, and when Spanner checks it out, he finds Belladonna up onstage singing— with a lack of ability that is nothing short of brutal, I might add. Nevertheless, Spanner is amazed at her “angelic” singing voice, and gets to wondering how a woman who can croon like that winds up making her living primarily from dollar bills stuffed under the waistband of her g-string. He also wonders what Hovis is doing hiding in the shadows on the far side of the room and why Belladonna feels like she has to sneak home to avoid being seen by the goateed thug in the big, red Impala. When Will finally traps the stripper into giving him some answers, it turns out that she is under the thumb of a cruel and possessive manager named Rob Santero (Clive Pearson)— who makes his grand entrance into the story by raping Belladonna on her sofa while Will hides in the coat closet! What’s worse, though Spanner may have escaped notice on that first occasion, Santero knows about him from the bouncers who threw him out of Coven and from Hovis, who saw him talking to Belladonna at the 2:00 Club. Impala Guy would like very much to waste William himself (“I hate that fuckin’ tall-ass Texan drawl-talkin’ corn-eatin’ fuckin’ Nelson-lookin’ cow-humpin’ motherfucker, man!”), but Santero doesn’t think that will be necessary. For unbeknownst to Will, Lily is one of Santero’s agents, too, and she has been maneuvering the lawyer into a confrontation with her boss. Santero has been around a long time, you see, and his current involvement in the music business (all 70-odd years of it, or thereabouts) is really just a hobby. Many centuries ago, “in the time of the Inquisition,” Santero had a twin brother who was— get this— a previous incarnation of the demonic soul that gives Will Spanner his magical powers, and Santero thinks he can persuade the prodigal reincarnation to lay off that “protecting the innocent” crap and get back with the old family program.
You see what I mean about the black-magic angle playing as a complete non-sequitur this time around? There’s no reason in the world for this story to end in a battle between warlocks, or for a film that ends on that note to spend the bulk of its running time telling this tale of a lawyer who thinks he’s a P.I. trying to rescue a singing stripper from what amounts to indentured servitude under her scummy, exploitive manager. And it’s not like Academy Entertainment wasn’t already devoting most of its resources to releasing crummy thrillers just like Witchcraft IV would have been without the spell-casting, Satan-worshipping conclusion— just watch the trailers that precede the VHS edition of this movie for a peek at a couple of non-supernatural crap-fests in that very vein. As it is, Witchcraft IV gives the impression that the pages of two totally unrelated scripts somehow got mixed up, and that somewhere out in the world, there’s a movie about organ-harvesting warlocks that unaccountably ends with the head of an independent A&R agency being hauled into court to answer for his shady dealing. Beyond that, Witchcraft IV raises to new heights the enduring series practice of posing questions which it seems to have no intention of ever answering. For example, if Belladonna really did sell her soul to Santero for a world-class singing voice, then why is Santero so insistent that she strip rather than sing? (The parallel question— if Belladonna really did sell her soul to Santero for a world-class singing voice, then why does she sound like a cat being boiled alive in battery acid?— obviously isn’t worth asking in the first place…) I also have to wonder whose bright idea it was to take Julie Strain, a performer who is pretty well useless at anything except acting tough, and cast her in the role of a damsel in distress; if nothing else, it looks absolutely ridiculous when the woman in peril is five inches taller than the thugs who are supposed to be threatening her! Add in the screenwriters’ shamelessly flaunted ignorance of every aspect of the criminal legal system and the duplication of the previous film’s reliance upon wholesale padding to attain full feature length, and you’re left with a movie so bad you can almost smell it.