Witchcraft VII: Judgement Hour / Witchcraft 7: A Taste for Blood (1995) -*
Let’s see… So far, the Witchcraft series has pitted its warlock-attorney hero against a synthetic succubus; a hell-spawned soul-sucker; a diabolical, organ-harvesting musician’s agent; and two apocalypse-invoking wizards in rapid succession— to say nothing of ancillary threats like devil-cults, serial killers, and the occasional burly street tough. What does that leave for Witchcraft VII: Judgement Hour? How about vampires? We haven’t had any of those yet, and by 1995, the bloodthirsty undead were always a safe bet for mixing brain-damaged horror with softcore sex.
There’s a party going on at the headquarters of the Los Angeles-based Polytechnic Institute (nice non-specific institutional name there), and among the attendees are a pair of hookers named Sally (Mai-Lis Holmes) and Rachel (Ashlie Rhey, from Bikini Drive-In and Forbidden Games). Rachel wanders off into a relatively secluded room, where she is accosted by a well-dressed man with long, flowing blonde hair (Loren Schmalle). The filmmakers act like his identity is supposed to be some kind of big mystery, but you may rest assured that it will not spoil what little appreciation you might develop for anything to come if I tell you right up front that his name is Martin Hassa, and that he’s the boss of the Polytechnic Institute. He’s also a vampire, and after a long and tedious sex scene that is in no way enlivened by either the trying-too-hard background music or the “erotic” employment of a glass of milk, Hassa reveals his fangs and drains the prostitute’s blood. (And incidentally, I personally have created far more convincing vampire teeth than those for a Halloween costume.)
Meanwhile, married couple Jack (Mark Blydel) and Emily (Aline Kassman, of Lap Dancing and Vampire Centerfolds) have summoned their friend and lawyer, Will Spanner (played this time by Intruder’s David Byrnes), to the hospital, where their teenage son is in intensive care after being hit by a drunk driver. This actually has nothing to do with anything, although screenwriter Peter E. Fleming will try very hard to convince us otherwise throughout the remainder of the film. What does matter is that Spanner is present when the EMTs rush Rachel to the emergency room, giving Sally a chance to grab him and rant incoherently about finding the other girl unconscious and apparently dying on a table at the party they’d been attending. Spanner watches through a window first as the doctors fail to save Rachel, and again as the priest who comes to perform her last rites has his rosary succumb to spontaneous combustion in his hand. Will whips out his phone at that point, and calls Lieutenant Lutz (Alisa Christensen— usually a stuntwoman, but she also had a pretty big role in Sisters of Sin), his contact on the police force. And incidentally, those of you who get confused each time Will’s girlfriend, Keli (who’ll be played in this installment by April Breneman, who is uncharacteristically mature for a direct-to-video sex-object), gets recast as a different actress may never figure out that this is supposed to be the same Detective Lutz whom Will was helping out in Witchcraft VI. The last time we saw her, Lutz was a guy!
When Lutz gets Spanner’s call, she and her partner, Garner (now played by John Cargen, of Stranger in My House), are in the middle of a stakeout. Their captain (The Hidden’s Jason Edwards) believes that a certain escapee from San Quentin (Jack Van Landingham, from Digital Man and Shadow Dancer) will most likely seek out his girlfriend (Kimberly Blair, of The Lady in Blue and Over the Wire), and thus it is that the two detectives are perched on a balcony opposite the girl’s apartment, perving on her through the bedroom window with a telescope. This has fuck-all to do with anything, either, serving only to set up another long and tedious sex scene, this one involving what appears to be a police-issue dashboard dome-light. As soon as Lutz and Garner have made their bust (they considerately wait until after their quarry has attained orgasm), they bop over to the hospital to see what has Spanner’s panties in such a bunch. Lutz and Garner don’t see why a girl who supposedly died of a heart attack at a party is their problem, and the discovery of what they take for the bite of a large snake on the corpse’s neck doesn’t impress them much, either. What does impress the two cops— and Spanner too, for that matter— is when Rachel opens her eyes, gets up off the gurney, and kicks all three of their asses without breaking a sweat. Spanner, Lutz, and Garner head off in pursuit, eventually (read: after yet another sex scene, built this time around a surprisingly successful attempt to eroticize the uniquely immodest architecture of the standard hospital gown) locating Rachel in a park, where she has just made a nice breakfast out of a horny jogger. Their efforts to take the girl into custody accomplish nothing but to establish her imperviousness to nine-millimeter bullets, but Spanner enjoys more success when he squares off against her with a long, pointed stick. Lutz and Garner are going to have fun, fun, fun ‘til their daddy takes the T-Bird away when they have to hand in this case report…
The remainder of Spanner’s morning won’t be much more enjoyable. Keli has been waiting up for him all night, and she’s convinced herself that Will spent the last twelve hours or so in the company of another woman. Don’t ask me why Spanner cooperates with his girlfriend’s efforts to pick a fight instead of just explaining what he’s really been up to; don’t ask me why his response to the emotional strain of the argument is to drive out to the cemetery and fly into hysterics over his mother’s grave; and while you’re at it, don’t ask me, either, whether that grave belongs to Grace Churchill (Spanner’s birth-mother) or to the repentant witch who raised Will after the destruction of the Satanic cult that engineered his birth. To pose those questions in the first place merely shows that you’ve thought much harder about this movie and its predecessors than anyone involved in their creation ever did.
The blue-ribbon example of not thinking hard enough comes when we finally learn what Martin Hassa’s agenda is. It comes out in conversation between Hassa and his sidekick, Costanza (Eryk Sobesto), that the vampire is negotiating the merger of his company with a firm called Kobol International (another nicely non-specific institutional name), the object being to put himself in command of the nation’s supply of donated blood. There are three problems here. 1. Kobol International is apparently an insurance company, and ownership of such an outfit does not equate to mastery of America’s frozen plasma in any obvious way. 2. The Polytechnic Institute is the health-care concern here, and Hassa already controls the Polytechnic Institute! 3. Jack (remember him?) will tell Will at some point that Kobol is based in Romania, a detail which is obviously meant to imply a directorship of vampires, yet the Kobol bosses we see in the final act are plainly human, and the only vampire on the scene runs the other company. The only possible conclusion is that the screenwriter never invested any effort of any kind in this rather important aspect of the plot.
Anyway, Rachel’s suspicious (to say the least) behavior, combined with what she was doing on the night of her official death, brings Hassa under scrutiny from Spanner, Lutz, and Garner (the former of whom has been brought onboard to assist the detectives in defiance of all sense, reason, and generally accepted law-enforcement procedure). When the three investigators get their hands on a tape from the security camera in the room where Rachel had her tryst with the vampire, and see her getting it on with somebody who doesn’t show up on film, Will recognizes immediately that they’ve got a vampire on their hands. (This plot point would make a lot more sense if there had been any indication up to now [apart, I mean, from the action of the preceding six films] that Spanner was more than just an ordinary lawyer— as usual, the makers of a Witchcraft movie have completely ignored the central character’s supernatural nature until the moment when bringing it up becomes absolutely unavoidable.) On the other hand, the very act of acquiring that tape brings Spanner and his cop buddies to Hassa’s attention, and he’s the kind of guy to whom you’d really be better off remaining unknown. And before you ask me, no. The original subtitle doesn’t have one fucking thing to do with the story, and the one thing about this move that makes any real-world sense is the switch to “A Taste for Blood” in the later editions.
It had been intended to end the Witchcraft series with this installment. That might go some way toward explaining why Witchcraft VII seems even more dispirited and perfunctory than Witchcraft VI (although it can’t match the belligerent awfulness of the first four films). Watching it, it is extremely easy to imagine director Michael Paul Girard handing over the completed picture to producer Michael Feifer and saying, “Here, look— boobies. Now can I have my fucking paycheck, please?” There’s no energy, no suspense, no momentum. The movie just wanders from scene to scene, killing time until the next pair of bare tits arrives, and even then, Girard merely goes through the motions more often than not. Even the ending, which by rights ought really to have come as something of a shock, just sits there, making nothing at all of the one chance this series ever had to engage its audience. The cast is not so uniformly worthless as their counterparts in the previous episodes (in fact, I’ll go so far as to say that Alisa Christensen could have a real acting career if she ever gets tired of making her living by falling out of windows and jumping from moving cars), but they too seem bored and uninvolved. Ditto the artisans from the Goblincraft special effects house, whose monster makeup for Hassa’s final-act transformation into the expected bat-creature stands only slightly above the dime-store demons of Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare. With so little evidence that anyone on the production team gave a rat’s ass about Witchcraft VII, it’s hard to see why we viewers should care, either.