WITCHBOARD 2: THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY (1993)
It started out innocently enough. Having recently enjoyed the sequel to NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, I thought it would makes sense to revisit the follow up to another classic KEVIN TENNEY flick, WITCHBOARD 2. I wasn’t a big fan when I caught it eons ago when it was released on VHS but maybe it would work better now thanks to lowered expectations and my newfound charitable feelings towards hackneyed, mid-nineties horror.
As it turns out my vague memory wasn’t too far off, WITCHBOARD 2 isn’t exactly on par with the film it spawned from. The supernatural threat isn’t nearly as threatening, LARAINE NEWMAN’s grating hippy character is a poor substitute for KATHLEEN WILHOITE’s eccentric psychic Zarabeth and there is a howling void where once stood ROSE MARIE.
But wait! WITCHBOARD 2 does contain a charm that the original film can’t boast, a sparkling effervescent light that will guide you through the entire inconsequential affair! The adorable creature I speak of is actress AMI DOLENZ! In fact, DOLENZ is so fetching in WITCHBOARD 2 that I forgot I was watching horror and instead found myself admiring her character’s swell new apartment, routing for her career as an artist and strangely invested in the outcome of her romantic entanglements. Yeah, yeah, Ouija boards are dangerous doorways to hell, that’s yesterday’s news. I want to know if DOLENZ’s “Paige” is going to end up with her controlling yet admirably protective ex-boyfriend Mitch or the landlord’s creepy but sensitive brother Russell. In the end I had a fine time with the serviceable WITCHBOARD 2 and more importantly it inspired me to go on an AMI DOLENZ binge. Which lead to…
PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS (1993)
Again. I was very unaccepting of PUMKINHEAD II when I first saw it and I don’t blame myself because it discards the wonderful southern gothic atmosphere of the first film and offers in exchange for broody LANCE HENRIKSEN, a gaggle of mostly annoying partying teens. DOLENZ plays a relatively likable gal who is new to town and inexplicably ends up hanging out with a bunch of delinquents with no respect for their elders (I think that’s a fair assessment because they run over an old lady in their car, break into her house, physically assault her and leave her to burn to death.)
The only positive thing I can say about this group is that they at least have the good taste to include SOLIEL MOON FRY in the shenanigans (although I’d prefer to see her put her Punky-power to more constructive use). Even as the central non-demonic character, poor AMI doesn’t have much to do here and gets sort of lost in the shuffle. It doesn’t help that the cast is over-bloated enough to include HELLRAISER’s ANDREW ROBINSON, LINNEA QUIGLEY, KANE HODDER and BILL CLINTON’s brother as the Mayor, among others.
There’s no way around the fact that PUMPKINHEAD deserves a better sequel than this hobbled together headache but on the plus side, the monster looks handsome enough, there’s at least one striking visual (involving the demon looming over DOLENZ while she screams from a bed) and I have to admit the opening which involves teen bullies killing a physically deformed peer, is surprisingly disturbing.
Director JEFF BURR was several times saddled with the thankless task of sequel-izing beloved horror flicks (STEPFATHER 2, LEATHERFACE, PUPPET MASTER 4 & 5) all of which were doomed to pale in comparison to their predecessors. If you want to see his best work, make sure you check out the awesome anthology THE OFFSPRING (aka FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM) featuring legends VINCENT PRICE, CLU GULAGER and SUSAN TYRRELL. And between you and me and the fencepost, I also recently discovered that I have a soft spot for his totally loopy 1995 non-sequel NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW. I had a lot of fun watching it and only wish it opened with the disclaimer “No franchises were harmed in the making of this picture.”
I’ll be honest, DOLENZ is stuck with a one note, spoiled brat role in TICKS and it’s probably not her finest hour but it doesn’t matter because I love TICKS! I loved it when I first saw it, I loved it when I last saw it and I loved it every time in-between. TICKS concerns a mutant parasite infestation at a nature retreat for wayward youth run by PETER SCOLARI but all you really need to know is that ALFONSO RIBEIRO portrays a street tough named Panic (Because he never does) and it’s a wondrous thing to behold.
I hate to say it but what I really adore about this movie is the incredibly effective special effects. I’m not the easiest person to gross-out but this movie truly gets under my skin in a way many other movies have tried and failed. Eventually you even get a big giant deluxe-sized monster tick and frankly, it’s nearly THING- worthy. So, not the best showcase for DOLENZ (that would be WITCHBOARD 2) but this one I truly recommend. Just prepare yourself for phantom itching. (NOTE: Extra points rewarded for brandishing a rare in the world of horror (outside of THE FLY 2 and ANNIE) ginger protagonist in the form of a young SETH GREEN.)
ALSO: TICKS director TONY RANDEL (HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II) worked with DOLENZ previously on the 1991 horror flick CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT. I’m not going to cover that one because I don’t have access to it and I’ve already given it a couple tries and it never worked for me. It looks like it would be great but it’s like it exists on some frequency my brain can’t register. You know what I mean?
MURDER SHE WROTE: Season 10, Episode 6: “Bloodlines”
IMDb kindly let me in on the fact that AMI DOLENZ did an episode of MSW and thanks to Netflix, it was on. Can you believe this episode also features one of my other favorite actresses, the equally binge-able SHAWNEE SMITH? Plus it’s got TIPPI HEDREN playing DOLENZ’s mom!
May I just ruin this episode for you? I need to tell you who the killer is. I know that goes against everything MSW stands for but it must be done. It’s too good not to share… not only is AMI DOLENZ the killer but her murder is sublime; she beats MICKEY ROONEY to death with a flashlight! Who would have guessed that my journey through the DOLENZ oeuvre would lead me to witnessing my lifelong fantasy of beating MICKEY ROONEY to death with a flashlight, late at night, on a lonely country road, finally enacted on screen?!
MIRACLE BEACH (1992)
We have exhausted all of the titles in which AMI is surrounded by murder and mayhem but fret not, as there is still one kinder-friendly flick to inspect. How on Earth did this gem go unnoticed by me for so long? In this offering DOLENZ plays a magical genie named Jeannie and the object of her affection is none other than DEAN CAMERON of BAD DREAMS, ROCKULA and SUMMER (and SKI!!!!) SCHOOL fame! This is a fine one to close out with because MIRACLE showcases DOLENZ at her most peppy and plucky and by film’s end we finally get to see her walk off into a California sunset with a well earned happy ending.
Note: At one point in the film DOLENZ’s character Jeannie is shown watching a movie on TV that features a purple furry monster with one eye and one horn. With my Jessica Fletcher detective skills I was able to discern the oddity was 1988’s PURPLE PEOPLE EATER. It stars a young NEIL PATRICK HARRIS and an even younger THORA BIRCH as his sister and it’s all about an alien from outer space teaching Earth kids to appreciate old folks like NED BEATTY, SHELLY WINTERS and CHUBBY CHECKER. The purple monster’s mission is a success because he wisely avoids trying to sell anyone on MICKEY ROONEY.
And so we come to the close of our spotlight on AMI DOLENZ. What have we learned besides the fact that I have a fervent aversion to MICKEY ROONEY? I’d say it’s pretty clear AMI DOLENZ is one underrated scream queen. She did so much in so little time and she brought something different to each performance. She comes off better in some roles than others, but that’s true for everyone, and I’d suppose it’s more in the hands of the writer or director than her.
It’s also worth considering that she dove into the horror pool at a resistive time too late for one boom and too early for another. The genre was floundering in the awkward, early nineties. The decade had yet to find it’s own flag to fly and instead tended to feed on scraps left behind by the one before it. DOLENZ’s mostly straight to video flicks can be seen as the last gasp of goofy eighties fantasy driven horror right before the nineties decided to get sober, savage and snarky. And I guess that’s what I see in AMI DOLENZ the kind of a breezy un-cynical, optimistic vibe that gets more and more rare or hard to come by.
Hmmm, you know you’re getting old when you start ranting about how movies have changed or how the world has changed and you’re too busy shaking your cane to realize that you are projecting and the thing that has changed is you. But that’s life, folks! The past will always look like AMI DOLENZ and the future is all MICKEY ROONEY. Whaaaaaaaaa! Where’s a flashlight when you need it?