Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Spirits (1990)

Parapsychologist Dr. Richard Wicks (an understandably embarrassed looking Robert Quarry) assembles a crack team of supposed experts to examine a haunted house before it has its meeting with the wrecking ball. Wicks’s team consists of professional sceptic Beth (Kathrin Lautner), “guy from the historical society” Harry (Oliver Darrow) and psychic Amy Goldwyn (Brinke Stevens).

Turns out the house is indeed haunted, and there’s a supernatural reason for the two consecutive murder sprees that happened in it, so our experts soon are confronted with a sexy succubus (Kaitlin Hopkins), possession, and other hilarious events.

So as to not overwhelm us with all this excitement, the film pops on over to the church of Father Anthony Vicci (Erik Estrada acting like a real trooper and pretending he’s in a real movie and acting as earnestly as his abilities allow) from time to time. Father Anthony still hasn’t gotten over that time when he lapsed and had sex one time ten years ago. In fact, his feelings of guilt have grown in the last few weeks or so, and he now has dreams about a sexy nun (Carol Lynley) seducing him and turning into a demon and other bouts of supernatural evil. There’s a reason (well, sort of) for that too, for the woman the good Father had his one time sexual encounter with was living in the house from our other plot line, and involved in the last murder spree. Will the dear Father Jesus up and save our heroes when they can’t help themselves anymore?

So, why exactly did I watch a Fred Olen Ray movie, seeing as I should by now know that all it’ll have to offer me is pain, suffering, and the destruction of another billion brain cells? Can’t have been the promise of softcore dry humping scenes in my horror, for while Ray’s sleaze is generally sleazy, his sex scenes always suggest to me he might have met sexy once but didn’t recognize it, and all he’s now left with is reproducing the shittiest softcore smut sex scenes he’s seen in other films. In that sense, Spirits is quite the success, for the sex scenes here are quite off-putting even before the poor actresses get into their demon make-up, and they are shot with a lack of verve and creativity that makes Playboy’s softcore movie output look like art.

The film’s horror part doesn’t fare much better, mostly because Ray’s direction lacks everything you need to make a haunted house movie: atmosphere, the ability to not have the shadow of the microphone absurdly close to the centre of at least half of the shots, a haunted house that looks and feels even the slightest bit spooky, dialogue that isn’t so clunky it doesn’t hurt ears and brain of a viewer and can’t help but make a bunch of bad actors even worse, a plot that doesn’t drag and drag and drag on. Then there’s the problem that Ray in general is as bland and boring a director as they come.

Sure, in its final third or so, the film does get mildly better – or rather funnier – because we get crappy versions of the usual demon shenanigans, are allowed to witness Erik Estrada exorcise a walking corpse, get a good look at the possessed (because the sceptic told her to let the ghosts in) medium nailing herself to a chair for no good reason, while the dialogue upgrades from boring-bad to kinda-funny-bad. However, ten minutes of fun aren’t really worth the pain that is the rest of the film.

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