Witchboard of the Dead

Tawny Kitaen is completely to blame for my messing with dead people.

In lieu of today’s penchant to never take personal responsibility, I’m quite comfortable laying all of this at Tawny’s lovely feet. Mind you, I’ve never met the woman. However, I feel as if she’s an old friend with wild and wonderful scarlet hair thanks to Bachelor Party, writhing on the hood of a car in Whitesnake’s video for “Here I Go Again,” and last but not least, 1986’s Ouija horror film, Witchboard.

Let me backtrack just a bit.

I had a grandmother who looked and acted just like Mrs. Butterworth come to life. She also made amazing pancakes in the shape of any animal I desired, which I then covered in Mrs. Butterworth’s Syrup. I preferred monkeys because their thin arms, legs and tail would get nice and crispy.

Behind my grandmother’s smiling, matron-of-the-century façade was a woman of uncanny ability. She was, according to everyone around her, a psychic. The family only spoke of this side of her in hushed tones, and very rarely. My grandfather once told me about her making tables levitate when she’d have her friends over to commune with spirits. It scared the living crap out of him, and he was a guy who scared everyone (except me, because I was his little buddy).

As far as I know, grandma had left her “parlor” behind by the time I came wailing into this world. However, right around when I turned sixteen, she did pull me aside and make me promise to never, ever, mess with a Ouija board. At the time, I had a copy of The Satanic Bible by Anton Levay and The Book of the Dead on my nightstand.  I was no Satanist, but I was curious about the dark arts. How could you understand the light if you didn’t have a grasp of the dark? I had made that known to her, and smart woman that she was, she knew I would eventually do something I’d regret.

I promised grandma I’d steer clear of the Ouija and we left it at that.

Cut to a few years later, and in walks Tawny Kitaen and her damned Witchboard into my life.

Tawny Kitaen
Tawney Kitaen in ‘Witchboard.’

Like all red-blooded males, I was quite smitten with the pure ’80s goddess. When I heard that she was in a horror movie…and naked!…I ran to the video store to find a copy. The movie came out in 1986, but it didn’t make it to our store until 1987. Back in those days, waiting months or even years for a movie was no biggie. Millennials, take note! Patience is becoming a lost art.

Witchboard was a hot commodity. We actually had to reserve it ahead of time because the video store couldn’t keep it on their shelves. This was back when my girlfriend (now wife) and I were watching four to six horror movies a day (see my previous column). When we picked Witchboard up, it the premier part of our big haul for the day.

As soon as we got to her house, we popped Witchboard right in. The anticipation was killing us!

Stephen Nichols and Tawny Kitaen
A Patch-less Stephen Nichols with Kitaen in ‘Witchboard.’

There was Tawny in all of her big ’80s hair splendor. I grew a little skeptical of how things were going to turn out when Stephen Nichols popped up during a party scene as Tawny’s ex-boyfriend. I knew him as tough guy Patch on the soap opera Days of our Lives. Soap opera dudes and horror just didn’t seem like a good mix to me. I wasn’t wrong to think that, either. (Though I will make an exception for Eileen Davidson in The House on Sorority Row.)

Anyway, we watched in rapt attention as Tawny got more and more involved with Patch’s Ouija board. She makes contact with the spirit of a boy. Naturally things go south in a hurry. Poor Tawny’s life is consumed by the boy in the board. And this spirit boy, he’s not so nice.

And true to the hype, Tawny she was not only naked, but TOTALLY naked in a shower scene where the possessed shower tried to scald her to death. Yes, I said possessed shower. She had to grab a towel and punch her way out of the shower door. And this is why we use shower curtains only, folks!

Everything about Witchboard is pure ’80s, from the synth score to the meandering plotline and cheesy effects. It also had a cameo by OG comedienne Rose Marie, who we always confused with Rosie from the Bounty commercials. We loved it. In fact, for some strange reason, Witchboard became one of my wife’s favorite movies. We rented it many times, eventually buying it on VHS, DVD and now Blu-Ray. It’s a great movie to take a nap to on a rainy day. The music will tell you when to wake up.

Now, if Witchboard had been more terrifying, I might never have tried my hand at a Ouija board. However, after watching it, I thought, what the hell? If Tawny Kitaen can do it, so can I! This whole thing predates the WWJD craze, but the vibe is the same.

So, on a dark and stormy night (I’m not kidding, it was raining and windy), a few of my college friends and I went to an apartment across the street from a cemetery. Oh, and it was Halloween. We didn’t have a Ouija board, so we made our own by cutting out the letters and numbers. We fashioned a plastic coffee can lid into a planchette, laid everything out on the floor and sat in a circle around it.

Each of us placed a finger on our homemade planchette and started asking for any spirits to come join us. To our amazement, it started to move. There was a lot of nervous chuckling, but we all swore we weren’t moving it. Within minutes, we were communicating with someone by the name of Fran Turner. You’ve never seen five guys so flipped out.

It gets worse.

My friend (name redacted) who was and still is a true innocent, pulled away from the planchette. His eyes rolled into his head and he began talking to us in a voice totally unlike his own. At first, we thought he was messing with us. That is, until he went into a kind of seizure.

We panicked. I swiped all of the pieces of the Ouija board across the room. My friend thankfully settled down. When he came to, he had no recollection of what happened. It seemed that Fran Turner had gotten tired of moving our planchette around and had used him instead, granting him merciful amnesia when she was done. If any of the other guys had done it, we wouldn’t have believed it because we were all ass ponies.

All of us except the one guy Fran had chosen.

I left that night thinking of grandma and how she must have been shouting at me from the great beyond. “I told you not to do it, you moron!”

We were all shaken. A couple of guys went to the cemetery the next day.

Wouldn’t you know it? They found the grave of Fran Turner deep in the graveyard.

That was my first and last foray into the world of Ouija. From then on, I have stuck to watching subpar movies where actors bear the brunt of going where they should not go. My wife and I revisit Witchboard every couple of years. It’s pure nostalgia for us now. When we watch it, we’re teens again, sitting on the couch, oblivious to the world around us.

It’s also a reminder of ghostly Fran Turner and the wisdom of my grandmother. God, I miss her pancakes.

I no longer live my life by the motto of What Would Tawny Kitaen Do?

However, if Tawny reads this and wants to sit around a Ouija board with me, I’m willing to come out of retirement.

Hunter Shea is the product of a misspent childhood watching scary movies, reading forbidden books and wishing Bigfoot would walk past his house. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal—he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself. You can follow his madness at huntershea.com.

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