I sat down to watch the 1986 film Witchboard with my new plastic shrink-wrapped Ouija board that I ordered from Amazon sitting on the couch next to me, begging to be unwrapped. The schlocky horror film stars Tawny Kitaen in all her 80’s glory as college student Linda Brewster, a wooden Todd Allen as her boyfriend Jim, a perfectly smug Stephen Nichols as their friend, Brandon, and an overly spunky Kathleen Wilhoite as the medium they call when things inevitably go South.
The film was the directorial debut of Kevin Tenney and was also written by him while he was a college student. On its surface, Witchboard explores the idea of a malevolent spirit using the Ouija board to open the door to humanity. This process of grooming a human for possession by the evil spirit was mentioned a few times in the film and referred to as “progressive entrapment.” It’s fairly clinical language for some college students to be throwing around in the face of supernatural horror. Those little idiosyncrasies are what make this bad movie so good to watch.
When you scratch a bit at the surface, it seems Witchboard is also a story about a failed pregnancy. For the first part of the film, Linda believes she is pregnant as she has been waiting for the test results to come back from the hospital. She exhibits symptoms of morning sickness such as mood swings and bouts of nausea. She dreams maternal daydreams about her approaching child.
After a particularly violent encounter with the spirit, she is hospitalized, and the doctor tells Jim that she is not pregnant and never was. He has no explanation for her morning sickness. We do not see Linda’s reaction to the news of loss, only Jim’s bewildered response. Jim promptly leaves on an errand to learn more about the spirit with his friend Brandon, and the convalescing Linda is left vulnerable and is almost immediately possessed.
In her grief and rage she is overtaken by the vengeful spirit and wreaks havoc on her life with Jim. Often times horror films do serious subjects such as suicide, disfigurement, and miscarriage a great disservice in their attempts to be scary. This film managed to avoid that trap and depict pregnancy loss in as realistic a way as possible with a ghostly possession added into the scenario as a metaphor for grieving.
When I ordered my spirit board it was important to me that it be the Ouija brand just like the one I was punished for innocently playing with at school when I was in 2nd grade. My Evangelical Christian family took the possibility of demonic possession by the board very seriously and it quickly became part of the family lore that I was possessed by demons.
Whenever I had a meltdown or was just having a bad day, they would blame it on my possession. This is a direct result of Hollywood movies like Witchboard, The Exorcist, and Ouija seeping into the subconscious of easily swayed people. This resulted in me being neglected in receiving medical care for my Bipolar Disorder. Why see a doctor when you can just shout prayers into someone’s face? Several times as we got older my sisters attempted to hold me down and perform exorcisms on me. They threatened to call their pastor and have him do the same.
For some reason, I thought a group I am in on Facebook for Appalachian Mountain Witches would be open to my story about spirit boards. Certain witches use spirit boards all the time in their practice alongside tarot and crystals. Key word here being “certain.” The response to my post was immediate and negative. Person after person told me that if I used the Ouija board, I would be opening myself up to low-level spirits and some even suggested that they knew folks who had been possessed after using spirit boards and needed exorcism.
I was shadow banned and called a smart ass for laugh reacting to some of the more hysterical responses. But heartened by a few who stood among the madness to say, “Y’all get on my nerves” and pointed out that spirit boards are a tool like any other. A couple even pointed out that they are toys that engage the ideomotor effect and that’s what spooks people. It turns out that even witches can be susceptible to all the Hollywood hype around spirit boards.
Although as one commenter pointed out 99.9% of the time it’s the mundane events in life happening (such as a miscarriage) not supernatural forces at work, that get people spooked in life. I am left to wonder if this is a cultural thing, this belief in possession via Ouija, would a group of witches in some other country or even region of the United States respond the same way? Witches and mediums have been using spirit boards for hundreds of years before Hollywood took over the lore around them convincing Christians and some witches alike that they are evil.
After the movie was over, I unwrapped the Ouija board and asked it a few questions. It was an exceedingly silly experience, full of laughter. No ideomotor effect was triggered. My husband and I both knew the entire time that it was the other person moving the planchette. Nothing hinky happened. No one got possessed to do anything other than watch the upcoming remake of Witchboard that should be out in 2024. If you want to see the original, its streaming on PlutoTV and Amazon Prime.