Superstition (1982)
By: Robert Winter on November 15, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Momentum Pictures (UK). All Regions, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 mono. English Subtitles. 81 minutes
The Movie
Director: James W. Roberson
Starring: James Houghton, Albert Salmi, Lynn Carlin, Larry Pennell, Stacy Keach Sr., Jacquelyn Hyde, Robert Symonds
Screenplay: Donald Thompson
Music: David Gibney
Tagline: The victims who died were the lucky ones
Country: Canada
AKA: The Witch
Whenever I get a chance to talk about guilty horror pleasures from the 80s, I always recall with fond affection this little-seen horror gem from 1982. The original Australian Video Classics Gold VHS cover displaying a woman's slashed arm draped with rosary beads and a glistening gold cross hanging from her fingers certainly did very little to alert horror fans to its creepy content. Add to this, a laissez faire attitude to marketing such a film at the time and it's little wonder it slipped under the collective horror radar presumably to never see the light of day again – until now.

Superstition opens with an adolescent couple making out in a car beside an imposing old house in the woods by a lake. But just when the pair starts getting serious, two adolescent boys play a prank on the teens that sends them speeding off terrified into the night. As the boys laugh themselves into a stupor, their jocularity turns seriously sour when one of them is decapitated and has his head exploded in a microwave oven and the other is severed in two while trying to escape via a window.

Soon after, we learn that the house is church property and over the decades a number of priestly occupants and their families have met grisly fates. Regardless, a new Reverend and his kin move into the old house and when a series of bizarre deaths occur, the local constabulary and Reverend David Thompson (James Houghton) are called in to investigate. Through the rantings of a crazy old woman who lives on the property and research at a local library, it transpires that in 1692 the witch Elondra Sharack was drowned in the lake on the property and now 200 years later her restless spirit has come back to seek revenge.

While the first ten minutes are interminably slow, the pace soon quickens and the very gory and inventive set-pieces follow at regular intervals - the nasty "accidental" death by a wayward electric saw blade has to be seen to be believed! Yet it's not just the chunk-blowing slayings that make Superstition stand out from the splatter pack of the 80s, but also the above-average cinematography, well-executed special effects and creepy atmosphere Director James Roberson manages to sustain throughout. The camera prowls and lurks in the shadows, often with the hideous cackle of the witch over the soundtrack, while the ritual and mystical elements of the narrative hold it all together like a bloody tourniquet. It also helps that the witch wisely remains as a willowy, frightening presence – a silhouette in the shadows with only her black hairy claw-like hand making a frequent devastating onscreen appearance.

Unsurprisingly, Superstition was one of the many videos to get caught up in the BBFC Video Nasty hysteria during the 80s. It was initially released uncensored by a company called VTC, but later withdrawn from sale. It was re-issued again in 1986 by Stablecane as The Witch, but it's unclear whether this edition was a re-edited, cut version.

On direct comparison with the un-tampered with Australian Video Classics Gold VHS release, this UK Momentum DVD version appears to be uncut.

There is also an uncut widescreen release by Anchor Bay in the US. It contains the trailer as a bonus feature.
Superstition is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.

For a film of this age and ilk, the transfer on offer here is very good indeed and a dramatic improvement over my old Video Classics Gold VHS. The print has an appealing film-like gloss that belies its low-budget origins, with only a thin veneer of lo-fi grain evident. Shadow detail clarity is sharp and penetrating even in the many low-lit scenes inside the house, while black levels are deep and stable.

Colours during day-lit scenes are generally vibrant, while the print exhibits an attractive blue-black tint during the many dark or night-time sequences.

The print is surprisingly very clean, showing little signs of wear or age.
The original two-channel mono mix is a disappointment. While the creepy, medieval-inspired score comes through loud and clear, often ambient noises like a creaking door or wind rustling through trees sound hollow and lacking in depth.

Fortunately audio hiss was not a problem considering I had to crank the volume right up to hear much of the dialogue, which frequently fluctuated between low muffles to ear-splitting screams.

While it's great to have the original mono mix, which is quite drab on the VHS release as well, it would have been nice to have a stereo mix to give the soundtrack and score the extra bit of oomph it needs.
Extra Features
Not one bloody witch's talon.
The Verdict
Superstition is a bloodthirsty, old-fashioned tale of witchcraft told with an old dark house sensibility and backwoods horror unease. It may not be the best of its type, but it contains enough shocks and eerie moments to still raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
Movie Score
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