On a recent communal viewing of 80s shlocker Witchboard, it’s not so much that I knew an awful lot of miscellany on the life of leading lady and Whitesnake-divorcee Tawny Kitaen, it’s that I assumed everyone else in our movie group would know it too. The film is ostensibly about a Ouija board used by college professor Brandon for his class (um, why?) that subsequently finds its way into demonic possession. Brandon (played by Stephen Nichols from “Days of our Lives”) is friends with student Linda (Kitaen) and her jerky blue collar boyfriend Jim (Todd Allen). The couple live in an implausibly fabulous house (used in a couple favorites of mine from 1988: Waxwork and Elvira: Mistress of the Dark) and bicker, because Jim is an abusive jerk.
There appears to be some kind of bromance-gone-wrong angle between Brandon and Jim, who’d previously been childhood friends; Linda is caught in the middle of their difficulties – while, almost forgot to mention, she encounters an evil spirit that starts murdering people with a variety of blades and blunt force trauma. The demon’s name is Malfeitor (played by J.P. Luebsen in practically his only role), and he’s pretty damned scary, even by today’s jaded standards.
Although Jim and Brandon’s friendship-gone-awry is pretty good subtext, it is Kitaen’s Linda who carries the proceedings with her charisma and beauty, and some acting (a little). She does most of her own stunts, including a knock-down drag-out fight with Jim in the film’s finale; more impressive still at one point, fully naked, she scrambles out of a broken shower door!
But this is all icing on the cake. Because what Witchboard is really about, is Tawny’s many choice outfits.
At first I thought I’d order this list in order of best ensemble o least-best (there is no “worst”, here), but I figured that this might confuse the audience in terms of plot development – so I’m just going to go in chronological order.
Tawny starts it off bold with an Edwardian-styled tea-length peasant frock in a mini-polka dot challis, with split sleeves and a cameo brooch – paired with a Gibson girl updo and white pumps. It’s like: she’s setting off her amazing head of hair with one of those “effortless” styles you envy in other women. You know you’re going to see her hair down and fabulous, maybe flipping it around even a bit. But for now, she’s hosting a party with Jim (who gets drunk and acts rude to his guests) and keeping it super elegant.
What would Witchboard be without Tawny in the nude or near-nude? Our first glimpse of our lady in her unmentionables: a gorgeous lace-embellished cami and tap-pants ensemble. I thought, OK, that’s fine – I’ll be seeing this set several times in the film. But oh no. She is not repeating outfits, even bedtime ones, for the 98-minute runtime!
Next: the jewel tone vertical stripe shift dress with button side placket and taffeta hair bow in lavender, paired with pale pink cut-out heels. Keep in mind, this is apparently her, “just hanging around the house chillin’ & messing with ZoZo the Demon” outfit. I didn’t even dress up this much for my own wedding.
Another nightie – a lace maxi in champagne with belt tie and deep u-cut back. Listen. I sleep in a t-shirt and huge men’s baggy PJ pants. I am seriously considering upping my game.
Time for a funeral – so we gotta make it look good! Our lady is somber and sweet in a black trilby, slouchy blazer and skirt set in charcoal pinstripe, and gold disc earrings shown off with a side part.
At this point in the film, the action is heating up and Ms. Kitaen is having a pretty stressful week. She soothes her frazzled nerves in a full-length satin robe with blouson sleeves in peach, paired with pompadour pony (this is way before they were trendy, Millennials!) and a matching hair tie. Additionally, this is one scene in at least a half a dozen where Jim, the lout, “sneaks up” on someone to scare them. He does this even after the murders start, by the way. He is a dumpster fire.
Time for a dream sequence: a Grecian-style organza peignoir in a pretty soft maize colorway. I am almost in #ICantEven territory at this point!
Apparently the peach satin robe is for nighttime-only, because in daylight hours Tawny chills in a casual Japanese-inspired cotton shortie over a simple white tank top and – this is the kicker – tomato red nails. Tawny takes care of her nails gorgeously throughout the proceedings, ghoulish possessions be damned! However it must also be admitted that at one point she sticks her finger down a gross drainpipe. This is probably the nastiest part of the film, and I’m including the skulls getting cloven in twain!
Curiously, Tawny moves to royal blue for the next two pieces in the film. We only get a glimpse of this drop-sleeve oversize blouse – paired with white hi-cut briefs, both wholesome and sexy at the same time – as she’s in general being thrown around by a demon possession. Lights out!
Another brief glimpse: a blue buffalo plaid, for checkout from the hospital after she wakes up (which as it turns out, was a pretty ill-advised move). Now, here’s where I was a bit confused. Linda couldn’t have packed this garment herself, as she was transported while unconscious. This means Jim probably packed it for her. This might be the only worthwhile thing this dude did the whole film!
Our penultimate ensemble: fully possessed by Malfeitor, Linda butches up. She’s wearing the same trilby and blazer from the funeral (the hat gets knocked off in the fight), coupled with a menswear shirt, grey bias-stripe tie, and coral lipstick. Yes, this look will straight up make you gay because she is foxy AF!
After throwing Jim out the window like he deserves, we get our final ensemble: a wedding dress and veil. Tons of lace, pretty standard boilerplate for the 80s. Tawny looks perfectly lovely here, but it’s all a bit of a let-down after the fashion-forward pieces we’ve been treated to.
Still, I think what we can agree that costume designer Merril Greene went above and beyond on this film. Honorable mention to Tawny’s nails, which are in evidence often (as we might suspect in a film about a haunted Ouija board)…
and the over-the-top ensemble of doomed medium Zarabeth as played by Kathleen Wilhoite (an actress endeared to me as Carrie Ann from Roadhouse). You could write an article alone on Zarabeth’s ensemble, which includes a jean jacket with extensive button and sequin applique and knotted, beaded fringe, along with trainers and lime-green lace leggings.