Ah, Witchcraft! Perhaps the only series of movies I have ever encountered where "the first super-porny one" and "thank God the acting is at least better this time" can be used to refer to one and the same entry. In this case, I am looking at 1993's Witchcraft V: Dance with the Devil, which finds the franchise rocketing to heights only rarely ascended by its predecessors: to my tastes, this is only the second "so bad it's good" Witchcraft movie after 1989's Witchcraft II: The Temptress, and I would propose that this is even worse than that in ways that make it an even more enjoyable watch.

It also muddies the formula that had established itself with Witchcraft III: The Kiss of Death and Witchcraft IV: The Virgin Heart, without precisely discarding it. This time around, oily lawyer/reluctant warlock Will Spanner (Marklen Kennedy, replacing Charles Solomon; his tenure in the role would not include a second appearance, and I cannot imagine any viewer thinking that's a real problem, even though he's not so viscerally off-putting as his predecessor) isn't the inadvertent detective sniffing around to find out what Satanic power is killing people in Los Angeles nightclubs; he's actually a victim, hypnotised by the forces of darkness to do their hideous will. The traditional Will Spanner role is then played by his girlfriend Keli (Carolyn Taye-Loren). And you could argue fairly easily, I think, that neither of them is the main character of a film that spends just as much of its attention on the bad guys, taking almost a full quarter of the film to set them up before Will or Keli even show up.

It appears, at first, that those bad guys will be Marta (Nicole Sassaman) and Bill (Freddy Andreiuci), who have a nifty scam going where Marta poses as a prostitute, taking johns back to the hotel room where Bill is hiding. As soon as the mark pulls out his money, Bill sneaks in from behind and knocks the guy out, after which they take everything he's got. All good, except that Bill hits a little too hard this time, and they end up with a dead body on their hands. Soon they're hauling ass through the California night, in such a panic that they accidentally run into a homeless man with their car, leaving him for dead. A moment later, a televangelist named Reverend Meredith (Lenny Rose) comes upon the accident, having just barely avoided ramming into Marta and Bill himself, and his attempts to minister to the dying vagrant end with him being jolted by an absurdly bad yellow lightning bolt visual effect that leaves the victim's body. What exactly this means for Meredith will be revealed later, though it does at least have the immediate effect of making him act uncharacteristically amorous towards his secretary (Kim Bolin) when he gets back to his car.

Marta and Bill, meanwhile, end up in a quiet spot in the country to bury the body of their first victim. Here, they come upon the campsite of a man dressed as a monk, a certain Cain (David Huffman) by name, who refers to himself with all due mystery as a "collector". Their prostitution scam goes terribly wrong: Bill smacks Cain with a log and does very little damage, with the hooded man coming too the moment that Marta and Bill start rifling through his shabby hovel for treasures. The only thing they've found by this point is a hilariously tacky-looking plastic "jeweled" "sword", and the moment he finds them playing with it, Cain casts some kind of magic spell that forces Marta to use the sword to murder Bill; while he's at it, he conscripts her in his wicked mission from Hell. Because that's what he's up to, naturally enough: harvesting souls of craven folks who made a deal with the devil for some kind of professional advancement. Once he's collected enough, Satan will be able to rise from Hell to rule the world. But gee willickers, is it ever tedious, and that's why Cain is in the market for a hypnotised warlock to help do some of the legwork.

That is, to say the least, an unnecessary convoluted first act, with two accidental murders by a pair of villains, one of whom won't live to see the 20-minute mark and one who is strictly a lackey thereafter, and a contrived way to work Meredith's possession by the Yellow Whatever into the story, when it would have changed absolutely nothing worth talking about for him to have just had it inside him all along. What we are possibly seeing here is that writers James Merendino and Steve Tymon didn't have 94 minutes worth of story, and so they just made the story they did have more complicated in order to make it take longer to set up. This is all the more impressive given that, once Will and Keli end up attending Cain's magic show and Will gets pulled under the demon's influence, Dance with the Devil ends up consisting of very little other than sex scenes, and the glue holding those scenes together. So it's not even that they didn't have 94 minutes of story; they didn't have half an hour.

And that is, incidentally, why I am content to join in with the conventional wisdom that holds that, as of Dance with the Devil, theΒ Witchcraft series has moved from sleazy thrillers with lots of grimy sex, to soft-core pornography with a warlock theme. I have thus far named three women in the cast; all three of them appear topless, in some cases multiple times (the fourth main woman, is a white witch named Anastasia, played by Ayesha Hauer - Rutger Hauer's daughter! - who does not take off any of her clothes, and also dies before getting a chance to pay off the hope I had that she'll be a good & loopy character actor on par with Leana Hall in The Kiss of Death). At one point, the film stops in it tracks for Will and Keli to go into the basement of their house to do some repair work on a leaky pipe; the rushing torrents of water raining from the ceiling naturally gets them both so hornt up that they have a minutes-long fuck right then and there, despite the water potentially being raw sewage and definitely being ice-cold. Oh, and the way that Cain calls Will up for soul-collecting duty is to send Marta to have sex with him, something that on at least one occasion she does while Keli is asleep next to them.

The almost tangible "fuck you" shamelessness with which Dance with the Devil goes all-in on smut is, honestly, part of what makes it more fun to watch than at least its two immediate predecessors. Setting aside the smut itself, even. My general feeling is that any movie series that starts out with a baseline as crummy as the Witchcraft pictures can only improve when its creators hit the "oh, whatever" stage, and while this isn't exactly the kind of bonkers lunacy that I would typically hope to find in the fifth film of a terrible ongoing franchise, it doesn't take much to have some excess of vitality by Witchcraft standards. Te hchance to stage sex scenes rather than the series' usual grind of ominous warlocky moping-about seems to have given first-time director Talun Hsu a certain joy in his work, with the action generally proceeding with more lightness than ever before, literally and tonally. This is easily the fastest-moving Witchcraft, in part because the plot keeps changing its mind about what the hell it's going to be about in the opening half-hour, so by the time the momentum has an opportunity to die, there's really not even that much movie left to cope with. And even though Marklen Kennedy is doing nothing I find worthy of note, he's at least not such sluggish bad company as Solomon was.

More to the point, Dance with the Devil has an absolutely delectable scenery-chewing monster in the form of Huffman's Cain. I don't have the slightest idea if the actor was deliberately throwing away the movie for a laugh, or if he's just terrible, and the results are the same either way. He's a wonderful over-the-top hammy bad guy, murkily slurring his way through his menacing dialogue in a weird accent, when he's not screeching vague Satanic threats in a different, but related weird accent. In his first scene, he darkly intones "I have to get some more coffee", which is already a wonderful line to give to your ancient demon from hell, but made even better by Huffman's enunciation, which is something like "Ehy have to get some. More. KARF-ee". Individually wonderful bad movie performances have been a somewhat consistent feature of the Witchcrafts, but in Huffman, Dance with the Devil has easily the most delightfully campy spot of excess that any of these movies have yet boasted; coupled with its absolutely careless lack of anything like taste or decency, this is maybe the least painful Witchcraft yet. And even at my relatively enthusiastic, yes, that is the most praise I feel comfortable bestowing on it.

Reviews in this series
Witchcraft (Spera, 1988)
Witchcraft II: The Temptress (Woods, 1989)
Witchcraft III: The Kiss of Death ("Tillmans" [Feldman], 1991)
Witchcraft IV: The Virgin Heart (Merendino, 1992)
Witchcraft V: Dance with the Devil (Hsu, 1993)