The true sign of how little the people who made Witchcraft 7: Judgement Hour cared about it is not that it has the typo "Judgement" right there on the cover of its VHS box. The truest sign is that it does this while also spelling it correctly in the onscreen title, Witchcraft VII: Judgment Hour. And that's without even giving them shit about the VII/7 thing.

In fact, by the time we get to the film's title, we've already seen another sign of just how artistically desolate Judg[e]ment Hour is going to be, even for a Witchcraft film, since by that point we've seen just what, exactly they're doing to the opening credits. They have been typed out in Copperplate Gothic, which is already a cheesy and trite choice; the on top of this, the text has been filled in with a gradient color effect that puts scratchy dark orange horizontal streaks across a light orange background. And in case this wasn't tacky enough, the text is subjected to a swirling, spiraling effect, part of the grand 1990s tradition of going overboard with godawful, tasteless video effects anyplace they could possibly fit. Plus, when the Witchcraft VII logo appears, it "whooshes" in with an electronic swishing noise whose name I do not know, but I've certainly heard it before, and I am quite sure you have as well, so it must have been part of a stock audio effects package.

So literally before one single frame of footage had glumly shuffled in front of my eyeballs, I was already getting a strong "worst in the series so far" vibe from Judgement Hour, and there wasn't really a single thing about it that ever threatened that knee-jerk assessment. It does, perhaps to its credit, have by far the most sex scenes of any Witchcraft up to that point, and I suppose an unendurably boring paranormal mystery bogged down in dismal writing and hacky acting with lots of nudity is inherently worth more than an unendurably boring paranormal mystery bogged down in dismal writing and hacky acting where everybody always leaves their clothes on. But they are also bad sex scenes, on top of it.

And we don't have to wait very long to learn that, either - literally the very first thing that happens in Judgement Hour is an especially shameless and gross sex scene. At some cool L.A. party that we don't get to see - extras cost money! - a young woman named Rachel (Ashlie Rhey) wanders into a secluded room with a moon-faced gentleman with otherworldly blond hair, whose name we'll eventually learn is Martin (Loren Schmalle); his last name is Hasa or Haasa or something like that, and it feels appropriate to refer to him that way, but the end credits of the film chummily assume we're all on a first-name basis and never spell it. So "Martin" it is. Now, Martin is a vampire, as we'll see in a few minutes when he unleashes his preposterously bad-looking fangs, but Judgement Hour is also porn, so before he exsanguinates Rachel, they are going to have kinky sex, as the most bluntly generic "porn sax" style music warbles on in the background. The particular kink is that Martin takes the milk-based cocktail Rachel was drinking, and uses the straw she was drinking it with to dribble bits of milk on her nipples. This happens several times. Oh, and just so we all know where we are with Witchcraft 7: Judgement Hour: the first nipple appears on-screen at three minutes and thirteen seconds; the first pubic hair shows up about 30 seconds later. Anyway, once Martin has gotten Rachel all good and lacquered up with sugary milk, they start rutting; he is momentarily turned off by her crucifix, but she pulls it off without having even noticed his aghast reaction and they get back at it. Later (far too much later, but of course the sex is the point and not so much narrative efficiency), as he drinks the blood from her neck, we see a corn snake coiling its way through the necklace, in what I'm sure director Michael Paul Girard and screenwriter Peter E. Fleming thought was a very good symbol.

It's an inauspicious, grotty beginning for a film that deserves no better. Once it gets going, Judgement Hour - a title that has not the vaguest connection to anything in the story - finds lawyer and ex-warlock Will Spanner (David Byrnes, whose noncommittal and whiny performance - probably not our worst Will to date, though surely our twerpiest - never made me stop wishing I could have seen what his almost-namesake might have gotten out of this) realising that something horribly wrong is up with Rachel's undead corpse, and deciding the only way to do anything about this is to call in the detectives he worked with in Witchcraft 666: The Devil's Mistress, Lutz (Alisa Christensen) and Garner (John Cragen). We've already seen the good detectives watching a woman take an erotic shower as they stakeout her apartment, assuming her escaped convict boyfriend will show up; he does and immediately sets to having sex with her - two sex scenes and a shower scene by the 15-minute mark! How very giving Judgement Hour is! - which quickly involves them using as a sex toy one of those detachable blue spinning lights that they have on the dashboard of an unmarked police car. My hand to God. At one point the guy (Jack van Landingham) holds it over his crotch; at another, the girl (Kimberly Blair) rubs it on her thighs. Later they turn off all the lights except for this one, and the strobing illuminates their naked bodies, all in ice-cold blue light. It turns out that porn with weirdly ambitious gaffing is much more irritating than porn that just lights for even exposure.

Anyway, Lutz and Garner are about more than just leering at naked people and swapping humorlessly vulgar banter at each other. As you perhaps recall - why you might, I can't say, but perhaps you do - neither of these characters were played by the same actors in The Devil's Mistress, and Lutz in particular was played at that point by a man. Changing the character to a woman with strawberry blonde hair gives away the entire game and tells us pretty much everything we need to know about Judgement Hour's plot: this is unmistakably an X-Files rip-off, which was surely inevitable for a mid-1990s direct-to-video franchise about a warlock who solves crimes in Los Angeles. And once it becomes clear that this is just going to be a vampire-based episode of The X-Files, only with lots of sex scenes added in (though not, as such, a pornographic version of The X-Files, given that Lutz and Garner never have sex, which is what I think that phrase would imply. Indeed, Christensen never takes her top off, which is quite an unusual distinction for the women in this film's cast), it becomes much easier to parse the film's very empty screenplay. Will-the-believer wants to go on a vampire hunt, Lutz-and-Garner-the-skeptics just want to solve a murder case, and there are still plenty of ladies in Los Angeles who just can't wait to take off their restrictive, uncomfortable bras, including Will's girlfriend Keli (April Breneman). At one point, Keli misunderstands Will as having just come back from sleeping with a woman, and he does everything he possibly can to irritably encourage this misapprehension. Eventually, she figures out he didn't screw this woman, he murdered her by plunging a wooden stake into her heart, and this relieves her so much that she has sex with him right there. This sex, I am unreasonably ecstatic to report, at one point involves the camera tracking behind a sheer curtain gently waving in the wind.

Eventually Lutz and Garner get up to speed, and after like 50 uninterrupted minutes of dithering and fucking, the three main characters -  I cannot and will not dignify them with the word "protagonists", let alone the word "heroes" - traipse off find Martin, who is, it turns out, a businessman running a medical supply company trying to broker a deal with an insurance company that will streamline his access to blood banks. I don't really follow how this was suppose to work, but sure. Somewhere in there, he makes Keli his half-vampiric slave.

The top of the original VHS box declare this "The Final Chapter", and sure enough, it tries to be. I cannot say how or why, but it does definitely seem to be pretty final. Okay, so Will and Martin stab each other simultaneously, and Will dies right on the spot. Absolutely nobody has a response to this. Martin struggles along long enough to be betrayed by Keli, and then he gets warped into Hell by a simply unforgivable spinning video effect, tying the film back into the godawful opening credits. Lutz and Garner just seem vaguely uncomfortable and bored throughout.

Of course, we know it isn't the final anything - we aren't even halfway through this longest-running horror franchise in history - but I'm glad they feinted in that direction. Because it damn sure should have been. The Witchcraft films prior to this point haven't been bursting with cinematic verve or even meaningfully competent professional talent, but every one of them has had something. Even if it was just a single exceptionally hammy performance that brought a few of the scenes up the level of kitsch. Judgement Hour is a completely empty experience, useful as nothing other than a delivery system for naked boobs, and that's compromised by how scuzzy and malformed the sex scenes are (plus the assorted other topless shots, including one where the ER doctors attending to Rachel obligingly pull the sheet covering her body down to her navel. Later, after she has been pronounced dead, Garner gives a good long leer at her). As filmmaking - why even bother talking about it? But it is astonishingly bad. One conversation between Will and the detectives cuts between three horribly uncomfortable close-up shots, where all three characters are framed  from the middle of their forehead down to somewhere slightly above their chin. They are discussing what kind of snakes in the area might have made the bite they found on Rachel's neck, for a really horribly long and pointless couple of minutes.

That's certainly not the worst of the film's dialogue-writing, either, which includes not just clumsy walls of exposition, but also the hokiest, worst humor: several jokes about lawyers, a clumsy set-up to a "severance" pun when Martin cuts the head off one of his lackeys with a katana. Since, being a nasty '90s businessman, obviously he owns a katana. The acting is almost uniformly hapless - "almost", because Christensen is tolerably close to good; she brays her lines rather than speaking them, but that's not the worst thing that happens to Fleming's chunky dialogue, and she certainly understands how to position her body in front of a camera, a skill she likely picked up in her years as a stunt actor for honest-to-God real movies and TV shows, both before and after this. And "standing in front of a camera" might not seem like a major talent, but not everybody here can manage it. But to be clear, my absolute most full-throated praise is "the stuntwoman turned actor can't deliver dialogue, but she has actual screen presence", and that is about as desperately low as I know how to set a bar. I have very little doubt that the Witchcraft films will manage to scrape below the subterranean standards Judgement Day sets for the franchise, probably quite far below them in fact, but there's just so little here that I cannot help but declare that yes, we've finally hit the bottom rung of the rating scale, and we shall no doubt be wallowing here for quite some time.

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)
Witchcraft 666: The Devil's Mistress (Davis, 1994)
Witchcraft 7: Judgement Hour (Girard, 1995)
Witchcraft VIII: Salem's Ghost (Barmettler, 1996)
Witchcraft IX: Bitter Flesh (Girard, 1997)