Wicked Stepmother – USA, 1988

‘Which witch is which?’

Wicked Stepmother is a 1988 comedy horror feature film written, produced and directed by Larry Cohen. The Larco Productions-MGM production stars Bette Davis, Barbara Carrera, Colleen Camp, Lionel Stander and David Rasche.

According to actress Colleen Camp, when Bette Davis walked off production several days into shooting, filmmakers reportedly considered recasting role with either Lucille Ball or Bea Arthur, before deciding on a bizarre rewrite in which Davis’ cat morphs into a seductress played by Barbara Carrera. Hence, Bette Davis only appears in the film for roughly eleven minutes.

Plot:

Steve (David Rasche) and Jenny Fisher (Colleen Camp) are deeply dismayed when they return from a vacation to find that in their absence Jenny’s father Sam (Lionel Stander) has married the ageing Miranda (Bettie Davis) and installed her in their home.

Unfortunately, Miranda has been reorganising their house, treating it like her own place and filling the fridge with meat even though they are vegetarians.

Next, Miranda’s ‘daughter’ Priscilla arrives unexpectedly, weaving a seductive spell around the household. Jenny comes to realise that Miranda is a witch and that she and Priscilla are one and the same…

Reviews:

” …this is essentially a sit-com, adopting some of the tone of TV’s Bewitched, with magic used for jokey ends […] Carrera enjoys herself in an unpromising role and there are funny turns from Moll as a clumsy private eye, Keyes as a witch who teaches an evening course and Landon as a dippy TV game-show hostess.” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

“This is… well, it’s weird. You can tell the movie fell apart when Davis left days into filming for a dentist visit and never came back. Her ADR was all done by Michael Greer (Thorn from Messiah of Evil!), who was an accomplished female impersonator. What a strange film!” B&S About Movies

” …an excuse for some meaningless effects poorly done. The only funny scene is a police lineup of old-lady types, but after that it’s a misfire.” John Stanley, Creature Features

“The special effects are often terrible – simple jump cuts. There are some intentional laughs (nice dig at Joan Crawford), but also some unintended ones. Mostly, though, you feel sorry for Bette, visibly ailing from cancer.” Down Among the “Z’ Movies

“Despite being a little patchy Wicked Stepmother is a lot of fun, it’s by no means a masterpiece but if you’re in the mood for a goofy 80s comedy with lots of special effects this one definitely fits the bill.” Keenan Marr Tamblyn, Film Trap

” …though it’s awful save for some moments of unintended comedy, there’s enough of those to keep one mildly interested, from an animatronic cat smoking cigarettes and a cannily employed Joan Crawford photo to the sound of Camp uttering the staggeringly idiotic line, “I’ve never talked dirty in Babylonian before.” Lessons in Darkness

“The cast aside from Bette is successful in carrying off the film’s exaggerated, cheesy type of comedy. Standouts are Tom Bosley, Colleen Camp (with her appropriate last name) and Barbara Carrera. If you’re into silly films, you’ll probably side with me in thinking that this is a pretty good piece of ’80s camp.” The Motion Pictures

“There are occasionally Cohen-esque moments here – like the police station line-up of old ladies brought in in an effort to i.d. the witch – but Wicked Stepmother has an infuriating insipidity when placed up against Larry Cohen’s other work.” Richard Scheib, Moria

“Occasional moments of a cleverer movie creep to the surface […] A scene with Seymour Cassel as the owner of a paranormal bookstore is nicely underplayed and charming. And Evelyn Keyes delivers a fun cameo as the owner of a witchcraft school. But the dreck far outweighs anything good… Matt Wedge, Obsessive Movie Nerd

” …a good-natured, occasionally hilarious spookshow, graced with a few ingenious special effects and sassily acted–with Davis giving a gleefully nasty, if abbreviated, last film performance.” TV Guide

Cast and characters:

  • Bette Davis … Miranda Pierpoint – The Watcher in the Woods; The Dark Secret of Harvest Home TV mini-series; Burnt Offerings; Scream Pretty Peggy; The Nanny; Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte 
  • Barbara Carrera … Priscilla – Embryo
  • Colleen Camp … Jenny Fisher
  • Lionel Stander … Sam
  • David Rasche … Steve Fisher
  • Shawn Donahue … Mike
  • Tom Bosley … Lt. MacIntosh
  • Richard Moll … Nathan Pringle
  • Evelyn Keyes … Witch Instructor
  • James Dixon … Detective Flynn
  • Seymour Cassel … Feldshine, Magick Shop Owner
  • Susie Garrett … Mandy
  • Laurene Landon … Vanilla – Maniac Cop
  • Bob Goen … Game Show Host
  • Robert Frank Telfer … Game Show Producer
  • Richard Duggan … Page
  • Ernest Harada … Nukomoto
  • Ed Vandell … Police Chief
  • Maxine Elliott Hicks … Mathilda (as Maxine Elliott)
  • Helen Shaw … Sadie
  • Eve Smith … Mamie

Filming locations:

Jersey City, New Jersey

Technical credits:

90 minutes | 1.85: 1 | Stereo

Release:

Released in the USA on 3 February 1989.

More comedy horror

Related:

Full Moon High – USA, 1981

Bewitched: A Bewitching Comedy TV Series – article

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