I remember watching “Witchboard” on a VHS tape I rented from Suisun City’s Popcorn Video in the late 1980s and being excited, as it was set in Fairfield.
Kevin S. Tenney, a 1973 graduate of Fairfield High, wrote and directed the 1986 film and it holds up nearly 30 years later because of the story and the acting. Many horror flicks featured (then) no-name actors as “Witchboard” did, but cast members in Tenney-directed films didn’t stay no-names.
Tenney wrote “Witchboard,” his first screenplay, in his first year at the University of Southern California. He followed the adage of “writing what you know.”
“I had worked at a construction site in Fairfield and in L.A. I started dating a pre-law student and that’s why the character Jim is a construction worker and his girlfriend Linda is a law student,” Tenney said. “I had lived in a Victorian home in Alameda that had been converted into apartments and so in ‘Witchboard’ they live in a Victorian home that had been converted into apartments.”
Tenney cut his cinematic teeth making action movies with his Super 8 camera, often with dangerous stunts, around Fairfield.
“Looking back, we were very lucky no one was horribly injured or killed. When I do car chases now, working professionally, you cordon off streets and you have police barricades. Back then, we would just go to downtown Fairfield on a Sunday morning when there wasn’t much traffic and race up and down the streets,” Tenney said. “I would film it and hope we didn’t hit anything.”
“Once I wanted to blow up a car for one of my Super 8 films and I called the Fairfield Police Department and asked to talk to the bomb squad,” Tenney said. “I was told they just had one guy who was kind of the bomb expert and he told me the safest way to blow up a car. That’s why the Fairfield homicide cop in ‘Witchboard’ says he is also the truancy department and the bomb squad. I can’t imagine now that they would tell somebody over the phone how to make a bomb!”
Before his professional movies made his actors famous, Tenney spread the love locally.
“I showed one of my films called ‘Devero’ in a film class at Solano Community College and my brother Dennis played a spy and Jim Quinn played Dr. Sing, the villain,” Tenney said. “About a week later, Jim and Dennis went to a movie at, I think, the Americana and the manager came out, stopped them and said, ‘Hey, you’re Devero and you’re Dr. Sing!’ Turns out he was taking the same film class and had seen the movie. They were shocked that they had been recognized. One of my actresses also got noticed at a bank.”
Tenney’s third film, “Witchtrap,” was filmed in Fairfield locations. He also had the opportunity to shoot locally a few years ago.
“About seven years ago we did a film called ‘Brain Dead’ and we couldn’t find a decent river in L.A. so for a few days we shot at Putah Creek,” Tenney said. “Dennis was scouting locations and there was a woman who was the head ranger who really was not interested in letting us do it. But it turned out she out was a huge ‘Witchboard’ fan and when she discovered who I was, she gave us pretty much anything we needed.”
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Witchboard” and “Night of the Demons” are available on Blu-ray: www.shoutfactory.com/catalog/search?uc_search_word=Tenney.