DTV Heaven: Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost (text review)

Perhaps this is a strange trait to have, but I actually still enjoy Scooby Doo. Yeah, its simple and cheesy for the most part, but it was a fun kind of mystery series that was a solid show for children. I’m apparently not the only one who likes the franchise, as Hanna Barbera has repeatedly released and rebooted the franchise, with the newest production of Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated. However, in the early 2000’s, the first of what would be a series of direct-to-DVD movies was released. They eventually became tired and boring, but the first few movies actually managed to be an attempt to bring the franchise into the modern age. It may not have succeeded fantastically, but they warrant a watch even now for the things they do get right.

I will be doing these two movies out of order, because as you would do with a top 10 list, you save the best for last. These are both good, but the other one is much better. And so, Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost.

We start out this movie in a museum. Being Scooby Doo, this is no surprise. What is a surprise is the theme song, performed this time by Billy Ray Cyrus. You know, Miley Cyrus’s dad/agent. Yes, at one time, he actually was a singer himself. Shocking, I know. What isn’t shocking is that this is probably the worst thing in the movie.

The gang is here to take care of a pair of guys in mummy suits, themselves disguised as exhibits. Following the example of Zombie Island, this first encounter is actually kind of threatening, with the villains wielding real weaponry. After a chase scene (with the characters mostly dressed as they were in Zombie Island), the crew is saved by the timely intervention of a new character’s foot. This is Ben Ravencroft, played by Tim Curry. And I’m sure that means nothing about whether or not he is a villain himself…

Anyway, after pointing out that he knows of the gang’s exploits, and invites them to come back to his hometown, showing that he knows perhaps a bit too much about the team. Velma plays the fangirl this time around, as if the writers were desperate to say “No, really, she’s totally straight.”

Upon arrival at Oakhaven, they come across a massive influx of tourists. Initially, Ben thinks they might be leafers (yes, apparently they are a real thing), but soon finds out there is some kind of ghost in town, and, it’s the ghost of Ben’s ancestor. A witch’s ghost, in fact. They also have a Puritan Village attraction, which I have to say is actually kinda cool, but irrelevant. It is then revealed that Sarah Ravencroft was a “medicine woman” who was persecuted unjustly as a witch. Ben also mentions a journal that Sarah supposedly kept, but was never found. Soon after, Scooby and Shaggy find an old buckle. Ben wonders if they found the book during excavation, but they didn’t. The mayor comes off quite slimy, which works well for setting him up as the villain.

It’s rare that I enjoy jokes that simply provide a good feeling instead of an actual laugh, but that’s usually what happens with Scooby Doo. Ben shows some of the gang his house while Scooby and Shaggy do what stoners do best: eat everything in town. Ben tells us more of the history of Sarah Ravencroft, revealing that she was a Wiccan.

Wait, what? Whoa, really? Yes, in a rather strange move, Hanna Barbera actually made a movie that portrayed Wiccans (or, more accurate to the time period, Pagans) in a sympathetic light. While it does say that Wiccans are not witches and that being Wiccan is hereditary, those are the only real points of contention that I have with the portrayal, and they aren’t big mistakes. I’ve studied quite a bit about alternative religions, and this movie came out at about the time I started those studies, so it’s held a special place in my heart for that. It helps that it’s a solid movie, as well. By the by, this movie seemed to have vanished from Cartoon Network for about a year or so, not being part of the usual rotation of cartoon movies they would often show, but it did eventually come back on the air. Zombie Island never left, but I’ll get into the possible reasons for that in the review of that movie.

Ben continues, saying that Sarah used to do her healing rituals under a large oak tree, and that the journal may be somewhere near there. The writers continue to show their work, for what its worth, but eventually the exposition ends and we rejoin Scooby and Shaggy via solid segway. They are frightening the town and the restaurant owner with their overeating. Also, they appear to actually have eaten all the food in the place, as the owner goes out to the market. Tourists show up to see the ghost, but it doesn’t show, so they head off. Shaggy and Scooby walk down the street and, as per Scooby Doo conventions, they are found by… wait, not the ghost? Oh, wait, scary goth girls. These are the Hex Girls, and we’ll see them again soon enough. The ghost shows up and starts throwing fireballs at the pair as they run right into the other members of the group. The gang investigates the street, easily figuring out that the ghost is most likely not real. They continue the investigation, but run back into the Hex Girls. Who are surprisingly AWESOME. Who voiced these three for the songs again? Oh, the actual voice actresses did the songs too. Jennifer Hale is Thorn, Jane Wiedlin is Dusk, and Kimberly Brooks is Luna, and they can actually sing. Huzzah!

Yes, kids, apparently goth chicks can succeed. Kinda.  It appears that the three might well be the most popular recurring guest characters in the franchise, as they have appeared in two of the Direct to Video movies, two episodes of the What’s New, Scooby Doo series, and just recently, an episode of the new Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated series, which is looking to be possibly the best series they’ve had since the original in ’69.  Interestingly, they never mention where they met the three.

In any case, after the introduction to the three as “Eco-Goths” (oh, come on, you really couldn’t just say they were non-hereditary Wiccans? You could have bought at least a B grade for your research that way.), the group splits up, with Fred and Daphne together watching the Hex Girls while the rest of the group investigates the road again. Going against formula, they actually point out the obvious attraction between Fred and Daphne, but Fred doesn’t have the stones to actually confess. The group splits again when the Mayor appears at the end of some suspicious tire tracks. The mayor is not a blithering idiot, however, and actually can tell Scooby and Shaggy are following him. The Hex Girls, on the other hand, mention a ritual, but they also play up the “goth” angle a bit too much in my humble opinion. Honestly, it is nice that later appearances mostly just keep the goth thing as an appearance rather than an attitude. A little is fine, but this much is a bit obnoxious.

Scooby, Shaggy, Velma, and Ben manage to find the necessary evidence to piece together the truth of this mystery, and Daphne and Fred see Thorn mixing a potion in her shed by candle light. Yeah, I was right about her being a Wiccan. There’s a bit more to it though, but back to Scooby and Shaggy, caught by the ghost in a shed. After tracking the mayor there, of course.

After a glasses joke between Ben and Velma that’s actually kinda cute, the trio compiles their apparently contrasting evidence. Velma has the answer though, and a plan for the climax of the movie. Wait, we’re only half way through the film, how is it time for a climax already. Anyway, the Hex Girls are recruited to back up the gang, as the ghost reappears to fling more fire. A chase ensues, but it’s a ruse for a simple trap to grab the ghost. As it turns out, the ghost is actually Thorn’s dad, the pharmacist. Also, Thorn’s name is Sally, which is also awesome, but I don’t know why. Velma then lays out the answer: It was a ruse by the entire town to drum up tourism. I can’t say I’m shocked, and to be fair, it is by far the most benign reason ever for why someone dressed in a monster costume in a Scooby Doo mystery. I actually really like this ending, though, it does leave some questions unanswered, like what about that ritual that Thorn was doing, or what about Sarah’s Journal, or…

Oh, wait, the movie isn’t over yet. Ben is justly peeved by the town’s actions, and the Hex Girls explain that the ritual was a mixture of peppermint oil and cloves to soothe the throat. And yes, the movie does basically admit that the band is made up of Wiccans, though only one is a hereditary Wiccan. And the fangs are fake, of course. Anyway, the mayor and pharmacist show up to apologize for their actions, and explain that they accidentally found Sarah’s grave marker while digging the puritan village. No book, of course. Velma figures out that the buckle from earlier is actually the clasp for Sarah’s book. Scooby digs it up, which leads to a really solid twist. Daphne states the obvious, as is her usual role, and Ben reveals that the book is, in fact, the Necronomicon.

Okay, no, but basically similar. It’s an evil spellbook, for an evil witch. So, uh, yeah, Tim Curry’s a bad guy. Wow, what a shock.

“And since Sarah’s blood runs in my veins, I guess that makes me, a warlock.” Uh, that’s gonna drop your grade to a C- for research guys. It’s not entirely inaccurate, as he is a person who is using magic for evil, but warlock is more a term for traitor, not male witch. The term witch, despite common conventions, is actually non-gendered.

Ben points out his dastardly plan, going so far as to actually orchestrate the museum mystery from the beginning of the story. This is actually kinda cool, a villain who manipulates the Mystery Inc. gang into doing his dirty work for him. That, to my knowledge, hasn’t happened before.

“You’ve been reading too many of your own horror stories, Ravencroft.” “A typical mortal response.” Holy crap, this is about to get awesome. So, Tim Curry goes batcrap crazy and unleashes the trapped soul of his long dead ancestor to terrorize the fake Puritan village. Oh, cute, he tied the Wiccans to a pole… yeah, that’s not inappropriate at all. Yeah, Ben Ravencroft basically walks all over them until he summons her, even beating them when they have a van to try running him over with. Oh, wait, they swerve to avoid hitting him. Okay, really, there was no way you could have jumped him during his speech earlier? All well, the real Witch’s ghost shows up, voiced by…I think Mom from Futurama. Huzzah! And, as usual, Ben fails to comprehend that categorically evil individuals don’t have a sense of loyalty. Good move there, dumbass. So, he turns against her, and fails to realize that he can’t banish her himself. And thus, with the power of a whole box of Scooby Snax and Freddy’s terrible jokes, the team manages to retrieve the book and get it to Thorn, the hereditary Wiccan. She uses the spell conveniently located in the book to banish the witch back to the book. Really, why would she write that in there? Or, maybe the Wiccans who banished her left it in case of idiot. Of course, the world does lose a great horror author, as he is dragged into the book, which then burns. Also, for some reason the turkey she magic’d into jumbo size stayed that way, so despite losing the puritan village, the autumn festival is saved, thanks to the Hex Girls, and some meddling kids with a dog. Oh, and it turns out there is actually another Hex Girls singing trio, Terry Wood, Angie Jaree, and Gigi Worth, who sing another song during the credits. Not a bad song there, either. Not great, but not bad.

This is actually an enjoyable, exciting movie, with both the standard obvious Scooby Doo mystery and the good twist ending. It features solid action all around, and shows that at least the writers did some research on Wicca before talking about it. Ironic perhaps that something which portrays Pagans in a good light would go to DTV Heaven while a Christian evangelism movie would end up in DTV Hell, but hey, its about quality, not religious affiliation. But, this is really not the best of the Scooby Doo movies, so join me next time when we look into what I would call a truly great movie: Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.

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