I've been making a great effort to wean myself from using the word "awesome" but the 1988 supernatural thriller SPELLBINDER sure doesn't make it easy. I first caught this one back in the day and although I remembered being impressed by its scorpion sting ending, I didn't recall much else about it. The other night I stumbled across it again in HD on our local cable provider's ON DEMAND feature and wow, what a difference a couple decades (and a non-crappy presentation) makes. Don't get too far ahead of me here, SPELLBINDER is still a B-movie, I'm not saying it's a lost classic or anything (or am I?), it just happens to accomplish everything it promises to and more. It just happens to be awesome…damn.
I can't help it! Fans of eighties late night cable will feel me. With the multiple of choices at our disposal these days it's difficult to recall just how special an entertaining, vaguely naughty trip to the dark side like this once was. SPELLBINDER may have gotten lost in the pack when originally released but as it stands today, I'd say it's a diamond in the rough that deserves much more recognition. If nothing else, SPELLBINDER is the type of flick that's built to stop A.D.D. channel surfers right in their tracks. Everything about it may suggest mediocrity but once immersed within the story, you're not going anywhere. In fact, like the devil himself, its greatest strength may be in its ability to masquerade as ordinary. The all around no frills, zero gloss approach creates an arena that allows its few moments of artsy surrealism to be that much more jarring.
The caliber of acting is a might better than what you might expect too, even those with little to do at least have a certain amount of presence. TIM DALY (STORM OF THE CENTURY) is perfectly cast as naive everyman Jeff Mills who makes the understandable lame brain mistake of trying to help someone in crisis. Leaving the gym with buddy Derek (break me off a piece of that RICK ROSSOVICH), Jeff witnesses sexy Miranda (erstwhile charmer KELLY PRESTON) getting a plate full of knuckle sandwiches from her greasy, long-haired goon of a boyfriend Aldys (maybe she locked his saxophone in the car?) This meet non-cute is followed by Jeff's inadvisable invitation for Miranda to move right in after she displays some magical orgasmic healing power. Well, greasy Aldys turns out to be just one of many who want Miranda to return to the fold as it later becomes clear that she is AWOL from a Satanic cult.
I know it doesn't sound like much but the miraculous SPELLBINDER is somehow able to incorporate karate chicks, a kooky survivalist, heads catching on fire and the fine art of removing a roasted turkey from the oven without oven mitts into the mix as well. This movie is strange but in a subtle enough way as to genuinely infiltrate your senses. Soon even the most innocuous background performers begin to give off a menacing vibe and Jeff can hardly pass a dog walker on the street without you imagining them as a potential threat. So what you have here is an erotic, "Should have thought twice about hitting that!" thriller mashed up with a paranoid, "They're all in it!" Satanic panic movie, all spruced up with a dash of the kind of supernatural reality bending horror that was so popular at the time that this was made (thanks to Monsieur Krueger.) I don't know about you but that just about covers all of my needs.
The sad news is that SPELLBINDER has never found a home on DVD (It's on the Youtubes all the time and like I said, currently on ON DEMAND.) From the unsubstantiated gossip I've scrolled through, the rumor is that PRESTON and hubby JOHN TRAVOLTA have purchased the U.S. distribution rights and would prefer that this movie never be seen. (Yes, the folks that brought you BATTLEFIELD EARTH are embarrassed by this film.) I'm not sure if it's PRESTON's minimal boobage display or the possibility that the couple would rather distance themselves from films about life destroying cults, either way I don't care. What gets (or should I say sacrifices) my goat is that PRESTON is not the only person in this movie. If she wants to bury a movie may I suggest any or every other one she's ever made with the possible exception of SPACE CAMP? Please don't send secret assassins to murder me PRESTON, but you must realize that you are keeping the world from the best AUDRA LINDLEY performance ever. How do you sleep at night? You're an adult, you must know the difference between right (allowing me my AUDRA) and wrong (listening to the guy who made MOMENT BY MOMENT.)
You heard right kiddies; MRS. ROPER fucking brings it in SPELLBINDER! MRS. ROPER is worth the tracking down of this baby alone. I'm telling you, she's phenomenal and should have been nominated for an Oscar. She barely needs to talk; everything just registers on her mug like advertising on a blimp. The woman is a genius and does more with two scenes than some actresses (cough) have done in their entire careers. (It's not rag on KELLY day, I'm just stating the facts as I see them.) Anyway, if I should disappear in the next couple days you all know why. It's O.K., I guess I'm ready to go down for my cause…FREE AUDRA NOW!…FREE AUDRA NOW!