Sunday, March 13, 2016

SPELLBINDER (1988)

Rated R
Running time: 99 min.

There was a time, during the period I was watching Spellbinder, that I thought I may be watching something that deserves a better review than the one I was thinking of writing. It was compelling, it was interesting, it was playing it straight with me. Then, like a magic spell had been cast upon my eyes, the plot unfolded and I knew I was watching the right movie.

The film stars Tim Daly (excuse me, Timothy Daly) as Jeff Mills, a young attorney who, along with his co-worker/friend, Derek (Rick Rossovich), come across a young lady being abused in public by we assume her boyfriend. Jeff tells the guy to shove off, and the man leaves with a stern warning: "You don't know what you're getting yourself into." Turns out that Jeff will be the dumbest character in the movie. We learn that the young lady's name is Miranda Reed, and she is played by Kelly Preston. Jeff is immediately smitten and since she has nowhere to go, of course he offers his place. When he gets her home, she can interpret his pets' feelings, which is sign number one of a weirdo in our midst. Jeff turns the romantic jazz music on right away, in a sign of a desperate, desperate young man. Miranda proceeds to read his palm and can tell his occupation and that he lost his parents several years ago. She can also tell that he's never been in love and isn't sure he ever will be. This is crazy bitch sign number two. Then she offers to heal him of his basketball injury by having him lay on his stomach while she straddles him topless and does some weird incantation. Crazy bitch sign number three. After all of this, Jeff says she can stay as long as she wants.

Jeff goes to work the next day, then comes home to a clean house and Miranda in one of his shirts and nothing else. This leads to a sex scene and I'm left feeling sorry for the poor bastard as he just goes deeper and deeper down crazy bitch rabbit hole. Meanwhile, we learn that Jeff and Miranda are being followed by creepy looking people with murderous intentions; the guy Miranda left, Aldys (Anthony Crivello), appears to be the ringleader and he apparently can set people on fire with a gesture.

Jeff throws a Thanksgiving party at his place, where Miranda meets Jeff's secretary Grace (Diana Bellamy). Grace is immediately suspicious of her, especially when she see Miranda pull the turkey out of the oven WITH HER BARE HANDS(!!) and doesn't get burned. Grace lets Jeff know what she saw, and he blows it off. Jeff is so dumb. At the office, Jeff meets a lady named Mrs. White (Audra Lindley, who played Mrs. Roper on Three's Company) who tells Jeff that "they want her back". Jeff, ever the lovable dumbass, tells her to take a hike. When Miranda finds out about the visit, she worriedly tells Jeff that she needs to leave because they found her. Miranda disappears for several days and Jeff goes to the police for answers. He meets Lt. Lee (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), who recognizes a symbol on a necklace that Miranda was wearing in a photograph Jeff showed him. He lets Jeff know that she is involved with a group of Satanists, and Jeff is all like "I love her anyway because I'm dumb". Lt. Lee shows him a body with the same symbol carved into the torso and JUST NOW, Jeff realizes that Miranda is different. Why, Jeff? Why didn't you have any clue when she was straddling you half-naked, chanting weird things and pulling pain out of your body?

This is where the plot unfolds and starts to get wacky. One night Miranda calls out of the blue and tells Jeff that she's in trouble. Our stupid hero runs to her rescue and Miranda explains that the cult wants her back because she is scheduled to be a sacrifice at the winter solstice. Jeff: "Winter solstice? Isn't that tomorrow?". Of course it is, Jeff. The couple decide to skip town, but not before the cult catches up with them and launch an all-out attack on the house:

"Someone's having bratwurst for dinner, guys!"
They survive the assault thanks to Miranda's crazy-bitch witchery, and Jeff decides to take her to the home of one of his clients (MC Gainey), who lives in a heavily fortified bunker. This doesn't hold the cult back, however, when Jeff shows up later and finds it destroyed and Miranda missing. Jeff goes to a house that Miranda told him about earlier in the film looking for her and finds an older couple who have a sacrificial alter in one of their rooms, and another room contains a young lady practicing karate, who attacks Jeff. Just when you think this movie was crazy, they add a karate expert. Jeff finds out where Miranda is, and this all leads to a twist ending that I did not see coming. The only thing I can offer is if guys would think more with their brains rather than their.....other brains.....there would be a lot less guys chasing after crazy chicks. I think that's the moral of this story.

This is the only feature film credit for director Janet Greek, who is known more for directing television as she has credits for Melrose Place and Babylon 5 under her belt. Maybe that's why this had a more Lifetime TV movie of the week feel to it. The screenwriter is Tracy Tormè, who is the son of singer Mel Tormè. Tracy was also the creator of the TV series Sliders and was a writer for Saturday Night Live during the 1982-83 season. This movie has some juice behind it with those names as it was also distributed by MGM in 1988, although on very limited screens.

I enjoyed how the plot went from boy-saves-girl, to boy-slowly-discovers-girl-is-different, to boy-refuses-to-ditch-different-girl to boy-had-this-coming. It really took off in the latter third of the film when the group launched their attack and Jeff was left handling karate kids in Satanic mansions. The acting was about on par with a TV movie cast, especially in the case of Kelly Preston. I could almost see her winking at the camera when she went into overly-dramatic mode, as if she was doing it intentionally to lure Jeff into her web. Tim Daly (excuse me, Timothy Daly) played it straight here, like he was the only one not in on the joke. The special effects were pretty good for this low-budget film.

Score: 3.5/5 - I strongly recommend this film. Especially as an educational film for all the single dudes out there. This could be sub-titled: Chicks To Avoid No Matter How Horny You Are.


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