Throwback Thursday Review: “Spellbinder” (1988)



Title: Spellbinder (1988)
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Posted August 25, 2016 by

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Top critic Heather Wixson (Daily Dead) recently went on the F! This Movie podcast, and talked about how she missed the good ol’ days of original content, specifically in the horror genre. With about 90% of the movies, that have come out this summer, being remakes, reboots, sequels, or based on other properties such as comic books, it is easy to sympathize with her. It is sad that movie lovers now refer to original content as “A breath of fresh air” when, in the 80s, original films were the 90% and remakes/sequels were not only fewer and further between, but more consistently good (Cronenberg’s “The Fly”, Carpenter’s “The Thing”, etc.). The good news is that the horror genre has seen an uptick in originality, in the indie scene, these last few years. Movies like “The Babadook”, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”, and “The Witch” have not only brought back the breath of fresh air that is originality, but they have shown that the horror genre can still yield great movies. Yes we still have studios pumping out things like the “Nightmare” remake, and the upcoming sequel to “The Ring”, but the tide is shifting, and soon (hopefully very soon) things likefound footage and 3D will die off. Until then, we have the movies of yesteryear, to hold us over. For better or worse, horror movies of the 80s were almost always original. They were also often ultra low-budget and cheesy as all hell, but still… originality is what we are talking about here. That brings me to my choice (thanks to a request from a friend), for this weeks Throwback Thursday review… “Spellbinder”. Part erotic thriller and part coven of witches worshiping Satan, “Spellbinder” has no shortage of originality… and it has Kelly Preston playing a seductive witch. Need I say more?

spellbinder 3Jeff (Tim Daly) is a tough luck bachelor, with a bad back and a hole in his heart, where love should be. One night, after getting his ass handed to him, on the basketball court, Jeff sees a young woman (Preston) being attacked, by a man, in a parking lot. He chases the man off, but not before he is told he will “Regret this decision, for the rest of his life”. He takes the woman, Miranda, to his home, and they quickly fall head over heels in love. Miranda is everything Jeff could want in a lover. She is beautiful, she is charming, she has strange powers that let her see the future and heal Jeff’s back. Oh… and she has a group of menacing weirdos, that are obsessed with “Getting her back”.

The honeymoon stage doesn’t last long, for Jeff and Miranda. Not only because of the coven of stalkers, who’s threats become more and more violent, but also because Jeff’s overbearing, strangely jealous secretary warns him about how “Weird” Miranda is, and tells him to be careful. After Miranda suddenly disappears, Jeff decides to investigate her past. The only problem is that, by the time he figures out what the hell is going on, it may be too late for them both.

“Spellbinder” is not a masterpiece, nor is it one of the best horror films of the 80s. It is however a good example of a horror flick that knows it’s limitations, keeps things mostly pretty straight forward, and focuses on character development and suspense, instead of jump scares and silly gimmicks like found footage. The cast are all fine, and the story never lags too much. Kelly Preston is excellent (and not hard on the eyes), and has such a strong/mysterious presence in every scene she is in that you can’t take your eyes off of her. It mostly holds up well, if you can deal with the hero of the film repeatedly and forcefully grabbing Miranda, by the arms, and yanking her around like a rag doll. That felt a tad misogynistic to me, but hey… it was the 80s, and pretty much all horror movies were misogynistic. Another flaw (albeit a funny one) is the horrible overacting by Anthony Crivello, who plays Aldys the head warlock. His facial expressions had me cracking up, and kind of took me out of the suspenseful mood of the film. Other than that, though, I enjoyed “Spellbinder”. For a low-budget, 80s horror film it was pretty darn entertaining. At least it wasn’t a remake, or a reboot, or a re-imagining, or a re-anything else. It is just a good ol’ fashion, original, thriller. Plus, like I said, …. Kelly Preston!




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