Spellbinder (MGM MOD)
Directed by Janet Greek
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 99 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
Release Date: available now
Review Date: March 26, 2012
When Jeff Mills (Timothy Daly) and his best friend Derek Clayton (Rick Rossovich) see a beautiful woman named Miranda (Kelly Preston) being brutalized in a parking lot by her sleazy-looking boy friend Aldys (Anthony Crivello), they step in and break it up. Jeff is so taken with the shaken-up girl that he invites her back to his home to recuperate since it’s obvious she can’t go back home with her boy friend. Over the course of the next few days, Jeff falls hard for the beauty, but enough strange things begin happening that he begins investigating her background learning that she’s been part of a coven of witches who now seemingly want her for their annual winter solstice sacrifice. Despite all his precautions, Miranda disappears, and Jeff begins a frantic search in trying to locate her.
The script by Tracy Tormé could have used several rewrites. It makes no sense that the leading man, no matter how smitten by this knockout lass, would be so blindly oblivious to all the warning signs that he’s dealing with true satanic power and not just hoodoo. (She heals his throbbing back in a matter of seconds and not by massage but by drawing out the pain with her hands!) His loyal secretary of many years also witnesses her instantaneous healing powers and greatly mistrusts her, but he ignores someone who has always been in his corner for a girl he’s known only a few days. Of course, the film’s climactic revelations make the whole film irrelevant anyway since the witches could simply have cast a spell to get what they wanted rather than putting all of these people through weeks of misdirection and without drawing attention to themselves or their cult. Naturally, the producers don’t want us thinking too hard about the absurdity of their set-up. What they do provide, however, are a number of good chills. An early dream sequence makes us jump, and a later moment when Aldys levitates Jeff’s MG and causes some implosions and explosions is very impressive. A later scene where the cult bends in the window frames of Jeff's house is very cool indeed. The film completely falls apart during the last twenty minutes where one can see the ending coming from a mile away, but until then, despite the many lapses in logic, it’s a fairly fun thrill ride.
Timothy Daly plays it earnestly and lovingly, and one believes in his overpowering feelings for this girl. Kelly Preston, never a very convincing actress, seems very green here and offers a very mediocre performance though the camera certainly loves what it sees, and she is stunning to look at. Rick Rossovich is also a bit brittle as best friend Derek (his line readings are often quite stilted). Much more effective are the film’s strong supporting cast. Cult members Anthony Crivello as Aldys and Audra Lindley as Mrs. White are efficiently creepy and menacing. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Lt. Lee, the policeman who’s an expert in Satan worshippers, gives a realistic flavor to his concerned cop. M.C. Gainey is his usual reliable self as a good ol’ boy happy to help out Jeff in guarding Miranda. The always excellent Roderick Cook is completely wasted as Jeff’s boss.
The film has been faithfully reproduced at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and has been anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. The image is stable and artifact free throughout, and sharpness is very, very good. Details in faces during close-ups and even the grain in Jeff’s leather jacket comes though very clearly. Color is consistently maintained with bright reds making themselves especially noticeable without a problem. Flesh tones are very realistic though some may find them a bit on the brown side. Black levels are good but not great. The film has been divided into 10 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound mix is a very solid encode. The music by Basil Poledouris gets an excellent spread across the front soundstage, and the echo-y stereo effects of the cult chants are likewise impressive when they’re used. Dialogue has been well recorded and is always easily discernible. There are no audio artifacts like hiss or crackle to mar the listening experience.
The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in anamorphic widescreen and lasts 1 ½ minutes.
2.5/5 (not an average)
Spellbinder could have been a better film than it turned out to be, but a name cast does the best it can with mediocre material. This manufactured-on-demand disc looks and sounds much better than one might expect it to.