When Los Angeles lawyer Jeff Mills and his friend Derek Clayton rescue a beautiful young woman from an apparently abusive boyfriend, the trouble starts. Jeff unknowing becomes involved with Miranda Reed and the web of intrigue that follows her. But as the two became lovers, Jeff learns that Miranda is on the run from the witches coven (to which she belongs). Miranda tells Jeff of her situation, but not the entire truth, and Jeff willingly helps Miranda out of her troubles, but creates his own.
It has come to my attention that 'Spellbinder' has become somewhat of a cult classic over the years, which leads to the inevitable question: Just who are these people? The film is not particularly scary, it doesn't contain much in the way of action, and it's pretty poorly acted – oh, how it's poorly acted! Its only true value may be for fans of Tim Daly, who want to see the actor in some early pre-'Wings' work, or for those who want to see Mrs. John Travolta, Kelly Preston, in a couple states of undress.
Daly stars here as a young lawyer named Jeff Mills, who – one night after a pick-up basketball game with some of his attorney friends – spots a woman (Preston) getting slapped around by what appears to be her boyfriend in a parking lot. Mills intervenes and the other guy (played by Anthony Crivello) warns Jeff that he has no idea what he's getting into. That doesn't stop Jeff from offering the woman, Miranda, a ride and a place to stay for the night.
Jeff and Miranda head back to his place where we learn two things rather quickly: one, Miranda is the type of girl who doesn't waste any time trying to make out with someone new; and two, Jeff has way more candles in his apartment than any straight, single guy his age should. Although the two don't have sex the first night, Miranda does sleep with Jeff in his bed. By the end of her second day there, the two are in a sexual relationship, and a few days later, Jeff is throwing a party at his place in part celebrating his new steady girlfriend.
Of course, Miranda is not all that she seems. She can read palms, cast spells, and give one heck of a good massage without even touching one's back. Jeff soon learns, however, that whomever Miranda is running away from, they desperately want her back. In one of my favorite WTF moments in 'Spellbinder', Aldys (who is the Anthony Crivello character that Jeff saves Miranda from) follows Jeff into his parking garage after work, levitates his small, red sports car and shatters the windows and tires. In the very next scene, Jeff goes to the police station to report Miranda missing (she's disappeared). When the police detective (played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) tells him it's the work of Satanic cultists, Jeff laughs off the idea as preposterous. Yo, dude...did you forget what just happened to you in the garage? Did that seem 'normal' to you?
All this might be entertaining if the acting here was even at 'average' levels. Daly more or less does okay with his part, but almost every other actor in the movie emotes their dialogue like they're reading it off their script for the first-time ever. Kelly Preston, in particular, is pretty awful. She's great to look at, to be sure, but her monotone line readings make you wonder why any guy would want to spend more than 15 minutes with her, let alone risk his life to save her from a crazy cult.
There's one thing I will give the screenplay (written by Tracy Tormé, who would go on to script episodes of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' and 'Sliders') credit for, and that's for the gutsy ending the movie gets, which may be why the film has obtained a bit of cult status over the years. The last five to 10 minutes of 'Spellbinder' are easily its best and give the storyline the kind of viewer engagement you wish the whole movie could have had.
'Spellbinder' certainly rises to the level of 'so bad, it's good' in terms of watchability, although I think newcomers to the movie might be surprised just how little action/horror elements it actually contains (it doesn't have much in terms of gratuitous nudity either, if that's what you're looking for – although there is a tad) and just how much of the film has its characters just standing around talking to one another. Still, I can see a group of friends getting together on a weekend and giving this one a well-deserved 'MST3K' treatment. For those reasons – and because I found the bonus materials interesting – I'm giving this one a very slight rental recommendation. Just know in advance what you're getting into.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Spellbinder' conjures up its Blu-ray debut in a standard Elite keepcase, which houses the single-layer 25GB disc, with no inserts. There are no front-loaded trailers on the Blu-ray, whose main menu consists of the box cover image, with all the menu selections (there are no sub-menus) on the right side of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
'Spellbinder' is presented on Blu-ray in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. As Blu-ray transfers go, this is more or less what I would have expected for an 80s film being released on the Kino Lorber label (I'm assuming the transfer was provided to them by MGM). Color is good throughout, and leans toward the 'warm' side of things in many shots. Sharpness and detail are okay, but not great, leading to many scenes having a soft appearance to them. Motion jitter is a problem as well, although it's really only evident during the opening and closing credits. For the most part, the image is free of any serious damage, although the occasional black or white fleck of dirt will pop up on the print every now and again. Grain is still evident in the picture, but it's unobtrusive and has been pushed to the background of most shots. Black levels are just 'okay' here – far from inky deep, but no so bad that the darker moments (of which there are a lot) don't offer some delineation for the home viewer. Overall, a solid transfer, but far from a spectacular one.
The only audio option here is an English 2.0 DTS-HD track, that more than serves the needs of a movie like this one. For a stereo track, separation is still quite noticeable, and the spoken word is clear, without any dropouts or issues with muddiness. I suppose you could say some of the ambient noises and the occasional music que is a bit louder than it should be, but I'm guessing that's intentional and reflects the original mix. While this certainly is nothing that's going to show off your home theater system, most viewers/listeners will be satisfied with this track.
'Spellbinder' is often laughably bad and not even all that scary, which may be exactly why it has built up a small cult following among some movie fans. It's classic 80s cheese and perfect for playing when you and your friends want to sit down and watch a movie just to make fun of it. For most, this is going to be little more than a curiosity, but if you're in the right mood, it's worth a rental.