Saturday, April 16, 2011

They're All Gonna Laugh At You (Until You Kill Them)

There is a great horror film about a chubby teenage girl waiting to be made.
The Spell is not it.
This isn’t too much of a shame. A TV movie made in the shadow of Carrie, The Spell is a brisk and entertaining slice of late ‘70s mediocrity that offers a few giggles matched by surprises. It’s perfectly fine for a quick Instant Watch even if you might forget everything about it one day after viewing. It’s fine. It is fine.
One of my favorite memoirs is Judith Moore’s Fat Girl, a painfully honest documentation of a woman battle-scarred by a lifetime of obesity. It literally hurts to read, and yet I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Oh. But I’m supposed to be talking about The Spell, which doesn’t hurt to watch but also...well...doesn’t quite make good on its potential.
Quick Plot: Teenage Rita is mildly overweight and majorly pissed about it and everything else in life. At school, the big-haired slim-waisted gymnasts tease her mercilessly. I suppose that’s bound to happen to the size 10 teen when every other student is in pristine physical condition. 
During one fateful day in gym class, Rita’s most outspoken tormenter has a deadly (and hilarious) accident, plummeting from the ceiling after she attempts a Ringling Brothers’ circus move on the rope. Anyone who’s seen Carrie--which, let’s face it, is why you’re watching the film to begin with--knows that a touch of telekinesis is surely at play.

See, Rita is, to put it kindly, surly. Aside from her sympathetic mom (Lee Grant), her family is cruel and friends nonexistent. Dad likes to make cutting fat comments and little sis (a tiny Helen Hunt) is a bad-pizza-making brat. Luckily for Rita, *someone* in town has an afterschool club on using psychic energy and little by little, her strength rows to increasingly bizarre murders, the best of which is the slowest spontaneous combustion of all time. Really it’s more a slow roast, which sounds much more delicious than it probably is.

The Spell wears its, ahem, influences on its belled ‘70s sleeve. On one hand, it’s an enjoyable enough slice of moldy cheese that passes 77 minutes as well as anything. On the other, it’s a huge missed opportunity.
The Carrie of Stephen King’s novel is not a Sissy Spacek size 4. She’s plump and pimply, and in that is a multi-dimensional story waiting to be told. The Spell could have done so. 

High Points
Maybe my sick day 50% functioning brain wasn’t at its most nerdy, but I was genuinely surprised by a few of the film’s twists
Low Points
As my review mostly states, it just seems like there was a genuinely interesting story to be told about Rita’s unhappiness. I really would’ve appreciated a film that dared to tell it
Lessons Learned
In the 1970s, it was standard physical fitness to be able to climb a rope
If the Nightmare On Elm Street saga has taught us anything, it’s that being a member of the swim team is a surefire way to a wet wild death. Take heed The Spell, take heed
The best way to show your unhappy psychic teenage daughter that you love her is to send the kid four thousand miles away for the next year of her life
Instant Watch is where The Spell belongs. It’s a breezy under-80-minute film that doesn’t really merit any effort, but is entertaining enough in its ‘70sness. One could do a whole lot better but hey...there’s also always a whole lot worse.


  1. Nice review. I covered this a short while back on my blog, too. Looks like we even got a few screenshots that were almost the same.

    We had to climb the rope in gym class once. I was conveniently "sick" that day.


    My review, if you're interested.

  2. Cool. Gonna add it to my queue now!

  3. Seriously Jonny, I knew ONE person in elementary school who could climb a rope and they were genetically engineered by the government to kill Soviet spies. That was the rumor anyway and I COMPLETELY believe it!

    And great review! I think I was mildly more entertained by the film than you, but all your points are absolutely on target. It's not quite bad enough to be fun, but not actually good to be, you know, good. Maybe I just give bonus points for short length?

    And enjoy Joe Wings!

  4. The Initiation of Sarah (1978) is way better.

    From what I remember of The Spell, Rita wasn't all that likable. Instead of feeling sympathetic, I wanted to slap her.

  5. Absolutely Anonymous. I was somewhat sympathetic to Rita because she was being picked on, but she's also pretty bratty. I'll check out The Initiation of Sarah! I'm not familiar with it yet.

  6. As an elementary school Child of the 70s, I can affirm that rope climbing was indeed a big part of gym class. That, and Mousercise.

    I instant watched this movie a couple of months ago and thought it was a laughably entertaining Carrie rip-off. Rita is certainly no Carrie. Sissy Spacek's Carrie was endearingly geeky. Rita is kind of a snotty bitch. Granted, being teased by everyone and having your dad basically REJECT you for being overweight (by some wackadoo standard) probably isn't the best personality builder.

    A couple of the twists did get me, but some things made no sense (Why did the roast-y get roasted? Who the heck was she?). Overall, I'd say this is exactly the kind of movie that Netflix Instant Watch is made for.

  7. I have no idea what Mousercise is but it sounds positively amazing! At least, it had to be better than climbing a rope (though in fairness, what isn't?).

    And I agree on Rita's unlikability. On one hand, I don't mind an anti-hero, but it was hard to even LIKE the kid when she was such a brat.

    I think Roasty got roasted because she was about to reveal some sort of secret about Rita and her mentor? Maybe? Sure? Guess so...