Spellcaster (1988) / Horror-Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for mild gore, violence, brief nudity, and language
Running Time: 83 min.

Cast: Gail O'Grady, Harold Pruett, Richard Blade, Bunty Bailey, Kim Johnston Ulrich, Marcello Modugno, Adam Ant, Michael Zorek, Martha Denson, Traci Lind, William Butler, Michael Deak, Donald Hodson, Dale Wyatt
Director: Rafal Zielinski
Screenplay: Dennis Paoli
Review published January 13, 2007

A "New Wave" horror film, several years too late, Spellcaster tries to have a hip, music video tie-in through the casting of slightly popular Los Angeles DJ (and VJ) RIchard Blade (Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Long Lost Son) and the casting of Adam Ant (Cold Steel, Slam Dance) as the main villain.  In 1983, this would have been "rad".  By 1988, the time of the film's completion, it was already encroaching on "bogus".  By the time the thing was finally released in 1992, four years later, it was officially "wack".

The premise of the film revolves around a contest put on by music station R-TV (Rock Television), whereby seven lucky winners are taken up to an old Italian castle in order to compete for a chance to win a million dollars, while also rubbing shoulders with stuck-up, alcoholic pop superstar, Cassandra Castle (Bailey, who was the girl in a-ha's famous music video for "Take On Me").  What they don't know is that the castle's owner is really a powerful sorcerer (could he be the Devil himself?) who is out to steal their souls.

If you know the name of Charles Band, you know what to expect when you see his name in the credits as the executive producer.  His studio, known as Empire Pictures, made quite a few low budget schlock horror films in the 1980s, including such notable ones as Troll and Ghoulies.  The stories were anemic, but the special effects were good for such cheapie productions, making them adequate fodder for video rentals and late night cable staples for the horror-loving junkies.  His production company would later change to Full Moon Entertainment, where the Puppet Master series would enjoy some modest success.

It's amazing how many ideas were squandered in the making of this film.  For a movie centering around an MTV-like international music channel, it boasts almost no music whatsoever.  I stayed through the closing credits and counted two generic-sounding songs used in the film, both sung by artists I've never heard of.  Furthermore, the movie actually can boast an attractive ensemble of actors, and even quite a few scenes of titillation, but there is, curiously, no nudity.  About the closest thing that comes to anything sexual is when one of the female characters (Ulrich, Rumpelstiltskin) lures a couple of the male characters at various time to come check her "broken" shower.  It seems she gets off on teasing the men into thinking they're going to get to see her in all her glory, but she just enjoys leading them on and not paying off.  Apparently, so too do the makers of this film.

The plot of the film isn't very well thought out at all.  It's not quite clear how people could win the contest, but even if it were explained, the chance that a brother and sister could both win out of (presumably) millions of entries is ridiculous to believe.  The contestants have to roam a huge castle for the million dollars, which is in the form of a check.  The only rules are that they can't leave the castle for any reason or they will be disqualified, and they are discouraged from damaging anything on the property.  For this momentous undertaking, R-TV sends their most popular VJ, but only one camera, and they aren't even filming the contest most of the time. 

Several different contestants find the check at various times, but somehow lose the thing before they can inform anyone officially.  The male sibling (Pruett, Embrace of the Vampire) offers to split the money with nearly every other character, thereby running the risk of drawing some ire should he be the one to get the check, as he would have a half dozen angry people thinking they are going to get a half million dollars.   Not that you'd really expect something as realistic as that, as the other contestants are completely one-dimensional.  The fat guy (Zorek, Private School) only thinks about food, the Italian guy (Modugno, Dial Help) wants to get laid, the French girl (Lind, The End of Violence) and British woman (Demson) are uppity snobs.  Curiously, the British woman brings along a shotgun on the presumption that she would be able to do some hunting, despite the fact that she is not to leave the castle for any reason.  Guess what happens when the fat guy turns into a pig.

Spellcaster's attractive cast, impressive effects and make-up, and relatively light delivery are about the only aspects of the film that make it watchable schlock for those who enjoy cheesy, b-movie horror.  However, with a dumb plot and severe lapses in basic logic, it is a frustrating experience for anyone not completely pleased by superficial pleasures. 

They say you can't have too much of a good thing, but apparently, Charles Band can't get too much of a bad thing.  He would repeat the movie's basic premise again in 1990 in Meridian (two American students go to Italy when one inherits a castle, and strange things occur), and in 1995 with Castle Freak (an American couple and their daughter inherit a castle in Italy, where strange things occur).  There may be others, but with hundreds of movies to his name, I don't have the diligence to do the research.  It shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that Band owns the castle in question.  A man's home is his castle -- and his castle, his movie set.

 Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo