Air Date: Feb. 20, 1977 (ABC)
Production Companies: Charles Fries Productions, Stonehenge Productions
Running Time: 86 min.
Available on: Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)
Written by: Brian Taggart
Directed by: Lee Phillips
Cast: Lee Grant, Susan Myers, Lelia Goldoni, Helen Hunt, Jack Colvin, James Olson
Rating: 6 vintage televisions (out of 10)
Against all expectations throughout most of this 70’s TV movie, it ended up casting quite a spell on me. What first seemed like a Carrie rip-off soon turned to family drama, which turned to supernatural horror, which ended in a surprise I didn't anticipate coming. Yes, The Spell (1977) is unique in several ways.
First, it looks like a theatrical production. The home of the well-to-do Matchett family must have been filmed on location, so lush were the sets. After the Carrie-like opening and credits, we’re treated to a room-by-room tour of their lovely house. We settle on the dining room table where Glenn (James Olson) scolds his daughter for having a second helping of breakfast.
So, not only does she get teased at school, especially in gym class, but is also scolded at home. The quality that generates such ridicule and scorn is that she’s overweight. Notice I say, “overweight,” because Rita (Susan Myers) is not fat. However, everyone is certainly concerned about her as if a few extra pounds is a criminal offense.
The Spell stops resembling Carrie fairly early. There are differences in the two characters’ modus operandi, as Rita practices witchcraft to punish her persecutors. But why is Jo Standish (Lelia Goldoni), the gym teacher/guidance counselor, lurking in dark corners? Is that who Rita visits when she dons her red cape and goes out into the night?
Like Carrie White, Rita has a complicated relationship with her mother, Marilyn (Lee Grant.) Instead of fearing her, though, she’s the only one in the family that Rita truly loves, and that includes her sister, Kristina, played by a young Helen Hunt. It’s common knowledge that Dad and Kristina don’t much care for Rita; the drama revolves around this idea.
Much of The Spell belongs to Grant, who has many dramatic scenes with her husband, as well as her daughters. During one bedtime conversation between her and Glenn about his job and how she never sees him anymore, I was bored. By the end, though, I realized how it contributed to realistic treatment of the subject matter and I appreciated it.
There is one component that doesn’t fit. One of the characters calls a parapsychologist, Dale Boyce (Jack Colvin), but if it was explained why, I missed it. It does present someone for Marilyn to contact, but there’s a weird jumping around in time where he’s listening to tapes she’s recorded before we’ve seen what happened.
Finally, there is a horrific death that stands next to the best of them as one woman’s blood literally boils. Her face puffs, smoke comes from her body, and she crashes through the picture window. Less horrific is a cruel classmate falling from the top of a rope during gym, but considering how much I hated rope-climbing, the scene was almost scarier for me.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch The Spell and other great movies from this series...