I had no idea initially what to expect from SPELLCASTER when taking my seat in theater one of Alamo Drafthouse Brooklyn on Wednesday May 9th. I knew it was an MTV-era take on Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory starring Adam Ant, my favorite dandy highwayman, and the girl from the “Take on Me” music video (her name is actually Bunty Bailey). I knew from seeing the trailer that this was high 80’s trash and I was extremely excited to see it on the big screen.
The logline for this film could actually be “Willy Wonka as Faust meets the Wizard of Oz at the House on Haunted Hill, but also PORKYS” and wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what Ed Naha and Dennis Paoli, (frequent collaborators of Stewart Gordon’s) were thinking when they came up with the story for this hilarious cheese-fest. The film starts with 7 people from all over the world win a chance to meet pop singer Cassandra Castle (Bunty Bailey) at a beautiful Italian castle, where they will all have the chance to hunt for a million-dollar check.
Not unlike both The House on Haunted Hill and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, all seven guests encompass some kind of overblown archetype. There’s a tease (played hilariously by Kim Johnston-Ulrich, who would later star in best soap opera of all time Passions) , a couple of sleezeball lotharios, a glutton, an exotic French temptress, the alcoholic, a rich British WASP, and to really make comparisons to Willy Wonka, the two salt of the Earth simple “good” Americans, Tom (Harold Pruett) and Jackie (Gail O’Grady).Instead of being a grandfather and grandson, they’re brother and sister.
Naturally, once arriving at the castle, everyone is excited except for the superstar Cassandra Castle (Bunty Bailey) who is too busy being wasted as hell throughout most of the movie. ROCKTV VJ Rex (Richard Blade) is too busy trying to seduce Cassandra and I guess every other woman who’ll have him. The mysterious butler makes all the introductions and at every time we think we’re going to meet the owner of the castle, we do not.
Mayhem ensues pretty much right away. Yvette, the French girl (played by Traci Linds) , attempts to get the check from Rex. An unseen watcher sees them from a crystal ball and then does whatever magic necessary to make an anthropomorphic lion’s head chair eat her, only leaving behind a shoe. When you almost think everyone’s going to die and there’s about ten minutes left in the movie is when we meet the hilariously named Senor Diabli played by Adam Ant. The only person who couldn’t be corrupted by the million-dollar check was our Charlie, Jackie. Cassandra, who was somehow able to outsmart the devil, resets everything, no one has actually died and Senor Diabli becomes Cyril St. Michael, our newest ROCKTV VJ.
I suppose you could get mad at me for telling you what might seem like very important plot details but this movie is absolutely not dependent on plot. The best part of this film is the dialogue (example: “It’s the police, and I don’t see Sting” said when some Italian motorcycle cops are approaching the castle.) and the amazing 80’s era creature effects, which were executed by Mechanical Make-Up Imageries who were the effects masterminds of TerrorVision and Garbage Pail Kids among others. I would absolutely watch it if you’re a fan of 80’s horror, particularly stuff on the goofier side.
Danielle Burgos, film programmer extraordinaire, hosted this screening. She also volunteers at Spectacle Theater, which if you’re ever in Williamsburg, please go there, it’s an amazing small one-screen rep theater where you can see films that run the gamut from Nekromantik 2 to A Strong Wind in Beijing. Shameless plug notwithstanding, Burgos did her homework before this screening and dispelled some incredibly cool information about this film and the company who originally released it. For example, the castle where SPELLCASTER was shot is also where all the medieval scenes from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure were shot and is now a place for destination weddings including the doomed nuptials of Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes. I’d love to go there myself and see if there are any traces of Senor Diabli left behind, and also to smudge the place with sage because….Tom Cruise.