Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 23, 2018


Lee Grant
THE SPELL (1977 telefilm). Director: Lee Philips.

Rita Matchett (Susan Myers) is a slightly overweight 15-year-old girl who is cruelly taunted by the mean girls in her class. One of the meanest is in gym class when she falls off a rope doing a trick and breaks her neck. Rita has a younger sister, Kristina (Helen Hunt), a father, Glenn (James Olson of Crescendo), who's rather cold to her, and a mother, Marilyn (Lee Grant), with whom she seems to share a special bond. As more strange things begin to occur, Glenn wants to pack Rita off to a special school in London and Marilyn resists suggestions that Rita is not only different but dangerous ... The Spell is one of a long line of films made in the wake of Carrie, although this picture drops the strange-girl-vs-mean-girls storyline pretty early and turns into a domestic drama of sorts with two comparatively ineffectual parents trying to deal with their strange and rebellious daughter. Nothing much supernatural or especially weird happens until a friend and neighbor of the Mattchetts literally burns up from the inside out and becomes a ghastly corpse halfway through the movie, a literal cooked sausage. For the finale, the picture winds up back in Carrie territory. The Spell presents some intriguing situations, an interesting young heroine, and has a couple of twists, but it's also a little disjointed and confusing (one suspects scenes were left on the cutting room floor to make way for the commercial breaks), and there's no particular flair to the direction. If the film works at all it's because of the acting, with Lee Grant splendid as the mother, emoting with complete conviction as if she were in a serious drama and not a semi-schlocky made-for-TV suspense film. James Olsen and Susan Myers are also excellent, and a very young Helen Hunt already shows signs of the abilities that would eventually net her an Oscar. Brian Taggert, who also scripted the Lee Grant starrer Visiting Hours as well as a TV remake of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? with the Redgrave sisters, seems to have grafted a not completely convincing horror story onto a tale of teenage angst in which the heroine discovers that she not only doesn't mind being "different" but actually prefers it. Director Lee Philips, who also helmed the interesting telefilm The Girl Most Likely To ..., was originally an actor in such films as Peyton Place and others. Years later Grant and Helen Hunt would both appear in Dr. T and The Women.

Verdict: Grant makes the most of a script that doesn't quite call for her talents. **1/2.

NOTE: This review is part of the "Lovely Lee Grant" blogathon co-hosted by Chris of Angelman's Place and Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews


angelman66 said...

Bill, thanks so much for joining our blogathon...I dimly remember this film, being a huge Carrie fan at the time, but don't remember much else except the incandescent performance of Miss Lee Grant. It's little wonder her autobiography is called I Said Yes To Everything...I do believe she took every job she was ever offered and made it her own!

Realweegiemidget Reviews said...

Thanks for bringing this film to our blogathon, not seen it but love to see it as a big fan of Grant. Love to see actors in early roles so be fab to see Helen Hunt too. Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews

William said...

Thanks so much Chris and Gill. It is a pleasure to be part of the Lovely Lee Grant blogathon.

Chris, I think after years of being black-listed Ms. Grant did take every assignment she was offered, and like you say, she always gave it her utmost.

Gill, The Spell is no masterpiece but it is fun to see Grant giving a really fine performance, and young Helen Hunt as well.