Essentially a rip-off of Carrie (1976), the hit film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a tormented teen with telekinesis, this made-for-TV thriller trudges along for about an hour of low-grade suspense before exploding with an action-packed finale, complete with a twist ending. It would be exaggerating to call The Spell special, but it’s entertaining in a kitschy sort of way, and it benefits from a respectable leading performance by Lee Grant, who tries mightily to retain her dignity even during the most outlandish scenes. It’s also novel to see a very young Helen Hunt, who made this picture during her first career as a ’70s child actress, because even though she was only about 14 when The Spell first aired, she already possessed grown-up gravitas. Anyway, the picture concerns Rita (Susan Myers), an overweight adolescent living with her affluent family in a posh suburb. Constantly razzed by classmates about her girth, Rita lashes out one day by telekinetically causing an accident that kills another student. Thus begins a long downward spiral during which Rita succumbs to dark impulses, eventually causing her mother, Marilyn (Grant), to explore paranormal explanations for the crisis. (Hunt plays Rita’s younger sister, a popular kid whose normalcy provides contrast to Rita’s weirdness.)
Keeping special-effects scenes to a minimum for budgetary reasons, the producers of The Spell concentrate on dramatic bits in which Marilyn and her husband, Glenn (James Olson), grapple with the strangeness that’s taken root in their home. For instance, the picture features a predictable but effective trope of Glenn compounding Rita’s problems by showing favoritism to her sister. (There’s also a fleeting subplot involving a paranormal investigator played by Jack Colvin, who played a similar character on the long-running series The Incredible Hulk.) As far as thrills and chills, The Spell is fairly mild except for the gruesome death of a housewife about midway through the story, and the only real special-effects scene involves a telekinetic showdown during the finale. Still, there are worse ways to pass 86 minutes than watching what amounts to Carrie Lite, although another made-for-TV Carrie rip-off—1978’s The Initiation of Sarah, with Kay Lenz—actually has more campy zing.
The Spell: FUNKY