31 (Revived) Days of Horror: The Spell

As I watched this evening’s movie, I grew curious as to what year Carrie was released. Checking IMDB, I see it debuted in 1976. That made a great deal of sense, because this film clearly owes a great deal to Stephen King and Brian de Palma.

The Spell (1977) was a TV movie featuring the story of Rita, an overweight and unpopular high school student who develops supernatural powers and begins seeking revenge on those who made fun of her. The Spell’s writer claims to have not seen Carrie while writing the screenplay, but even if this is true, the parallels between the films makes it impossible to watch The Spell without thinking of the superior de Palma movie.

The film hangs itself heavily on the hexploitation of the 1970s, including not only witchcraft but a roving parapsychologist who gives us the usual breakdown of psychic energy for those in the back. Rita’s powers seem to rely more on the occult than the psychic, making her at least a little different than telepathic Carrie White. Another difference is that Rita revels in her power, finally finding something that makes her stand out from her peers in a (to her mind) positive way instead of one to be mocked for.

I’ll give The Spell this: the young actors both give fine performances, which isn’t always the case with less experienced child stars. Rita is played by Susan Myers, who had an otherwise undistinguished acting career, appearing on TV series and a minor role in Revenge of the Nerds. She shows real pathos as Rite, even as we watch her become corrupted by her own power and her desire to be unique. Rita’s sister, Kristina, is played by Helen Hunt, a name familiar to most readers, I’m sure. Hunt turns in a deft performance for such a young age and it’s no wonder she went on to have a long and varied career.

Despite the Carrie comparisons and its TV movie origins, The Spell was better than I’d expected. It’s not going to be on anyone’s Top 10 list, but it’s both enjoyable and a relic from the time when TV movies were a television standard. These two factors earn it a score 3 out of 5 skulls.

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