• Spellcaster (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: September 29th, 2020.
    Director: Rafal Zielinski
    Cast: Adam Ant, Richard Blade, Gail O'Grady, Kim Johnston Ulrich, Bunty Bailey
    Year: 1988
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    Spellcaster – Movie Review:

    Directed by Rafal Zielinski for Charles Band’s Empire Pictures in 1986 but not released until two years later, Spellcaster introduces us to a hard drinking pop chanteuse named Cassandra Castle (Bunty Bailey) who wins a contest put on by an MTV-styled TV channel hosted by a VJ named Rex (Richard Blade). Cassandra isn’t the only winner, however, as bickering brother and sister duo Tom (Harold Pruett) and Jackie (Gail O'Grady), as well as sexy French gal Yvette (Traci Lind), Ferrari driving Tony (Marcello Modungo) and jokester Harlan (Michael Zorek), British athlete Myrna (Martha Demson) and cut but vapid Teri (Kim Johnston Ulrich) have also made the cut. Collectively, they’re all given an all expenses paid trip to a fancy castle in rural Italy to take part in an internationally televised treasure hunt where the winner will win the final prize of a million dollars in cash.

    The group is supposed to be met by host Diablo (Adam Ant!) upon their arrival, but he’s nowhere to be seen so they start poking around the old place. It isn’t long before there’s drama amongst the group, with petty squabbles getting more intense. Cassandra falls inside a bottle and holes up in her room away from the rest while Bruno (Donald Hodson), the butler, does his best to keep the guests from messing anything up.

    It isn’t too long before we realize that someone or something inside the castle is using a crystal ball to tempt the contestants into one-upping each other in their attempts to find the treasure that’s supposedly stashed somewhere inside, which increasingly deadly results.

    One of a few different films that Band made at this massive old castle that he bought in Italy, Spellcaster is pretty quirky stuff, mixing weird fantasy elements with more traditional horror clichés to create something that very much has the Empire Pictures stamp all over it. As such, those who don’t have an affinity for the production company’s output might not enjoy this as much as those who do, but if you fall into that later camp there’s fun to be had here indeed.

    Shot by cinematographer Sergio Salvati, Spellcaster is a good looking film. Salvati uses some interesting camera angles and compositions to keep things looking interesting, and the effects work featured in the film, while hardly done on the biggest budget imaginable, is pretty solid for what it is. The cast do a decent enough job playing what are essentially a group of underwritten clichés, but those hoping that Adam Ant will deliver a tour de force in this picture will be disappointed to know that despite the fact that his face was all over marketing materials and box art for this picture, he’s really only in the film for a few minutes. But hey, the picture has its own wonky charm and if it isn’t necessarily an unsung classic, nor is it ever really particularly scary, it does prove to be a fun way to kill an hour and a half in front of the television.

    Spellcaster – Blu-ray Review:

    Spellcaster arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen transfer taking up 24.7GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and ‘transferred in 2k from the original 35mm negative,’ the picture quality is quite strong. Colors in particular look really good here, bright and bold without appearing oversaturated. Detail is pretty strong, though some scenes with heavy optical effects use look a bit softer than others, which is pretty understandable. Grain is present throughout, looking very natural and never dominating the image, but there isn’t much in the way at all in terms of actual print damage. We get nice skin tones and strong black levels as well.

    Audio is handled by a 24-bit English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo mix and it sounds just fine. Dialogue is clean, clear, easy to follow and properly balanced. There are no issues with any hiss, distortion or sibilance. No complaints.

    As far as extra features are concerned, the fourteen-minute Casting A Spell is a new interview with actor Richard Blade. He speaks pretty candidly about his career up to this point and talks about auditioning for the film, basically being tasked with playing himself, shooting the film in Italy, what it was like on set and how impressed he was with both the locations and his co-stars.

    The nineteen-minute Slime Jockies featurette is an with actor/special effects artists William Butler and Michael Deak where they very honestly about the years they spent working for Empire Pictures, mostly in Italy and Spain rather than in their native Los Angeles, what they were responsible for on this particular film, how much they enjoyed getting the opportunity to work with Adam Ant, how the Salvati connection at one point almost led to none other than Lucio Fulci working on the picture and how they had to make some changes on the shoot when the script proved a little more complicated than originally expected.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc is a promotional still gallery, menus and chapter selection options. The back of the cover sleeve notes that an interview with Rafal Zielinski is included, but that’s nowhere to be found on the disc itself so it is presumably a typo.

    NOTE: This release is part of the Vinegar Syndrome Archive line, and it comes packaged a double-sided poster included inside the keepcase alongside the disc. We also get some cool reversible cover sleeve art as well. Like all VSA releases, this one is ONLY be available on the Vinegar Syndrome website and at participating brick and mortar retailers. This release is limited to 4,000 copies.

    Spellcaster – The Final Word:

    Spellcaster is a pretty fun little B-movie with some nice camerawork and decent special effects. It’s an undemanding film, the kind of entertaining junk food cinema that Band has become known for over the decades, making it an easy and enjoyable watch if you’re in the right mood for it. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray presents the film in a great presentation and with some nice extra features as well.

    Click on the images below for full sized Spellcaster Blu-ray screen caps!