Upon winning a mysterious sweep-stake invitation worth one million dollars and free plane tickets, siblings Jackie (Gail O'Grady) and Tom (Harold Pruett) quit their jobs and join other contestants at a luxurious spooky castle in Italy. Organized by smarmy music TV host Rex (Richard Blade) as a promotional stunt for sulky, perpetually inebriated rock star Cassandra Castle (Bunty Bailey), the pair try to find the hidden cash prize, competing alongside snooty Brit Myrna (Martha Demson), flash Italian Tony (Marcello Modugno), foxy French chick Yvette (cult actress Traci Lind, doing a cute ooh-la-la accent), chunky Jersey boy Harlan (Michael Zorek) and vapid California girl Terri (Kim Johnston Urich). Eager to get a leg up on each other, everybody (save nice girl Jackie) sneaks out after dark to find the prize, but to no avail. One by one they are bumped off by monstrous forces marshaled by...
… preening early eighties Brit pop idol Adam Ant as the malevolent Diablo. Dum-dum-dah! Bet you didn't see that coming. Although if you paid attention to the opening credits you probably did. Nevertheless by the time the erstwhile Prince Charming finally makes his grand entrance the movie has all but ten minutes left. Adam Ant parlayed pop success in his native Britain into a very strange Hollywood film career. Mostly in horror and exploitation films (though he also appeared in Wayne Wang's offbeat, oh-so-Eighties comedy-thriller, Slam Dance (1987)). This one produced by famed B-movie mogul Charles Band through his Empire Pictures. Band's very own Italian castle figures prominently throughout Spellcaster (and indeed several Empire productions) serving as a backdrop for the opening music video where star Bunty Bailey (whom '80s pop culture fans will recognize as the girl from A-ha's iconic video for 'Take On Me'!) vamps it up in a diaphanous red gown.
Directed by the inconsistent but interesting Rafal Zielinski, whose best work includes offbeat indie dramas Baba! (1983) and Fun (1994) though he also made a ton of teen sex comedies, Spellcaster has something of a pedigree. Co-written by Re-Animator (1985) scribe Dennis Paoli from a story by Ed Naha, who also penned Dolls (1987) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), the film boasts solid rubber monster effects by Empire's in-house effects wizard John Carl Buechler (who also directed second unit) and sporadically striking photography by Sergio Salvati. Fresh off his much cherished run of gothic horror epics with legendary Italian goremeister Lucio Fulci, Salvati's roving camera employs some familiar closeups on terrified eyeballs. On the other hand he and Zielinski opt for silly 'boob close-ups' on various screaming women (because fear emanates from the lungs, you see...).
Plot-wise, Spellcaster is very much a throwback to the William Castle school of schlock horror filmmaking, minus the gimmicks. Characters conform to hoary old stereotypes (slutty French chick, volatile Italian lothario) or are otherwise drawn cartoonishly obnoxious leaving viewers content to watch them succumb to ridiculous deaths. Strangely enough the film Spellcaster most closely resembles is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). Diablo emerges a less benevolent but ultimately moralistic Wonka figure, Harlan is basically an American Augustus Gloop, sneaking any opportunity to gorge himself on some tasty treat, while various beautiful but unlikable female characters compete to be Veruca Salt. Lovely Traci Lind, probably the most personable actor in the cast, lands the especially thankless role of disposable slut. She makes an early exit - eaten by a chair (!) and presumably flew home to greater things. Or at least Fright Night Part 2 (1988) of which, trust me, she is the best part.
As with a great many Charles Band productions there is the nagging sense that the plot exists only to string together a bunch of effects sequences. Buechler's rubber monster gags, which include people mauled by zombies, a character turned into a pig-man and someone strangled by a cel animated bolt of lightning, are actually pretty effective and great fun. And yet there remains something frankly unpleasant about how the film portrays every woman besides Jackie as a cock-teasing bitch. And even has Jackie and Tom describe them as such several times. Eventually things cross the line into tastelessness with an implied demonic rape scene. While Jackie may as well wear a halo, Tom does not come off very well either with his blatant greed and sense of entitlement to sex. Between effects sequences, characters mope, whine and meander until disposed of. Eventually Adam Ant's mockney antics prove distinctly underwhelming for a presumed demonic menace. The would-be moralistic sting in the tail simply does not ring true and the film further contrives a jokey finale taking a swipe both at MTV and pop stardom itself. Which may have appealed to Adam. After all, ridicule is nothing to be scared of.