From the days of moussed hair, push-button telephones, shoulder-pads in ladies dresses, and sweater-vests on men (Gods help me; I remember wearing sweater-vests: I was young and foolish, and we were all mad for the music of Boy George and the Thompson Twins), comes this 1988 Blast-from-the-Past Witch-Movie: Spellbinder (available at Hulu.com). For dating to the late ’80s, it derives from that bizarre Period of late ’80s-early ’90s hysteria called The Satanic Panic. What is intriguing (in a historical film sense) is how closely the “Witchcraft” in this film reflects the tropes of “Satanic Ritual Abuse” bandied in the Popular Culture (to sometimes tragic results) at the time.
The first thing apparent is that the Witch in this case is of the Seductress or Erotic Witch variety, a species of Witch found as far back as Circe and Celtic story. She is the Witch whose Magickal Powers are intensified through Sexual Arousal, and should she be fortunate enough to find a mortal mate with whom her erotic chemistry vibes, a fascinating relationship can develop. Unless of course (as in this movie), Witches are inherently devious, plotting, cultish creatures.
Imitating the allegations of Satanic Ritual Sacrifice trending during the period (surely indicating a deep cultural anxiety of some sort), the Witches in Spellbinder are an astonishingly well-organized lot who will target and groom their Sacrificial Victims, even to the point of sending scary older ladies to guys’ offices, to demand threateningly, “We want her back!” As the terrified Witch tells her chivalrous protector, “They’re everywhere! They’re even got the police!” (Presumably the local coroner’s office as well, as it seems like autopsy reports never get filed indicating that the deceased died as a result of having their living heart cut out.)
Witches can be a predatory bunch; as the Witch (the intended Sacrificial Victim?) tells her heroic lover, “the Witches” first turned up right after her father died. Initially they seemed supportive and sympathetic to her and her mother. But then, they began to dominate their lives, their finances- Soon the “Witchcraft” started- you know, spells and herbal healing and palm-reading. And next, the sacrifices (here a flashback to creepy, robed figures in a circle; a goat is led in on a leash). After a while, however- “more impressive” sacrifices were desired.
Witches apparently can develop Magickal Powers over the Elements through Witchcraft, according to this movie- or at least “Jedi Mind-Tricks” sufficient to cause the illusion. The “Witchcraft” presented here mirrors “real” Witchcraft (meaning, what we do) to a degree sufficient to “meld” Us and Them: the Solstices are big to this Witch-crowd, who meet in “covens.” Inscribed Ritual-Circles are shown (as is a Baphomet poster), and a protective Witch’s Circle is cast with salt (“If we just stay in this Circle all night long- we’ll be safe!”) The Human-Sacrificing High Priest dons a Horned Helmet before delivering the Fatal Sacrificing blow. A Wiccan in the late ’80s would have had a hard time defending Wicca against this paranoid movie.
If you want to see a good cinema presentation of a cult-like “coven” of Satanic Panic Witches, you might want to check out this flick (watch stuff that gets positioned in the background, or just before a camera-shot cuts, like, who gets framed with a dart-board over their shoulder at one point- like maybe they’re a target? Oh, and if you have an office-assistant named “Grace,” you might want to listen to what she says). Spellbinder doesn’t quite rise to the level of Witchcraft Camp-Classic- but it is interesting as a Witch-relic from the Antiquated Past of the latter 20th century, specifically the era of the Satanic Panic.