Yet Another Journal

Nostalgia, DVDs, old movies, television, OTR, fandom, good news and bad, picks, pans,
cute budgie stories, cute terrier stories, and anything else I can think of.

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» Friday, October 14, 2005
DVD Transfer Diary
Last night was "guilty pleasure" bad "scary movie" night. I don't watch what people consider "really scary movies." I was the kid who wasn't allowed to watch The Wizard of Oz until she was about twelve because the first time I saw it the witch gave me screaming nightmares.

(Oddly it wasn't the witch flying, or threatening Dorothy, or setting the Scarecrow on fire that bothered me. I still remember the nightmare clearly: I was afraid the witch could see me in her magic crystal ball like she could see Dorothy.)

So when I watch "horror" movies it's usually one that is so bad it's laughable or something made for children. I had one of each last night.

Midnight Offerings is a 1980s TV movie starring Mary McDonough (Erin from The Waltons) as Robin Prentiss, a girl who moves into a new town and starts school off on the wrong foot: she befriends now bad-boy Dave, who got arrested for drunk driving three weeks earlier and is now persona non grata even on the football team where he was a star player. But it's not Dave that's the problem, it's Dave's former girlfriend, Vivian Sutherland, who turns out to be a practicing witch. We're not talking Glinda here, we're talking Wicked Witch of the West: she's a practicing Satanist and has already "gotten" the biology teacher who planned to flunk Dave, the former star of the football team, and anyone else who got in the way of what she wants. She even has her doting, clueless father wrapped around her little finger (she made his foreman have a heart attack so he could be considered for the position) and her mother knows what's going on, but hasn't exercised her powers (Vivian's the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter) and can't seem to overcome her.

Turns out, however, that Robin is a witch, too (also seventh daughter of seventh daughter). She has always run away from her powers; in fact, that's why she and her father moved, to get away from wagging tongues in their old neighborhood. And of course Robin ends up fighting Vivian, with small help from another "white witch" played by Marion Ross, and also Dave, who knows what Vivian is. Vivian fights dirty: she sents a raven to attack Dave and Erin—I mean Robin—in his van, she tries to put a spell on Robin that hits Robin's father instead, she gets her familiar—a black cat, natch—to set a fire in Robin's bedroom (conveniently, there's a working fireplace in Robin's room, blazing away even though it's September in southern California).

The kicker in this is that Vivian is played with malicious and delightful glee by Melissa Sue Anderson, fresh from her Goody-Two-Shoes portrayal of Mary Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. Here she sports short curly hair and enough eye shadow to sink a battleship. It's great fun to watch her chew the scenery after watching her play angelic little Mary.

The other movie was HBO's cute little production of Jill Murphy's book, The Worst Witch. I've seen reviews that compare this story to the Harry Potter saga, and there are similiarities: it's a boarding school for witches (but only girls) and there's one teacher who has it in for the main character and there's the Draco Malfoy clone to torment our heroine and the loyal friend to stick up for her. But to me the similiarity stops there: there's the entire Voldemort subplot and other stories wandering about in the Potter books; The Worst Witch is simply about untidy, accident-prone Mildred Hubble, who's just trying to do her best, and her interactions with the other girls, including snotty Ethel Hallow and Mildred's best friend, Maud. (American reviewers who point out these similaries with a "Rowling stole this idea" attitude have forgotten that boys' and girls' boarding school stories used to be enormously popular, even with Americans in the early part of the 20th century, and it doesn't take much of a twitch to turn a plain old boarding school into one for "exceptional pupils" of whatever stripe.)

Worst Witch is a mindbending mixture of the ordinary—Mildred's school troubles—with rather cheesy cheap special effects, a non-threating group of witches who are planning to take over the school (one who is the headmistress' evil twin sister—Charlotte Rae in both roles—who has a really bad western accent and pink hair), and guest star Tim Curry as the Grand Wizard who all the girls are drooly over. Curry sings a song that is accompanied by luridly colored "special effects" that look like the SFX department was on a bad LSD trip.

On the other hand, Diana Rigg is positively creepy as Miss Hardbroom, the potions teacher who hates Mildred, and Fairuza Balk is appealing as poor Mildred, who can't even keep her hair tidy, let alone do a decent spell. (Anna Kipling is also terrific as the snooty Ethel Hallow—as a review I read pointed out, she'd make a great wife for Draco Malfoy—and Danielle Batchellor is funny and cute as Maud.)

Plus a fillip for Dr. Who fans: Bonnie Langford, Melanie, sings the title song.

(I see by a photo search on Google that Fairuza Balk has gone the road of Lindsay Lohan: they were both beautiful young ladies who now weigh their faces down with makeup and dress like sluts. In all the photos I've found, Lohan looks like she's turning tricks at a Nevada bordello and Balk appears as if she's working as a dominatrix at a Goth-themed whorehouse.)