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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

VHS Vednesday: The Alchemist

THE ALCHEMIST (1984). Directed by Charles Band. Starring Robert Ginty, Lucinda Dooling, and Robert Glaudini.

An early effort from legendary B-movie auteur Charles Band (of Full Moon Entertainment fame), The Alchemist begins with a prologue set in 1871, presenting us with a simple farmer named Aaron McCallum (Robert Ginty) as he sets out to rescue his wife (Lucinda Dooling) from the clutches of an evil sorcerer (Robert Glaudini). Unfortunately, the attempt goes horribly wrong, and Aaron winds up accidentally stabbing his wife instead of the magician. In return for this killing, the sorcerer curses him with immortality so that he'll live with the guilt forever...not to mention periodically reverting to a beastlike state, embodying his rage and jealousy.
Cut to 1955: Young waitress Leonora Sinclair (Lucinda Dooling again) is driving across the country, picking up hitchhiker Cameron (John Sanderford) along the way, when she suddenly starts experiencing bizarre visions of another life. She finds herself compelled to make her way to the isolated cabin where Aaron has been spending his existence, his suffering eased only by the ministrations of his now-elderly daughter Esther (Viola Kates Stimpson). In her efforts to help her father, Esther has learned the ways of alchemy herself, and has used her powers to reunite Aaron with his reincarnated wife. Of course, the reunion does not go smoothly, particularly after the villainous sorcerer returns.
Working under a typically low budget, director Band manages to craft a suitably eerie atmosphere, though it's frequently stretched thin over the slow-moving plot. Mostly holding the special effects back until the climax, Band presents us with a few effective visual flourishes...obviously cheap, but inexplicably appealing in that New Moon way.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
Robert Ginty, a capable actor with several noteworthy performances under his belt (most notably his supporting role in Hal Ashby's Coming Home and his star-making turn as the title character in the brutally violent Exterminator movies), has had the misfortune of having his worst role immortalized on MST3K (Warrior of the Lost World). As a result, he's been unfairly branded as a joke--his IMDB profile even incorporates the MST3K gag of nicknaming him "The Paper Chase Guy." While The Alchemist is nowhere near in the league of Coming Home, it still allows Ginty an opportunity to display some strong emotional moments as the tortured immortal.
The other cast members fare rather poorly--Dooling and Sanderford make for a rather bland, unengaging pair of heroes. Glaudini, while he projects menace very well, brings little else to his two-dimensional villain. Only Stimpson manages to lend a little depth to her role, conveying the weariness of a woman who has spent her entire long life tending to a family member.



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