THE DEADLY SPAWN
A prime example of what a
friend of mine terms a ď3 A.M. movieĒ, but definitely an above average specimen,
this is a no-budget monster mash from the early eighties that mixes gore and
laughs in the manner of BASKET CASE and THE EVIL DEAD. No, THE DEADLY SPAWN
isnít in the same league as those classics, but works well as trashy, gore
soaked fun packed with neat special effects.
THE DEADLY SPAWN was shot on 16mm for very little money (that much is
obvious) over a two year period in and around the New Jersey home of executive
producer Tim Hildebrandt. The resulting film, released in 1983 (and advertised
under the title RETURN OF THE ALIENS), is a throwback to a time when filmmakers
could get away with making ultra-low rent, frankly amateurish fare and still
secure a nationwide release. It helped, of course, that the toothy monsters
created by John Dods (now a highly sought-after makeup artist) were top notch,
and still manage to (mostly) impress.
THE DEADLY SPAWN was recently released on DVD by Synapse Films, in a
remastered edition that, for once, does NOT do the film justice. For those of
us who became acquainted with it on late night television in the eighties, a
large part of its charm was the ultra-grainy, dark-hued visuals. Synapseís
cleaned-up version certainly looks much better, but too much is visible,
meaning the low budget is more apparent than ever.
A meteor crashes near a campsite, disgorging several slug-like critters
with sharp teeth. Two clueless campers investigate the crash and promptly
become extraterrestrial slug food.
In a nearby house Sam and Barb, a married couple, are visiting Samís
parents and preparing to leave. They hear something in the basement, go down to
investigate and get chomped by the deadly spawn, whichíve made their way into
the neighborhood. Unfortunately the houseís other residents donít realize that
Sam and Barb are dead since they left a note informing the family they were
Not that this slows down the creatures; they infiltrate the house, with one
getting ground up into a salad thatís served during an afternoon get-together
among several neighborhood old farts. The party quickly turns
sour--literally--when the neighbors devour the ground-up critter and become
violently ill. At this point the spawn attack, chewing on everything in sight
and forcing the old folks to vacate the house en mass.
This leaves the young John, who quickly figures out a way to combat the
spawn: it seems theyíre attracted to bumping, and so he bangs on an upper floor
to direct the head spawn--a massive three-headed monstrosity--to where he wants
it, and, when the creature is in place, zaps it with an electrical chord!
The opening scenes of this film arenít exactly promising, with stilted
performances and cheap film stock immediately making themselves apparent.
Director Douglas McKeown even has the audacity to use a tacky-looking model as
an establishing shot of the house where most of the film takes place (although,
to be fair, itís payed off in final shot). Thankfully the film gets better as
it goes along, particularly in the FX department.
If THE DEADLY SPAWN proves anything, itís that a great monster can work
wonders for a low budget movie. In contrast to most such films, which tend to
keep their creatures under wraps most of the time, this one isnít afraid to show
its critters in all their gooey glory, and from every conceivable angle (we even
see one of things dissected!). The spawn in question are extremely distinctive,
impossible-to-forget creations, consisting of long worm (or penis) like bodies
topped off with large mouths lined with several rows of sharp fangs (a bit like
the sand worms from DUNE, only more functional). They go a long way toward
excusing the tackiness of the enterprise, and grace some incredible gore
sequences in which peoplesí faces are ripped off, limbs are severed and heads
are unceremoniously separated from bodies. Yum!
THE DEADLY SPAWN
Film Line Communications
Director: Douglas McKeown
Producers: Ted A. Bohus, John Dods, Tim Hildebrandt
Screenplay: Ted A. Bohus, John Dods, Douglas McKeown
Cinematography: Harvey M. Birnbaum
Editing: Marc Harwood
Cast: Michael Robert Coleman, Charles George Hildebrandt, James Brewster, Elissa
Neil, Karen Tighe, Tom DeFranco, John Schmerling, Ethel Michelson, Judith Mayes,
Andrew Micheals, Jean Tafler, Richard Lee Porter