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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 Package    
     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. 

The Story 
     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 leaving. 
     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 Direction 
     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! 
 

Vital Statistics 

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
 


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