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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Deadly Spawn (1983) review


James Brewster (Sam), Elissa Neil (Barb), Charles George Hildebrandt (Charles)

Directed by Douglas McKeown

The Short Version: This low budget, fan friendly monster-gore movie is one of the best of its kind possessing an aura and passion not unlike what is seen in the equally raw and savage THE EVIL DEAD (1981). If nothing else, THE DEADLY SPAWN contains one of the most riotously original alien creatures to ever splatter body parts and viscera across a silver screen.

A meteorite crashes in the woods near a secluded neighborhood. A small, unfriendly alien emerges and, after being exposed to water, begins to grow at an alarming rate. The beast and its brood take up residence in the basement of a home and goes to work making meals of each household member and anyone who happens to go downstairs.

This is 'Do It Yourself' maverick horror of the highest order and one of the best low budget horror flicks of the 1980s bearing a look and feel on the level of Sam Raimi's THE EVIL DEAD (both films opened at the same time). The 1970s and the first half of the 1980s was populated by a dedicated group of guerrilla filmmakers, a number of which went on to successful careers of varying degree. THE DEADLY SPAWN is a monster movie for monster kids and a dream project for all those involved. Regardless of the limited means at the disposal of the filmmakers, the dedication and love for the subject matter is evident in virtually every frame most particularly in the overzealous gore sequences.

Look out behind you!

Started in 1980 and released in 1983, this was and still is an amazing feat for purportedly around $30,000 (Bohus put it at a little over $50,000), shot on weekends and managing theatrical distribution in the end. Truly there will never be another time such as the era in which THE DEADLY SPAWN was shot. Filmmakers these days are too preoccupied with video game graphics to invest in the actual art of prosthetic design. The creation of the toothy alien beast on display here is a testament to the genius of artisans working in movies back in the day who were well aware of their limited means turning dust to gold in the process. Basically a gigantic mass of teeth and slime, this nasty, flesh hungry, outer space monstrosity is easily one of the most original silver screen space creatures to ever splatter onto reels of celluloid.

The script is peppered with a lot of nods to 50s science fiction, but the splatter is poured on so thick, you're likely to miss them the first go round. For such a minuscule budget, the effects artists manage some magnificently juicy gore sequences the likes of which you won't find anymore. THE DEADLY SPAWN excels in this department. There is also a successful attempt at creating interesting characters, but these are totally overshadowed by the spectacularly over the top blood and gore. A highlight is the attack on the vegetarian women's party. In it, an army of baby spawns launch an attack while the ladies have lunch. The squirmy, slug like monsters then proceed to lunch on the ladies.

THE DEADLY SPAWN has since went on to be quite the cult hit with horror fans and a handful of Hollywood personalities. Seeing the creature on the poster artwork is enough to garner itself curiosity and attention. The old VHS big box release from Continental made sure to zero in on slobbering renters hungry for horror with its lurid front cover. Towards the end of the 1980s, a sequel was announced with a number of the first films crew being involved. Touted in horror magazines as DEADLY SPAWN 2: METAMORPHOSIS, the film wasn't really a true sequel, only the similarities in the monster designs and that many of the makers behind the original returned. It finally emerged in 1990 and was a worthy follow up with an increased budget and even more ambitious effects work.

One of the more pleasing aspects of the movie is the sheer love for the genre in general. The bulk of the movie takes place in a single location and the little boy in the house is a monster movie buff. He's viewed as being strange because of his hobbies, yet he's the one character in the movie who is able to grasp what is going on and deal with the alien in an effective manner. Populating the kids room are a plethora of monster movie posters such as THE GREEN SLIME (1968), THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969), THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK (1958), THE MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS (1958), THE SPIDER (1958), TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and FRANKENSTEIN (1931). Some of the magazines and books populating his shelves are pieces I still own, so that part of the film will likely warm the hearts of monster kids everywhere.

It's not out to win any awards, it's simply there to entertain and in the most energetically gruesome fashion possible. The makers of THE DEADLY SPAWN put a lot of effort into this tiny budgeted flick about a mouthy monster with a big appetite and also one that grows rapidly when exposed to water. The last shot is especially ambitious and promises an even bigger threat about to make mince meat out of the surrounding countryside. If you enjoyed, and still enjoy the manic approach, ingenuity and the look of Raimi's THE EVIL DEAD, than this modest monster opus may SPAWN a similar place on your horror viewing calendar.

This review is representative of the Synapse DVD


PhotoClasher said...

I seen it , I liked it !

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Excellent review Brian; I think THE DEADLY SPAWN is a film that true fans of horror and science-fiction cannot help but love. The most important part for me is that the intertextual and referential nature of the film is not show offy nor is it such an essential part of the film that those less well versed in horror history cannot enjoy it. The sheer enthusiasm of the film reminds me a lot of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.

JP "Strange and Shocking Turn Of Events" Wendel said...

Great Review! I've been a huge fan of the film since I stumbled across the VHS in one of those 5$ bins when I was around 11 or 12. I really feel like it's one of the best monster designs I've ever seen, I hope to have a tattoo done of it soon.

venoms5 said...

@ PC: Thanks for stopping by, PhotoClasher, I like it, too!

@ Shaun: Thanks, my friend. I agree about the referencing. It's not self indulgent, or mocking as it is in SCREAM. Speaking of AMERICAN WEREWOLF, I am constantly baffled that Landis managed to include just about every 'moon' song but the most important one--Warren Zevon's 'Werewolves of London'! I think Landis mentions this omission on the commentary, too.

@ JP: Thanks a bunch and I agree wholeheartedly with what you said. I saw the box staring back at me in a video store after seeing images of it in an old Fangoria magazine. I ultimately caught up with scenes from it on TERROR ON TAPE, a video compilation starring Michelle Bauer and Cameron Mitchell showing the goriest scenes from a slew of Continental releases.

Carl Manes said...

I only discovered THE DEADLY SPAWN 2-3 years ago, and it has become an all-time 80s favorite along with THE BEING and BLOOD DINER for the sheer ridiculousness and outrageous amount of entertainment! Love this damn film, great review that hits on all of the best points V!

venoms5 said...

Thanks, Carl, I need to get my hands on the pseudo sequel. I haven't seen it in years.

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