The Deadly Spawn (1983)
Directed by: Douglas McKeown
Starring: Charles George Hildebrandt, Tom DeFranco, Richard Lee Porter, Jean Tafler, Karen Tighe, Ethel Michelson, John Schmerling, James Brewster, Elissa Neil, Judith Mayes
1/2 (out of 4)
Sorry… lost the key.
The Deadly Spawn is a 50s horror throwback that delivers inventive monster mayhem on an extremely limited budget. By certain criteria, it’s a bad movie – clearly padded with meandering scenes to reach a desired 80 minute running time, full of silly dialogue, bad sound, and performed using amateurs. But it’s enthusiastically gory and filled with good looking alien monsters, made by people from New Jersey with an obvious love for monster films and nothing but a desire to entertain. The Deadly Spawn makes no apologies for itself – it loves schlock and wants you to love it too. It took me a few viewings to get past its weaknesses but finally, its special brand of schlock (and nostalgia) is exactly what I embraced.
The monsters try to practice our custom of shaking hands but for some reason are misunderstood.
You know the plot: two campers in the woods come across a fallen meteorite which carries a terrifying creature with a big appetite. After dispatching them quickly, the creature makes its way to a neighborhood where it spawns babies and moves into a basement, eventually killing the parents of science major Pete (Tom DeFranco) and his younger brother – monster fan Charles (Charles George Hildebrandt). As the monsters breed and grow, Charles and Pete, along with Aunt Millie (Ethel Michelson), Pete’s dimwitted friend Frankie (Richard Lee Porter) and love interest Ellen (Jean Tafler) must survive the day and figure out how to destroy the menace from outer space before it takes over the town.
A young Fox Mulder on his first case.
As clearly evidenced by Charles’ obsession with horror films and Famous Monsters of Filmland, the creators of The Deadly Spawn pull ideas from all sorts of old school gems like It! The Terror From Beyond Space, The Blob, The Thing from Another World, and of course – Alien, where they go so far as to recreate the infamous chestburster scene (and the dissection scene too). There’s also some similarity to the “Crate” segment of Creepshow which came out around the same time (a scene where the alien monster rips a face off; some of the soundtrack sounds similar as well). It is inevitable that a low budget movie like this will invite comparisons to The Evil Dead, which also arrived in theaters at the same time as The Deadly Spawn; let me say that there is no comparison – Evil Dead is far and away the superior product, as Sam Raimi knows a little thing about pacing and inventive camerawork, for a few things. On the other hand, Evil Dead cost at least $375,000 to make while McKeown/Bohus’ movie cost about $25,000. And there’s something to be said about the great creature effects from John Dods – the monster in this movie is like a mix between a tadpole, slug, and giant man-eating plant with big fucking teeth.
Laughing at your own misfortunes… it’s important to keep a positive attitude!
It’s also slightly meta, putting young Charles in a therapy session with his psychologist uncle (John Schmerling) who worries about Charles’ attachment to horror flicks and wonders how it affects his psyche. Charles’ answers reveal him to be a well grounded kid; it’s clear that McKeown and Bohus are talking through him to all the reactionary parents and movie critics of the time. There’s also something funny about the decision to have the man-eating creatures crash an old ladies’ vegetarian cooking party. The rest of The Deadly Spawn is the equivalent of your monster-loving friend from school who likes scaring girls with bugs, wearing masks, and playing practical jokes – the camera makes sure to hang around on the flesh-munching scenes, so proud it is of Dods’ work (and to be honest, it is pretty good). I would be lying if I said the movie’s biggest selling point was something other than the effects work, but I do think the cast isn’t half bad. There’s even a shocking death of a main cast member that I didn’t see coming.
Should have gotten that termite bond…
Ultimately, The Deadly Spawn offers a nostalgic trip back to those 80s moviehouses – at the end of that decade, good luck getting your low budget 16mm film anywhere near a major cineplex. It makes me smile to know that at one time something like this could be shown on the big screen and not thrown into the pile of “straight-to-DVD.” Despite all the flaws inherent in grade-Z horror made by inexperienced dudes, The Deadly Spawn offers something most movies today can’t deliver in the theater – a type of authenticity. Big studios and CGI have conspired to take that special feeling away.
– Bill Gordon
The release of The Deadly Spawn on Blu-ray by Elite Entertainment has been very controversial. Basically, they have been blasted for their shoddy transfer; you can read all the drama here and here. Almost everybody agrees, however, that the DVD release from Synapse films is the superior version. Here’s what you’ll find on the Synapse release:
- Original aspect ratio 1.33:1, digitally mastered
- Two Audio Commentaries – the first is by Tim Sullivan (production assistant/additional dialogue), Doug McKeown, Charles Hildebrandt, John dods, and Tim Hildebrandt (who executive produced). The second commentary is from producer Ted Bohus, who talks a bit about the marketing/distribution side of the film
- Still galleries and behind-the-scenes photos, effects, etc
- Original trailer
- Audition tapes
- “A Visit With The Deadly Spawn 1982” a shot-on-VHS short featuring John Dods acting goofy and showing off his creations to Tim Hildebrandt.
- A comic prequel and brings to mind the origin of the slugs from Night of the Creeps
Deadly Spawns love AM talk radio
… and puppet shows.