The Deadly Spawn (1983)

MAY 15, 2012


Nothing beats having the wrong idea about a movie and having it turn out to be way better than the one you imagined. For some reason I thought The Deadly Spawn was a comic-horror film along the lines of Killer Tomatoes or something, where its low budget was used to its advantage (intentionally cheesy monster, purposely bad acting, etc), but in reality it’s a straight up alien/monster movie with a ton of gore and FX that mostly hold up quite well (all things considered). At times it even rivals the original (best) Evil Dead for inventive low-budget techniques, and is a must-see for anyone who appreciates old-school, practical FX and/or independent horror.

The thing I liked most is that it starts fast - in the first 10 minutes we’re treated to three gory deaths, which has to be a record for this sort of thing. I figured after the opening kill we’d have to watch a bunch of character stuff for a while before the next one, which makes it a great surprise when a guy that could conceivably be the hero gets munched moments after his introduction. Then his wife goes downstairs and gets killed as well! And it’s actually a well done scene; I loved the little reveal of the blood splatter on the rafters over her head (which she doesn’t see) as she walks around looking for her husband. Again, I was expecting some dated spoof flick, so this helped get me on board, fast.

Plus the monster is awesome! It’s a giant worm with a ton of teeth, which it uses often and to great effect. Lots of bodies are mangled over the course of the flick, with faces being torn apart, heads ripped off, etc. Sure, you can spot the dummy heads or whatever, but I defy anyone to tell me that it’s preferable to have some waxy CGI effect in its place. Not to mention all the great fake blood being splattered around, instead of digitally implemented (poorly) like, oh, EVERY MOVIE MADE TODAY. This movie’s 30 years old and it looks better than 90% of its modern counterparts, all because the filmmakers actually gave a shit and/or didn’t have the option of being lazy.

Another highlight was that the characters were pretty smart, another rarity. We have two heroes, essentially – an older teen who is a budding scientist and thus can make reasonable assumptions about the enemy and figure out how it lives (along with his girlfriend, who explains the ridges on its skin), and then his little brother. The brother is the main draw for horror fans, as he’s basically us – he wakes up his aunt early in the morning because of the loud screams from the horror movie he’s watching, he reads monster mags at breakfast, makes masks and simple FX with blast powder and such, and is generally pretty awesome. And he’s not a weirdo; when his uncle asks if he realizes that Frankenstein and such aren’t real, he answers “yes, that’s why I like them.” Hell yeah! He’s also the one that figures out that the things can’t see and go only by sound, which makes for a few fun moments.

There’s also enough variety to forgive its occasional pacing issues. There are a couple of monsters, and they grow, so you have little worm versions, big heads with tentacles, one that seemingly can’t move but is huge (think the evolution of Audrey II in Little Shop Of Horrors), and even a house sized one that we see at the end. The isolated house setting and abundance of teenagers (a study group) gives it a bit of a slasher feel, but instead of a killer using different weapons to keep things fresh, we get a variety of monsters. I’ll take it!

The DVD comes with a decent selection of extras, though half are a bit of a waste of disc space. An alternate opening has no discernible difference other than the font of the titles, and the comic prequel is too short to be of much use (it’s basically “There was an alien planet that exploded and a few survivors crashed on earth”). The outtake reel is fun though; it lacks sound but it’s great to see behind the scenes footage of the filmmakers touching up or operating the monsters, or setting up blood tubes and such. I also dug the over-selling trailer which tries to sell it as a followup to Alien, and it’s quite beat up so you can appreciate the film’s transfer, always a plus. Then there’s some audition tapes and a home movie taken at the time of production that’s kind of in-jokey and thus not particularly useful.

Then there are a pair of commentaries, one with producer Ted Bohus and the other with pretty much everyone else of note from the production. Ordinarily I would only listen to one (the latter) but since I sensed some bad blood between Bohus and the rest I figured it’d be fun to hear both sides of the story. The story isn’t entirely clear, but director Douglas McKeown was basically shut out of the production when he ran out of money (to live) and it was finished without him, and didn’t even know it had been released until he saw it in the papers. Bohus, on the other hand, explains that the distributor screwed him out of money throughout its release, which I assume means McKeown got even more screwed being that the film was released without his involvement or knowledge. So yeah, I can kind of see why they may not want to be in a room together. At any rate, the group commentary is far more enjoyable – they point out little mistakes and talk about how nutty the shoot was and such, while Bohus just drones on about whether or not certain shots are in focus or how the print lab screwed him out of 500 bucks or something. If you have the time for both, fine, but if not, definitely pick McKeown and co’s over his.

Apparently the Blu-ray has different features but a shitty transfer, so that’s your call. I think it looks pretty damn good on this Synapse DVD from 2004, and the Blu-ray apparently drops the group commentary, so I’d say it’s not worth the upgrade if you already own this one, and probably isn’t worth the extra couple bucks if you don’t already own it. But no matter what you’ll get a pretty damn great, charmingly lo-fi monster movie made by people who really gave a shit about what they were doing, which is exactly the sort of thing I need as a morale booster when confronted with so much soulless DTV crapola.

What say you?


  1. I adore this movie. The aliens are so fun--so many teeth. And there's lots of gore, as said.

  2. This movie's great! I love showing it to my friends. I usually just have to show them the dvd cover and they're automatically convinced. Everyone always enjoys it. Interestingly, I was once at a party and a guy was wearing a The Deadly Spawn t-shirt! I was totally jealous, but I definitely let the guy know I respected his good taste.

  3. One of my favorite B-Movies. Bought it years ago on VHS from ebay before the movie had been released on DVD. I actually prefer my VHS copy in this case. The picture quality is fine and the DVD is a little to clean and bright for such a low budget venture. It causes the effects to look much more noticeable and cheesier than they are.

    Also, ever hear of the Hildebrandt brothers, Tim and Greg. They are identical twins and fantasy oriented artists who became popular in the 70's for making Lord of the Ring calendars. The Deadly Spawn was filmed at Greg's house. He helped with the effects work and painted the poster for the movie. His nephew Charles was one of the stars of the film.

  4. I first seen this in the mid-80's on one of those Saturday "Horror movie of the week" shows. It might have been Elvira, but I can't remember.

    This movie scared the crap out of me and my younger sister. I was about the same age as the main character in the movie, but I would not have been as brave. Those opening kills in the basement were terrifying.

    I remember looking for this movie for years, but it was before the Internet... and before I was old enough to go to conventions, etc. I just had little chance of finding it scouring the VHS selection at the local department store or whatever yard sales I could talk my parents into taking me to.

    I didn't even know the name of the movie because we missed the opening credits. It was pretty hopeless.

    Literally, 20 years later I finally remembered it and tracked it down using the Internet... and it still held up. Sure, it's a B-movie and has some rough edges, but it's really an amazing film. It's one of those movies I can watch any time.

    I would have suggested you watch it for review sooner, but I guess I assumed everyone had already seen this gem! :)


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