Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Film Review: THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983, Douglas McKeown)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 80 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Written by Ted A. Bohus (VAMPIRE VIXENS FROM VENUS), John Dods (SFX on GHOSTBUSTERS II and POLTERGEIST III). And I just learned that Kevin G. Shinnick (who appeared in my GO-GO KILLERS! this May) worked on the special effects crew!
Tag-line: "They Came To Earth To Feed On Human Flesh!"
Best one-liner: "What is with the basement this morning?"

When the 80's tried to emulate the 50's, something was lost in translation, but something was definitely gained. Whether or not you like what was gained will generally determine how you react to 80's horror flicks as a whole. The combination of post-war optimism and Cold War paranoia has been supplanted by ridiculous gore, a culture of soulless yuppie consumerism, and Cold War hubris. When placed in a 50's construct, it makes for a jokey, disquieting atmosphere that's been put to memorable use in films like WAXWORK, KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE, DOLLS, and, yes, THE DEADLY SPAWN.

Now, THE DEADLY SPAWN has a significantly smaller budget than any of the films I've just named, and, like many a Troma film, seems to have been made in an alternate dimension (New Jersey?) where Harold P. Warren and Doris Wishman are the reigning auteurs, and just about anything goes. The acting can range from 'just alright' to so mind-numbingly bad that it approximates performance art. It is into this dimension that we must go to examine THE DEADLY SPAWN, a film that is DIY to the max (made for only a fraction of the budget of even THE EVIL DEAD) and totally prefiguring the suburban alien insanity of BAD TASTE.

This movie is flesh-rippingly gory and its centerpiece is the toothy, giant three-headed lamprey from outer space that puts many a Hollywood technician to shame and whose disturbing, visceral charm could never, ever, EVER be eclipsed by CGI. While the screenwriting and acting are never quite up to par, the sheer vitality of the makers- their foreboding use of shadows, their buckets of guts, and their spawn attacks on old biddies' ankles really push it over the edge into spunky likability.

An old biddy succumbs to a deadly spawn attack on her ankle.

Four stars.

-Sean Gill

2009 Halloween Countdown

31. PROM NIGHT (1980, Paul Lynch)
30. PHENOMENA (1985, Dario Argento)
29. HOUSE OF WAX (1953, André de Toth)
28. SILENT RAGE (1982, Michael Miller)
27. BASKET CASE (1982, Frank Henenlotter)
26. THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983, Douglas McKeown)


skeelo said...

I swear i fought the deadly spawn in nintendo's classic Contra

Sean Gill said...

I was never good enough (or had enough quarters) at Contra to make it to the final aliens, but by gum, I think it's close enough!