Friday, April 25, 2008

The Deadly Spawn (1983)

My first experience with The Deadly Spawn (aka Return Of The Aliens: The Deadly Spawn) was on a horror compilation tape called Terror On Tape, which featured a collection of gory scenes from films like Two Thousand Maniacs, City Of The Walking Dead, Scalps, Blood Feast and the like. While it looked like fun, the film never really approached my radar screen even as a gore-obsessed teenager.

Which is a shame, since the film is a worthwhile exercise in low budget shock film making. It owes it's debt to the sci-fi films of the 50s (particularly The Blob and Invaders From Mars), but adds some very impressive special FX (courtesy of John Dods) to bring things up to date. With a budget that was in the range of $25,000, the creatures themselves really are something original, with piranha-like teeth jutting out of the phallic snake bodies. They make the most of what they had, and put it directly on the screen.

The film takes place almost entirely in a single house, with the crash-landed alien creatures taking root in the basement and making quick work of the parents of the protagonists, before rapidly spreading (and growing!). A monster obsessed kid ends up being the hero, as he uses his knowledge of special FX to take care of the head creature in a climactic confrontation in the attic.

The film is not without it's flaws. The acting is generally poor, and it's sometimes a little too nasty for it's own good. I appreciate the grue as much as anyone, but it sometimes borders on unpleasant. While the creature work is great for the budget, it's also uneven and there are a few shots which don't exactly convince. The rocky production history is also evident in the inconsistency of style on display.

It's hard to fault the recent Synapse DVD, however. Shown in it's original full-frame presentation, the transfer is absolutely astounding when considering the quality of previous home video presentations. There's also a generous amount of extras, including a jovial commentary by Tim Sullivan, Douglas McKeown, actor Charles Hildebrandt, John Dods and executive producer Tim Hildebrandt where the group remembers fondly (and with surprising detail) their experiences on the film. The second commentary by producer/writer Ted A. Bohus is a bit more sedate, but goes into detail about some of the flubs and production problems that occurred during (and after) the making of the film. Both are worthwhile, and provide necessary insight into low-budget film making.

The disc also includes a theatrical trailer, a wonderful collection of photos, a fun comic book prologue, an alternate opening to the film, audition footage, and a terrifically goofy visit with John Dods. After experiencing everything it has to offer, it's hard not to gain a new appreciation for the passion that the creators brought to the table. This is as complete a package as a fan could ever hope for.

A surprisingly nasty nostalgic horror film gets a reverential and insightful treatment. Worthwhile for fans of 80s horror, and particularly throwback monster films like The Thing, Tremors, Slither and The Blob.

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