The Deadly Spawn, 1983.
Directed by Douglas McKeown.
Starring Tom DeFranco, Charles George Hildebrandt, Ethel Michelson and John Schmerling.
A crashed meteorite brings hostile alien life to Earth.
The Deadly Spawn is upfront about its inspirations, taking lead from and citing monster movies from the 1950s such as The Thing from Another World (1951), The Mole People (1956) and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). Aspiring to blend the genres of horror and science-fiction, we open with a meteorite falling from outer space and landing in a remote part of New Jersey. Two plucky campers set out to investigate and are promptly dispatched in a pre-credits sequence that suitably sets the tone.
Following this, The Deadly Spawn struggles to find its footing. Another two characters are introduced – a mother and father – and some semblance of a plot seems to get going until strange happenings in a basement also lure these folks to their untimely demise. Glimpsed as shadows cast on a wall, the alien creatures are intriguingly designed and cleverly kept hidden initially. Establishing a home within the basement, the spawn begin to breed and grow at a rapid rate whilst the plot finally takes over. Also residing in this home are two kids – the teenage science-minded Pete (Tom DeFranco) and his monster movie obsessed younger brother Charles (Charles George Hildebrandt). Aunt Millie (Ethel Michelson) and Uncle Herb (John Schmerling) are currently visiting, and all are blissfully unaware of the events that took place in the basement.
To up the body count, Pete invites over three friends for a study session and so the stage is set. It doesn’t take long before the spawn make their presence known, and soon the screen is awash with crimson and grisly effects. The Deadly Spawn works best when it is revelling in its gruesome creations, and despite a few of the effects looking silly instead of scary, the alien creatures themselves are magnificent. Toothed phallus-esque creations, these are like the chestburster from Alien (1979) cranked up to eleven, covered in blood and slime and reproducing quickly. The house is soon overrun by the impressive creatures and those left alive must make a desperate stand.
An interesting dynamic is provided by the two brothers – Pete attempts to understand the situation with science and facts whilst Charles adopts an imaginative approach relying on his movie-watching background to devise methods of destroying the aliens. The spawn quickly work their way through the cast with gore galore, and although the movie only clocks in at seventy-eight minutes it does feel a little bloated in places. The characters are all surprisingly well developed, and the film is careful to depict their distinctly average morning to allow us to get to know them all individually, with each possessing a recognisable but never overbearing trait. Even the younger kid Charles doesn’t annoy – which is a rarity in film and a testament to the standard of acting. Admittedly, none of the cast are brilliant actors, but they each sell their characters adequately.
It just feels like The Deadly Spawn never quite manages to overcome its limitations, content to settle for an average and largely predictable plot that plays out with few surprises. It’s very obviously a B-movie and it boldly never attempts to be anything more, but it places these interesting characters and presents an intriguing premise, and then promptly fails to actually go anywhere. Director Douglas McKeown seemingly lacks the courage to really push this movie in an assertive direction, and it ultimately flounders and digresses into a pretty tedious trapped-in-the-home narrative. Of course, aficionados of low-budget grot will find something of value here – the alien creatures are beautifully memorable and there are a couple of stand-out scenes – but most will tire long before the credits roll.
The Deadly Spawn is released by the ever-reliable Arrow Films via their Arrow Video label on March 19th, and features a plethora of delightful special features including two chat-tracks, an amusing comic-style prequel, alternate opening sequence, selected archive TV interviews with the filmmakers, a collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Calum Waddell and Tim Sullivan, a double-sided fold-out artwork poster, reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Rick Melton and more.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film *** / Movie **