The Deadly Spawn (1983)
Director: Douglas McKeown
Writers: Douglas McKeown, Ted A. Bohus , John Dods and Tim Sullivan
Starring: Charles George Hildebrandt , Tom DeFranco and Richard Lee Porter

The Plot: After a meteorite crashes into the woods near a nice suburban neighborhood, two campers discover the wreckage where something sinister lurks. A creature from another world has wrecked into our planet and is looking to turn us into its primary source of protein! This creature looks like a small snake that replicates at an alarming rate and seems to grow whenever it touches water. These creatures stumble into the home of Pete and Charles, two brothers growing up with their parents and uncle/aunt. The Spawn finds its way into their basement where it takes nourishment in the massive water leak that has flooded this cellar. When the parents eventually make a trip down to the basement, the Spawn strikes out and devours them both. Now Charles, who is a horror movie fanatic in his young pre-teen years, must discover the secret to destroying these monstrous creatures. While Charles studies this monstrosity, his older brother Pete and his friends (who are all science geeks) discover a tiny offspring of the Spawn and try to uncover just what it is with modern science. Modern science won’t help them however, as this creature is far beyond what we can imagine and its limits are endless. Beware, The Deadly Spawn!

The Review
I’ve been meaning to check this out ever since Prof. Aglaophotis wrote up his review for Varied Celluloid back in the day. The prospect of cheesy alien costumes and some extreme gore certainly seems right up my alley! You throw in some eerily penis-looking monsters and you don’t have to fight hard to get me in line for a ticket! I am, after all, a fan of cinematic abnormalities and The Deadly Spawn most assuredly fits that description. It has been on my queue for quite some time now, but after reading a little more about the movie this previous weekend I decided it would be the perfect time to actually give it a look. While I won’t say that it turned out to be one of my all time favorite pieces of scifi-horror, I must admit that for all of its b-movie elements The Deadly Spawn is a pretty fun piece of work. Hailed as one of the very best “back yard horror movies” ever filmed, you should know what you are getting into with this one up front. Shot with a wind up camera over the course of 2-3 years, Douglas McKeown’s masterwork produces a lot of head scratching or applause depending on what audience catches it.

For a movie shot on such an incredibly limited budget, I have to admit that it has some genuine style! While watching I couldn’t help but be reminded of the low budget, but still artistically interesting, vibe that you get from films such as Slime City, Basket Case or Street Trash. These films all share a similar look and level of technique, despite being made separately. The Deadly Spawn doesn’t pack that normal New York/New Jersey attitude that the previously mentioned films do, but instead focuses on the suburban experience. This takes away that punk rock ideal of city life run amuck, but it works in a similar manner in this new environment where we get to see these young kids have to defend themselves within their own home. So there is a little bit of that still left in the movie as it is equally as stripped down and brazen in its love for shocks and thrills. Despite the rather cheesy look of the movie and the not-so-great acting, there is something very quaint about the project because of this no-frills form of filmmaking. This is something that I certainly enjoy, but I can understand that some modern audiences will have a look at the movie and find it hideous. It does in fact look like it was shot in the backyard by your older brother and his friends as they tried to make something really “gross”.

I suppose if it comes down to one particular reason that any horror fan should track down The Deadly Spawn, it has to be the gore right? Although not overly gory by today’s standards, there is quite a bit of extreme violence dished out in this one! What makes the gore interesting isn’t how plentiful it is really, but how different from the normal it tends to be. The opening sequence is a prime example. We watch as the father and mother character are lead down into the basement on separate occasions for their slaughter. The father heads down by himself and stumbles upon the mother-spawn, who then proceeds to gobble him up but we are shown the murder almost completely through silhouette which might lead you to believe that this is going to ultimately end up more as a throwback piece where little is shown and most of the violence is left to your imagination. However, in very short order the mom is lead down stairs and we see that this is not the case as the monster quite literally bites her face off. This particular death is really worth noting because it is likely the best gore scene in the entire movie and features some of he best prosthetic effects used here. There are many more scenes throughout that bump up the gore ratio, but when I walked away from the movie all I could think about was that woman’s face being pulled off of her face. Disgusting and effective, The Deadly Spawn definitely holds some punch after all these years!

There is an interesting moment where the uncle character decides to try and analyze young Charles, who is a hardcore horror movie fan. This little bit goes into some of the sub-text about horror cinema and its effect on the viewer. Although it doesn’t go very deep, but its an interesting little bonus. It’s a fun moment, as we see that the boy isn’t effected by horror movies and the filmmakers are obviously attempting to point out the way that these films help keep reality and fiction separated. It is also no accident that the savior of the film is the same boy and his ability to remain quiet during the most terrifying moments likely comes from his own familiarity with horror and the rules of the game. This is all rather silly and not the most subtle example of horror as a useful and necessary tool within modern fiction, but it’s a nice little undertone that works well. The character of Charles is essentially that cliché young kid who loves horror movies that we have seen before in other movies such as Salem’s Lot and Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter, but there’s something subtle and slightly creepy about this character and I liked that. Due to how quiet the character is played, his motivations at first seem muddy and you wonder if hasn’t snapped and figured a way to control the Spawn. It isn’t until halfway through that we really figure out the reasoning behind his actions. Although its a silly b-movie, there are more than a few interesting little tidbits going on in the background of this movie.

The Conclusion
While it didn’t crawl into my pantheon of great horror or sci-fi movies, I did find a relatively fun little movie that more than reached my expectations. It is definitely worth tracking down and the Synapse DVD release packs enough extra content that it surely makes it worth tracking down. I give it a three out of five. Not particularly great, but certainly not bad by any means.