Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 21 min.
Release Date: April 22nd, 1983 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Douglas McKeown Actors: Charles George Hildebrandt, Tom DeFranco, Richard Lee Porter, Jean Tafler, Karen Tighe, James Brewster, Elissa Neil, Ethel Michelson, John Schmerling
tching to film in New Jersey with a shoestring budget, director Douglas McKeown and writer/producer Ted Bohus confronted head-on all the typical predicaments associated with such an endeavor. Gathering together an editor, a composer, a cinematographer, a special effects/makeup crew, and a cast were all difficult tasks by themselves. But that didn’t even include finding financiers – a tough undertaking for any independent picture – or unforeseen issues such as filming in subzero weather on one set before moving to 110-degree temperatures for indoor locations. But their efforts paid off, resulting in a schlocky cult classic.
While camping, two friends witness and then investigate a meteorite crash site, which reveals a toothy, tentacled, aggressive creature that promptly attacks. The following morning, a couple in town awakes to a particularly miserable, rainy day. Sam (James Brewster) wanders into the basement to investigate some strange sounds, while Barbara (Elissa Neil) follows after him a few minutes later – to discover blood splattered all over the place. After those two are both devoured by the meteorite monster, Aunt Millie (Ethel Michelson) and Uncle Herb (John Schmerling), a child psychologist, rise for breakfast. They’re not concerned about Sam and Barb’s disappearance, since the two were planning to be gone for the day anyway. And young Charles (Charles George Hildebrandt) and his older brother Pete (Tom DeFranco) – average boys with interests in horror movies, astronomy, and girls – are looking forward to the freedoms of having the adults out for the afternoon.
Heartbeat sound effects, severed fingers, buckets of blood tossed against walls, a dangling light bulb that swings ominously back and forth, and limbs lunging from the shadows are all amusing tropes that the filmmakers have adopted from countless other pictures. But despite its minimal resources and its obvious derivations, “The Deadly Spawn” manages to do a great number of things right. The look of the movie is more than adequate, from the sets to the lighting to the rubbery creature itself, which is shown in brief bits to conceal its immobility and artificiality. Its fanged maw is nicely designed, salivating ceaselessly with a milky fluid, and its escalating size remains believable thanks to camera and perspective tricks. The puppeteering may be generally stiff, but the movement of the offspring (an icky development later in the film) is entirely convincing.
The plot isn’t terribly creative, but it effectively sets up some delightfully gory ambushes and boo moments for the revealing of dismembered corpses. The dialogue could certainly use some work, however, especially as the uncle’s passion for fears and his interview of Charles is not only creepy but also forced and unnatural. A few minutes later, the uncommonly brave Charles is frozen in fear when he spies the basement-dwelling monstrosity – for a laughably long period of time, as multiple cuts to other characters show plenty of activities that couldn’t possibly have elapsed all while the boy merely observes the beast feeding and breeding.
Pete’s pals Frankie (Richard Lee Porter) and Ellen (Jean Tafler) are similarly generic, though their inclusion allows for the potential of a higher body count, a dissection scene, and plenty of suppositions on the ravenous spawn’s originations (as well as a strange shift in heroism and the order in which victims perish). Knowing too much about the hellion’s homeworld, its purpose, or its lifecycle are, of course, unnecessary. Although these interactions are intended to be character development (and a bit of a love story), this is where the amateurishness of the production grows more evident. If the conversations were more refined, it would be easier to focus on the horror elements – like the mutilative violence, the accidental humor of bad acting, and the little scares (and yucks) that are clever enough to have possibly inspired the likes of “Dead Alive,” “Slugs,” and “Critters.”
– Mike Massie