The Deadly Spawn (1983)
Back of the box...
“In a remote part of New England, two teenagers on a camping trip see what looks like a meteorite fall from the sky and land nearby. Investigating, they discover The Deadly Spawn - a toothsome alien being that quickly disposes of them before setting off in search of more food. Soon it has found a hiding place in a nearby town, where its terror is fully unleashed upon the unwary inhabitants.”
Director: Douglas McKeown
Starring: Charles George Hildebrandt, Tom DeFranco, Jean Tafler
Watch the Trailer
On the day of The Deadly Spawns release, April 22, 1983, New York Times writer Vincent Canby criticised the movie, claiming it was “an amateurish, resolutely unscary, low-budget horror film.” 30 years later John Dods (producer, monster designer, and special effects director for the film) referenced this review in his video intro for the Cinefamily midnight screening of The Deadly Spawn, continuing on to say that “in the intervening years it got a great deal better, apparently.” While generally not appreciated at the time of their release, the DIY low-budget horror films of the 70’s and 80’s emerged as their own genre and are celebrated today by fans who recognize the love of filmmaking behind these movies limitations.
The Deadly Spawn has the look of a slapdash project, churned out over a long weekend but this was not actually the case; it was a painfully drawn out process. The film was directed by Douglas McKeown, a high school teacher who couldn’t afford to quit his day job and was forced to relegate shooting to the weekends, like binge drinking or gardening. Though based on an original story by producer Ted Bohus, McKeown’s screenplay continued to be a work in progress over the course of shooting. Despite his obvious sacrifices and hard work, John Dods didn’t like the way McKeown had shot his monsters. After principal shooting had finished, Dods arranged to take over directing in order to do special effects re-shoots. McKeown, who was waiting to edit the film was none-the-wiser as the job, unknowingly, slipped out of his hands. For the most part, he doesn’t have many complaints in regards to editing choices by his replacement (it’s more the mistakes he made as a director that really bug him). The only major difference is that a scene establishing Pete and Ellen’s romance was cut in order to make room for an extended scene showcasing the monster effects. This decision was of course made by Dods but you can’t really blame him for wanting to show off what is essentially one of the coolest monster designs ever.
The story itself is efficient in its simplicity, making for a nice tight film and possibly our shortest synopsis yet. A meteorite crashes to earth and from it rise The Deadly Spawn! The otherworldly creatures, hungry for human flesh, find their way into a family’s basement. Soon, family members begin to disappear one-by-one before the carnage quickly ramps up, leaving the inhabitants of the house fighting for their survival.
We love The Deadly Spawn, it’s the perfect little, short-and-sweet, B monster-movie. Its likeable and believable lead characters, we suspect, might have been influenced by Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist which came out the year before. While short and to the point, the story still manages to push boundaries and challenge cliches, with a few surprises along the way. The acting is passable, although the casting of a producer’s child in a lead role might suggest otherwise. The monster design and special effects are shockingly good for such a small budget. Seriously, the monsters look REALLY good! We compared the budgets and effects of a few movies in order to hit home just how good they really are. We thought a fitting comparison would be 1997’s special effects embarrassment, Spawn. Remember what a piece of shit that movie was? Well, according to IMDB, Spawn cost $40,000,000 and The Deadly Spawn cost $25,000. That means Spawn cost 1600 times more than The Deadly Spawn but still managed to look 1,600 times worse. And Spawn’s cgi scenes in Hell are probably worse by that number squared!
As fans of 80’s B horror movies, we can’t recommend The Deadly Spawn enough. It’s a DIY experiment in gore and special effects that will not disappoint. Low budget horror movies have a legacy of not living up to their box art but in this film, the monsters actually look better than they do on the cover. We sank into our seats a little at the sight of the terrifying mass of sculpted plaster that is The Deadly Spawn. It’s a must see in the low-budget gore genre and it’s creative effects and likeable characters make it accessible for non horror fans. So call up some friends, whip up some green sauce for your swedish soy balls—check it twice for giant slugs—and enjoy the cult horror classic, The Deadly Spawn.