If cinema has taught us anything it’s that meteors are nothing but trouble, they either wipe out cities ala Deep Impact or they’ll bring nasty alien creatures like The Blob to eat the locals, and today we will be looking at writer/director Douglas McKeown’s The Deadly Spawn, a film that falls in that second category with a particular nasty visitor from the dark reaches of space, one that seems to have an endless hunger for Earthlings.
The story unfolds like your standard science fiction/horror flick, with a meteorite impacting in a forest and unleashing hungry alien species that makes quick work of two curious campers before moving on to invade the nearby home to broaden its menu. The cast of characters that make up this rather limited menu consists of young Charles (Charles George Hildebrandt), a lover of monsters movies and special effects, and his older brother Pete (Tom DeFranco) who is a science major but is torn between his love of the “scientific theory” and his attraction to classmates Ellen (Jean Tafler), who may or may not be dating Pete’s best friend Frankie (Richard Lee Porter), and this high school drama goes on for quite a while, taking us away from the invading monsters who we see devour Pete and Charlie’s parents, and it’s this aspect of the film that drags everything down.
At a meagre 71-minutes in length, it’s surprising how lethargic and listless the film manages to become and that there isn’t one single character to rise above one dimensionality is a key factor in keeping us from ever becoming fully engaged. We don’t get to learn much about the parents before they wander off to the cellar to get eaten, and then there is Aunt Millie (Ethel Michelson) and Uncle Herb (John Schmerling) who picked the wrong time and place to visit their relatives, with Herb taking some time off to psychoanalyze Charles before getting his eyes eaten out by the “Deadly Spawn” while Millie goes off to her mother’s (Judith Mayes) for a luncheon with the local women’s group, and when the alien invaders crash the party it’s about as abrupt and uninteresting as everything we’ve seen up to that point.
When things finally begin to go crazy, with Charles finding the alien horde munching on his mother and a visiting electrician while Peter’s study party is interrupted by an alien autopsy followed by an alien invasion, one would assume that the proceedings would start to get good, but you’d be wrong. We do get a lot of gore but primarily the film’s last act is full of people screaming and slamming doors on the encroaching alien monsters, with a fourth study buddy Kathy (Karen Tighe) showing up to maybe add some tension. Still, her arrival is far too late for that, and she simply brings a new set of screams to a home that is already overloaded with much of the same. As to be expected, it is Charles who inexplicably comes up with a plan to defeat the “Mother Spawn” and to call his plan ill-prepared and highly implausible is being generous and the film is only able to pull up from this complete crash and burn of an ending by giving us a cool “Gotcha!” moment with the hill by the house suddenly lifting up and revealing a fully-grown spawn of colossal size.
• People who investigate a meteor strike have a very low survivability rate, just ask the old dude from The Blob or poor lonesome Jordy Verrill in Romero’s Creepshow.
• Charles is one of those kids who is a monster fan, which is a quick and easy shortcut to give us an “outsider” we can relate to and is a “trope character” that has popped up in such films as Salem’s Lot and Friday the 13th the Final Chapter.
• Uncle Herb, who is a trained psychologist, attempts to psychoanalyze his nephew under false pretenses and for that alone, he pretty much earns his death.
• The little tadpole-like offspring give off a definite Cronenberg vibe from his 1975 horror classic Shivers.
• The slow speed at which the “Deadly Spawn” moves about puts it on par with The Creeping Terror for monsters than can be easily avoided by walking away at a brisk pace.
• I’m not sure if the non-reaction we get from Charles when he first sees the monster is due to catatonia, bad acting or poor direction, regardless of all that what we still must ask is why the creature didn’t immediately devour the kid like it did the three previous visitors to the cellar.
Douglas McKeown’s The Deadly Spawn has managed to achieve some level of cult status over the years, an achievement of sorts to be sure but it doesn’t make this film any easier to recommend to anyone but hardcore horror fans of cheap gore and goofy monsters, which is really the only reason to watch this film. As to the movie’s title monster, well, I’ll grant it that special effects man John Dods did a pretty good job with his creation, considering the budget and constraints he was working under, but for a monster to fully work it must face off against some good protagonists and in the case of this movie that is decidedly lacking here as what we see on display barely achieves community theatre levels acting, and watching these “actors” walk tediously around a damp basement fails to deliver any real suspense and that is the kiss of death to a horror film.
While The Deadly Spawn fails to be scary or even remotely suspenseful, unless you are under the age of seven, there is an element of quaint charm that many of these low-budget horror films of the 80s often achieve, which is mostly due to the amount of heart and effort the filmmakers put into these creations, despite the lack of actual talent behind or in front of the camera, and so a little forgiveness can go along way towards appreciating these horror gems and while this particular entry doesn’t quite fit into the “So bad it’s good” category there is still a bit of fun to be had if you go into it with the right frame of mind.
The Deadly Spawn (1983)
Movie Rank - 5.5/10
The bloodthirsty creatures of The Deadly Spawn are clearly the stars of Douglas McKeown’s no-budget horror flick and if you can get past the terrible acting and tedious camerawork, and if you lower your expectations a great deal and simply focus on the cool monsters, there is a chance you will have a good time with this deep dive into cult horror.