31 Days of Horror: Film 19: The Deadly Spawn (1983)

It’s time for the 31 Days of Horror: 2014 Edition. For those of you who weren’t around for last year’s journey, the plan is to watch at least 31 horror movies I’ve never seen before and review them all. So sit back, strap in, and enjoy my journey down the rabbit hole.

There’s a tremendous 40 minute short film in The Deadly Spawn. It’s a pity that writer/director Douglas McKeown saw fit to stretch his fun monster movie idea out to a feature length 80 minutes. The movie is definitely still worth seeing, but it could have been so much better if the connective tissue between the scenes of carnage and mayhem had been at least a little interesting.

An alien organism crashes to Earth and promptly kills the two campers who discover it. The film then jumps to the home of a suburban family living in a sprawling old farm house. After a brief introductory scene, patriarch Sam (James Brewster) ventures into the basement to fix the hot water heater. It’s no surprise when, a few minutes later, his wife Barb (Elissa Neil) goes looking for him, finds his dismembered arm, and gets her face bitten off by a giant alien creature.

So far, so good.

McKeown basically hits the reset button from this great opening ten minutes. Sam and Barb’s kids Pete (Tom DeFranco) and Charles (Charles George Hildebrandt) are introduced. Assuming their parents have left for the day, they go about their business of studying for an upcoming test, trying to scare their visiting aunt and uncle (Ethel Michelson and John Schmerling) with monster masks, and welcoming Pete’s friends Frankie (Richard Lee Porter), Ellen (Jean Tafler), and Kathy (Karen Tighe) as potential victims. From there, the film goes as you would expect with the (now numerous) creatures emerging from the basement and chasing the characters through the house before they occasionally eat someone.

When the film is focused on the characters plotting ways to escape or trying to figure out what the creatures are and how they can be defeated, it works. When the film features the creatures attacking the characters, it soars. But when McKeown takes time out to make attempts at character building, the film comes to a grinding halt. But while I found myself frustrated by the extremely long sequences of characters just sitting around talking—a subplot at a separate house takes forever to pay off, I would rather sing the praises of what The Deadly Spawn gets right.

Although working with an obviously tiny budget, McKeown turns the film into a celebration of practical effects. The creatures are the slimy, toothy stuff of nightmares. Looking both other-worldly and similar to overgrown leeches, their design is impressive even before the lengths that the special effects team goes to in an effort to bring the creatures to life. The sequences of the creatures chasing and devouring people are given power and a sense of humor just because the monsters are actually in the shot with the actors. These moments are great reminders of how much more fun horror movies were before CGI became the preferred (and cheaper) means of creating the type of mayhem McKeown and his crew so lovingly bring to life in The Deadly Spawn.

While the film shows its low budget in some dodgy acting and the padded out scenes between the monster attacks, it’s still an impressively put together film. McKeown has an obvious love for old monster movies of the ‘50s and marries that sensibility to a more gory ‘80s style. The Deadly Spawn is movie that just wants to entertain and it’s mostly successful at achieving that simple goal. At the very least, it’s a great showcase for practical effects. That alone is worth applauding.

You can contact me at obsessivemovienerd@gmail.com and read all the extraneous crap that goes through my head by following me on Twitter.

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