Sometimes, there’s nothing more warming to the cockles of my heart than seeing a bunch of youngsters, utterly out of their depth and blessedly naive to the impossibility of their task, band together with virtually no resources and somehow make a movie. The roads to cheapjack indie greatness is littered with barely functional attempts at cinema that show a barely literate understanding of even the basic laws of story telling, but every now and them, a wunderkind in the mold of a Sam Raimi, a Peter Jackson, a Kevin Smith or the guys that made The Blair Witch Project manage to spin gold from their stunning lack of resources.
However, lurking somewhere inbetween these two poles is Douglas McKeown’s The Deadly Spawn, a 1983, do-it-yourself ode to chonky rubber monsters and mangled limbs that manages to provide ultra low budget chuckles despite feeling like a high school kid’s deranged media studies exam entry.
Like a million sci-fi movies before and since, a meteorite falls from the heavens and disgorges a slug-like alien lifeform that instantly attacks and eats two campers unlucky enough to be within reach of it’s truly imposing dental work. The little, carnivorous invertebrate takes refuge in the basement of a typical family made up of husband Sam, wife Barb and their two children, college student and science enthusiast Pete and younger, monster movie enthusiast Charles and rapidly masticates it’s way through both parents first thing in the morning before anyone else in the house is around. It seems that not only does this alien critter have an impressive appetite, but it’s pretty fucking lucky too, as both parents were due to head out of town and leave the kids in the care of their visiting Auntie and Uncle, so neither one of the kids is any the wiser that they just became orphans and simply go on about their day.
However, while Pete has round his friends, Ellen (intelligent) and Frankie (dimmer than a busted lightbulb), Charles, trapped indoors by the heavy rain, heads down into the basement in order to rustle up some mischief and finds himself face to teeth with the extra hungry extraterrestrial. Figuring out that this shuddering hunk of carnivore responds to sound, the young horror fan manages to discover the fate of his folks and finds out that the creature has not only given birth to a swarm of jagged-mouthed leeches, but is growing with every shrieking un-happy meal it can sink its chompers into.
As its spawn spreads out from beyond the house, the papa spawn soon erupts from the basement, looking for more succulent treats to wolf down with the franic enthusiasm of someone entering a hotdog eating contest. Can anyone survive this fearsome feast?
Before we get down to a-chewin’ and reviewin’, The Deadly Spawn is hardly in the same league as some of those no-budget debuts I mentioned earlier and suffers somewhat by a notcable lack of experience by… well, anyone; but while the experience may seem painfully unprofessional by some people’s standards, there’s a certain homemade charm to the film that, if you’re a fan of trashy bloodfests, will prove to be immensely appealing.
Sure, the actors can barely be called that legally and the set is obviously someone’s actual house, but it’s this can-do spirit that makes things so much fun and its genuinely impressive what the filmmakers achieved with minimum resources and even less filmmaking acumen. Of course, the main (fuck, make that the only) reason to watch this film is the carnage these outer space gluttony inflict on the cast, virtually shredding them into oatmeal with some staggering gory, but adorably fake physical effects. Its here that the movie shines as the movie tracks its brains to come up with as many gore gags as it can to maintain that goofy energy. Remember that bit in Jurassic Park where a hand falls on Laura Dern’s shoulder and she thinks it’s Samuel L. Jackson when it’s only just his severed arm? Yeah, The Deadly Spawn totally did that first as Barb turns to the reassuring touch of her husband only to find that her hubby’s arm is jutting out of the creature’s maw.
Elsewhere there’s plenty of other chewed up faces and mangled bodies to keep gorehounds happier than a pig in shit, but what really sticks out for me is the beasties themselves. Featuring an atypical design that features a physiology that resembles a bloated, three-headed venus flytrap made out of pork and a genuinely ghastly mouth that resembles a ripped out fireplace (Ye gods people, the teeth on this thing, the teeth!), the creatures counteract it’s obvious rubberiness with a look that’ll cause anyone with even a hint of vorarephobia the mother of all funny turns. This is proven overwhelmingly true by the movie’s most surprising and notorious moment that, not only catches you entirely off guard, but shows the ingenuity needed when your grafting away at a gore epic with precious little funds. With a spoiler warning in place, the scene in question sees romantic lead Ellen flee the snapping jaws of the alien only for it to catch up to her and bite off her fucking head and throw her body out of the bedroom window. It’s utterly unexpected, generating a truly genuine WTF moment from a movie you’d expect to be a predictable as an Only Fools And Horses rerun, but the best thing about it is that it came about that the actress (who’se character was originally supposed to survive) got another job and couldn’t work on the film anymore despite it only being around half-finished. The solution? Kill her off.
It’s a beautifully low-rent way out of a filmmaking bind that wonderfully encapsulates the allure of low budget cinema that usually requires ingenious answers to the kind of problems that never usually occurs in mainstream Hollywood. I mean, could you imagine if that happened to, say, Nicole Kidman on the set of Eyes Wide Shut – massive scandal. Here? I bet it hardly slowed down a day of filming.
Flawed and blatantly ridiculous, The Deadly Spawn manages to offset it’s obvious disadvantages by leaning fully into lashing of outlandish grue, getting as much footage as it can of its eyeless, snaggletoothed star and gifting us with a final shot so ambitious, you can’t help but be impressed.
It ain’t got the staying power of The Evil Dead, that’s for sure, but The Deadly Spawn still is mindlessly fun to consume.