The Best Movie Critic + review

The Deadly Spawn

The Deadly Spawn could be the best home movie ever made. I say could be because while I understand that it really isn't a home movie, per se, it maintains the feel of a bunch of friends getting together on a lark and making a splatter flick for no good reason, like I (and probably many of you) did in high school, middle school, and maybe even grade school. For the Super 8 home video generation, this movie should generate instant nostalgia, even if you’ve never seen it, or even heard of it.

The Deadly Spawn’s vibe and technique remind me very much of some of our other favorite 80s shoestring budget filmmakers. What Sam Raimi and his friends were doing in Michigan with the Evil Dead movies. What Peter Jackson and his cronies were doing down in New Zealand with Bad Taste. The Deadly Spawn fits perfectly in this category. Those were the salad days of my film education, joining my high school’s film club as a nerdy freshman, and having my eyes opened – suddenly, drastically – by those movies, as well as the likes of Forbidden Zone and Repo Man. My only regret about The Deadly Spawn is that I didn’t see it when I was that socially awkward 14 year old.

The Deadly Spawn’s plot, a permutation of the perennial “space slug” genre, is far from original. A meteor crashes in the forest, a space monster is set loose on a small town, it gives birth to deadly spawn, you get the idea. Not exactly rocket science, nor does it need to be. There are some elements that play out decidedly differently here compared to other movies in the “space slug” genre, however. For example, the Deadly Spawn meteor crashes in the first shot of the movie rather than giving 10 minutes of build-up and extraneous back story on characters who exist only to become the first mangled victims of the titular deadly spawn. Compare this to another classic space slug-fest, Night of the Creeps, where the opening sequence (which takes place 3 decades prior to the events of the main movie) goes on for a good fifteen minutes. I'm not knocking Night of the Creeps, I'm just saying that Deadly Spawn is mean and taut, and I admire that in a b-movie. I think the unlucky campers are kaput by the fourth or fifth shot of the movie; these guys don’t waste any time. On the other hand, there are ridiculously long conversations about Science with a capital S that, intentional or not, reach truly Zen levels of ineptitude. As one high school nerd proclaims, “Monsters can’t be real because they cannot be proven by Science!” Flawless scientific method. As near as I can tell, this is the central emotional conflict in the movie.

What keeps The Deadly Spawn in the zone isn't the thrilling conversation and character work, of course. It's the magnificent splatter effects these guys were able to come up with on a next-to-nothing budget. Sure, nothing here is close to realistic, but the spawns have real personality. And the way the mother monster moves is a perfect distillation of how every classic hulking movie monster should move. What really surprised me were some of the gore-against-humans shots. There are a few scenes involving the head of our protagonist's mother – one where her skin gets peeled off by the monster, one where the baby spawns are eating through her decapitated skull – that struck me as being deliciously inappropriate in their presentation. The effects fellas on this flick must have had a great time.

Of course, the production value and acting in The Deadly Spawn keep it from “greatness” by, say, Oscar standards. But considering what director Douglas McKeown and his crew had to work with here, I'd say this movie is something they should be immensely proud of. No, McKeown didn't ascend to Hollywood darling status the way Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi did – considering what pieces of shit Spiderman 3 and The Lovely Bones were, maybe that's a good thing. Sadly, The Deadly Spawn was the first and last project in McKeown's career as director, and that's a shame. Call me crazy for getting so mushy about a dumb b-movie – nee, z-movie – but I really feel the love and effort put into every frame of The Deadly Spawn. This is the movie I dreamed of making when I would dress all my friends up in silly costumes and make blood from Karo syrup and food coloring all those years ago.

Magic Moment: A murky, Pacific Northwest-style rain falls throughout The Deadly Spawn. Perhaps that's another reason the movie feels so nostalgic for me, as that's the climate I grew up in. Since much of the movie takes place indoors or with matte backdrops, I'm lead to the conclusion that this was a choice and not a necessity. It was the right choice. The rain goes a long way toward filling the screen with exactly the sort of atmosphere a movie like this needs. I imagine that shooting with the element of rain was a nightmare on such a low budget movie. I applaud McKeown and crew's gumption in tackling something like this, and although I might be the only person who noticed it consciously, the effect pays off.

-Ben

p.s. Make sure to stick around for the credits, as the end credit theme song is totally bumpin'. It would be criminal if Tarantino didn't recycle this at some point in his career.

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The Deadly Spawn + review