A meteorite crashes in a remote forest, unleashing an alien species that devours anything in its path. Taking refuge inside the basement of a nearby home, the alien waits patiently for victims. Soon victims include the parents of Pete and his little brother Charles. Eventually, Charles and Pete discover the aliens lurking in the basement, leaving them to find a way to stop the aliens before it devours everyone.
If you know me, then you know that I'm a sucker for many B-movie horror films from the 70s and 80s. Whether it's Peter Jackson doing what he does best in films like BAD TASTE, The Chiodo Brothers and KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE or you-know-who and THE EVIL DEAD, I love 'em. One of the films that I hadn't seen before, however, was Douglas McKeown's THE DEADLY SPAWN. I know that it's sacrilege for me to say that, but honestly I hadn't even heard of the film until I started doing research. But now that I have seen the film, I'm kind of left with a case of "Is that it?".
Now I know that there's a number of you fans calling me a hypocrite or worse, but hear me out. For starters, I'm a sucker for homebrewed special effects, and the effects in THE DEADLY SPAWN are honestly quite impressive given the budget. Their design is simplistic yet effective: make monsters with big mouths and tons of teeth. Owing some of their slug-like design to the chestburster in ALIEN, the effects crew really put effort into these suckers. The crew also put their hearts into designing the gore effects. I won't spoil the more elaborate kills for those who haven't seen them, but the fourth person-munching demonstrates that these guys were able to pull off some great stuff on low funds.
That said, the film still falters on almost every other level. While I understand that it's part of the charm of the film, it didn't really gel with me. First of all, the look of the film isn't particularly good. Shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm, the movie is dark and blurry, with some clumsy editing of shots. It also doesn't help that the transfer that Elite used is probably worse than the previous DVD version (more on that later). The acting is also questionable. Granted, the filmmakers were going for an authentic look with the film, including the use of artist Tim Hildebrandt's own home and casting Tom's son as the Tommy Jarvis-like special effects kid Charles. That still doesn't change the fact that the acting as a whole just isn't very good. The movie also has very little in the way of story, but when you're paying homage to 50s monster movies, crafting a deep story on a low budget isn't in the cards.
It sounds like I didn't like the film, doesn't it? That's not entirely true. I understand what they were trying to do with this one. In spite of filming on the cheap, they wisely invested in the creature and gore effects as being the main attraction for their send-up. I appreciate that. There were glimpses of fun to be found here. But still, given a choice between THE EVIL DEAD and THE DEADLY SPAWN, I'd gravitate towards the former. That's not to say that on occasion, it would be fun to watch people being eaten by cheesy monsters. B-movie fans more hardcore than myself will probably appreciate this film more, and fans of the film already will probably ignore me.
Video: Man, this isn't good. This AVC encoded 1.33:1 is quite suspect when it comes to calling itself High Definition, and really affected my enjoyment of the film. It seems as though the transfer's been put through filters upon filters to squeeze out the grain from the image, making fine details almost nonexistent as well as leaving the image looking soft. To boot, there's still quite a bit of print damage on here. Skintones look anemic while the rest of the colours are satisfactory. Really, this isn't much better than a DVD.
Audio: Like the video, the audio is rough. The 2.0 LPCM Mono audio track sounds very dull and muffled. Given the shoestring budget, the track is also filled with some obvious clipping, as well as hissing and occasional pops. Dialogue loudness is also off the wall, with actors seemingly sounding like they're shouting at one another.
Unfortunately, many of the extras look worse than the film itself all in standard definition. How that's possible with some of the newer extras, I don't know.
Prior to the film starting, there's an introduction to the film with Ted A. Bohus, who welcomes the viewer to the Millennium Edition of the film, shows off the signed onesheet and a tooth from the giant puppet used in the film as well as goofing around with one of the smaller alien puppets.
Starting things off is an audio commentary by producer Ted A. Bohus and editor Marc Harwood. The duo spend much of the time having fun, cheering on the shortcomings of the film while fondly looking back on the production. They also touch on topics like low-budget challenges, tensions on the set, continuity errors and effects. This is probably more entertaining than the film itself, in my useless opinion. Sadly, neither of the audio commentaries from the previous Synapse Films release are here.
Carried over from the Synapse Films release is the alternate opening that doesn't differ too much from the theatrical cut, save for audio and credit changes.
Casting and Gags is a half hour of black and white VHS footage from the production's improvised rehearsals, with Bohus being the source of much of the goofing.
Also carried over from the previous DVD release is Bloopers and Outtakes which shows off the creation of special effects and cast interplay as the film wound its way through production, albeit without sound.
Local News Segments is one of the new extras, stitching together news profiles on the film and Bohus from the New Jersey area. As you've probably guessed, Bohus is more of the focus than the actual film itself.
Take One is a cable access show from 1982, interviewing Marc Harwood on his experiences shaping the movie and his feelings about the low-budget world of filmmaking.
Visit with the Deadly Spawn is another carry-over, featuring one of the creature designers showing off his work, along with the enormous alien puppet used in the film.
Slideshow is a 15 minute silent stroll through numerous publicity and production stills.
Comic Book Preview shows four pages from the prequel comic book for the film.
Finally, there's the film's redband trailer and a TV spot stuck together (and in rough shape) under the film's alternate title. Interesting to note that the narrator is the same guy who did the trailers for the original THE HILLS HAVE EYES.
It's not as polished as some B-movie monster mashes, but it has it's bloody heart in the right place. While this set has more extras than the older DVD set, Elite has dropped the ball on the transfer, leaving those who own the DVD the urge to hang onto it after snagging this one.