The Deadly Spawn

Blu-ray Review

They don’t make movies like The Deadly Spawn anymore, or rather, they don’t make them well. Douglas McKeown’s one and only directorial effort is an unabashed love letter to the invasion flicks of the 50’s, amped up with buckets of blood, guts, and incredible puppetry. While all of that is great, the reason The Deadly Spawn really works is because it never tries to be anything more than it is. It’s not trying to be a sweeping character piece, it’s not trying to shoehorn in psychological thriller crap, and it doesn’t have this big, mighty message it’s trying to get across; no, Deadly Spawn is a fun monster movie with a really great creature whose whole purpose is to eat, kill, and destroy, and it wears it proudly on its sleeve.

The creature hitches a ride on a meteorite and after taking out two campers, makes its way to the cellar of a nearby house. At first, its merely content picking off the unfortunate inhabitants that make their way downstairs, but eventually it leaves the cellar and lays siege to the house, biting off heads and ripping bodies apart. And if that isn’t horrific enough, it also has an army of big tadpoles with razor sharp teeth.

The Deadly Spawn tries its hand at some characterization early on by giving Charles (Charles Hildebrandt) an interest in special effects and monster movies much like Tommy Jarvis in The Final Chapter and Pete (Tom DeFranco) a scientific mind – both of which come in handy, of course. Once it tries to move beyond that, by doing things like conducting a really awkward child psych session in the living room, it basically drops the plot and gets straight to the madness.

The death dealing and monster action is when Deadly Spawn is at its best. Running at a lean 70-something minutes, it cuts out all the boring stuff and gets right to what it’s good at: chewing bodies up and spitting them out. It’s a special effects extravaganza with a really elaborate monster puppet – moving with realistic enough fluidity – and a great synth score, and that’s all it wants to be. God bless The Deadly Spawn.

A/V

The Deadly Spawn was shot in 16mm with several different film stocks (then blown up to 35mm for theatrical distribution), so Elite Entertainment’s 1080p presentation can only look as good as the source material, which is to say, not very good at all. This was my first time watching the film, so I can’t comment on how it compares to the DVD, but the Blu-ray has numerous problems, including several instances where the picture and sound completely bottom out, leaving a blank screen. Some scenes are grain heavy, while appear to have been scrubbed with DNR, and there are scratches throughout the film. Reds come through strongly, but characters look sickly in some parts, and there is no variation in blacks whatsoever; nighttime outdoor scenes are a mess, and there’s little in the way of shadowing. The 2.0 LCPM track is a mess too, with the awesome synth score coming through nicely while the dialogue sounds like a faint whisper – save for the creature, who gets his due.

Special Features

Special Introduction by Producer Ted A. Bohus (1:19) – Bohus shows off some neat memorabilia, including a hand-puppet (!), in this very brief intro.

Commentary – Bohus and editor Marc Harwood have a really lively chat about the film, no thanks to their chemistry and Bohus’ sense of humor, which transforms pretty much every extra on the disc from average to amusing. The guys chat about set stories, the multiple designs and changes the creature went through, the numerous continuity errors (hey, at least they’re good sports about it!), and, of course, the wonderful, wonderful puppetry and special effects. Definitely worth a listen if you’re big into low-budget filmmaking, or just want a few laughs.

Alternate Opening (4:43) – Aside from a blander title sequence, there’s very little difference between this and the theatrical version.

Casting and Gags (35:57) – Rehearsal footage of the cast and crew, culled from a black and white VHS recording. It seems improvised for the most part and everyone seems to be having a blast, but at thirty-five minutes, it’s a little taxing to sit through.

Bloopers and Outtakes (4:56) – A collection of behind-the-scenes footage, featuring make-up tests, a few goofs, and a look at some of the special effects magic that makes Deadly Spawn the fun creature feature it is. There’s no audio, which is a shame as it would’ve been interesting to hear some commentary on the raw footage, and it’s way too short.

Local News Segments (40:32) – A collection of clips and interview segments from local news channels, highlighting Bohus and his filmography. He’s got a great sense of humor, so the interviews are fun to watch, though the collection doesn’t focus on Deadly Spawn too much – Metamorphosis gets a lot of coverage, which looks like a blast to watch.

Take One (24:58) – Harwood drops some knowledge on a cable access show about low-budget filmmaking, and introduces some Deadly Spawn clips and trailers.

Visit with the Deadly Spawn (8:39) – A short visit with an unnamed special effects artist, who shows off his odd sense of humor in addition to some sculpts and puppets. He finally gets to the Deadly Spawn puppet after rambling for a few minutes, and his visit to the basement is sadly short-lived.

There’s also a very long slideshow that features a lot of cool behind-the-scenes photos of the creature and production, and a preview of an upcoming comic book that, based on the few pages included, looks like it explains the origin of the creature. Out of all the special features (minus the commentary), these are the only ones that look slick and polished, since everything else looks like it was taken from VHS masters – there’s tracking problems in some, and parts of commercials between news segments in another!

Film: 3.5/5

Blu-ray: 2.5/5

 

Official Score