Filmed in New Jersey on a shoe-string budget with a cast of unknowns but some excellent monster effects, The Deadly Spawn is one of those cult horror films that, with an Arrow release, has remained cult.
A meteor crashes in the hills outside a typical sleepy town. Campers are the first to be shredded by the creature that emerges; a 6 foot high, three-headed, fleshy and phallic collection of toothy maws that soon finds its way into the basement of a nearby house. Once it has set up shop, the creature begins to populate the flooded basement with dozens of tadpole like spawn, equally hungry for fresh meat.
The action of the film takes place over a single rain-soaked day in Charles and Pete’s house. Pete is a typical high school nerd. Worried about his grades and trying to get his study partner to recognize his romantic interest in a passive/aggressive way. Charles is a different variety of geek; obsessed with horror films and with a bedroom full of zombie movie posters and special effects toys.
Their parents are the first to go, venturing downstairs to meet a grisly end. Then the electrician wanders in and is similarly chomped to pieces. By this time the creatures mobilize and spread out from the house and it isn’t long before the tadpoles attack neighboring grandma’s vegetarian luncheon, chew their way through uncle Herb and force the kids to barricade themselves in the upper storeys of the house. Charles, like all young boys with an affinity for chemistry, mixes up some explosives to put the monster down in a fountain of gore.
The greatest attention was obviously paid to the special effects featuring lots of animated monster puppets and full prosthetic bodies being eaten into bloody chunks. Performances are so-so, with some more earnest work by the adults while the teens chew scenery. Young Charles is forced by the script to stare at monsters in confused horror for long stretches as the effects play out, and there’s only so long he can hold the expression before it looks more like quiet concern than fear of gory death.
The two young female characters are painted in very broad strokes. There’s Ellen, the good girl honor student on one side and Kathy, the naughty girl on the other. One of the more interesting twists in the filming is that Ellen needed to leave the project, so it’s the good girl who gets killed while the naughty one makes it to the film’s end. A reversal of the script that feeds into the ending in which the survivors are traumatized rather than triumphant.
The filmmakers borrow heavily from other horror films in what might be seen as homage but what I experience is more a grab-bag of ideas. Not all of them are appropriate. There are comedy moments, with grandma grinding up a tadpole in a food processor and serving it to her guests, some scenes that recreate the last few moments of Night of the Living Dead, and plenty of Fulci inspired prolonged kills but with the zombie replaced by the toothsome spawn. Scenes just happen and then end; the sense of time is confused between the concurrent and consecutive events.
Which would matter, but we’re really just here for the gore. And if you are too, it’s worth your time to watch The Deadly Spawn.