During a long-gone era in which a film produced for less than $30,000 could still get some form of theatrical release, The Deadly Spawn (1983) carved its mark in monster movie history.
Shot on 16mm in New Jersey by a team of pros, semi-pros, and green amateurs, The Deadly Spawn will again splash across the silver screen, this time as part of the Destroy The Brain! Late Nite Grindhouse series. The first weekend of each month, Destroy The Brain! serves up a gritty slice of genre cinema, usually projected in 35mm, as The Deadly Spawn will be on Friday, June 1st, and Saturday, June 2nd. The monster-fest commences at 11:30 pm both nights at the historic Hi-Pointe Theatre in St. Louis, Missouri. Recent Late Nite Grindhouse presentations included a rare uncut 35mm print of Lucio Fulci's House By The Cemetery (1981), the hack-‘em-up crowd-pleaser Pieces (1982), and the Dario Argento / Lamberto Bava collaboration Demons (1985). Sink your teeth into all the details here.
The Deadly Spawn is a boisterous and gory horror film about aliens crashing to earth in a meteorite and then setting up home in the basement of a house. When it is their time to dine, humans are, of course, the top item on the menu. The movie was re-released under different titles like Return Of The Alien's Deadly Spawn and Return Of The Aliens: The Deadly Spawn, in lame attempts to trick film fans into thinking it was a sequel to Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) – a popular tactic among distributors of low-budget horror / sci-fi movies.
From this era before the dawn of shot-on-video or digital indie films, The Deadly Spawn is one of many ultra-low-budget movies that was born not of plentiful resources, but of the unshakable tenacity of the determined filmmakers. Most often, these underfunded films would see the light of day only briefly before fading away forever. However, on rare occasion, a home-grown film made with blood, sweat, and tears, instead of a decent budget, clicked with its intended audience, made a small mark in the American film landscape, and maintains an enthusiastic following today. The Deadly Spawn, directed by Douglas McKeown, is one of those films.
McKeown was successful in live theater as an actor, set designer, costumes designer, makeup artist, and director. The Deadly Spawn is McKeown's only film. The movie was produced by Ted A. Bohus, who had previously toiled on two Don Dohler zero-budgeters, Fiend (1980), and Nightbeast (1982). Tim Hildebrandt, one of the leading names in fantasy art (he and his brother created one of the 1977 posters for Star Wars) was an executive producer on The Deadly Spawn.
You can put this gory alien invaders flick in the same category as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Phantasm (1979), The Evil Dead (1981), Basket Case (1982), and Deadbeat At Dawn (1988). They were produced during that long period after WWII ended, but before shot-on-video and digital films were being released with any regularity. In this span, instead of a major studio, four guys, a few lights, and an old 16mm Arriflex were all you really needed to get your movie shot - but the easier, cheaper methods of shooting video/digital had not yet come along. All of the above productions thrived on the fact that established film studios were not necessary to make a motion picture – and all of these movies exhibit the grit and grime that come from the very non-glamorous trenches of real indie film production.
The Deadly Spawn is not as well executed as the films listed above. It is definitely less like its popular indie uncle, Night Of The Living Dead (1968) and more like its young, disheveled, unruly indie cousins, The Dead Next Door (1989) or Winterbeast (1991). However, clunky as it is, The Deadly Spawn is incredibly enjoyable to watch. It's maximum b-movie entertainment, brimming with fun special effects, directed with great gusto, and energized by the filmmakers' love of the genre.
Just a quick note in closing: If you intend to pick up The Deadly Spawn on DVD, make sure you grab the Synapse Films standard DVD released in 2004. A Blu-ray of the movie was released last year, but it is of very poor quality – continuing a long tradition of abusing The Deadly Spawn on home video. The Synapse release looks much better, so stick with that. Of course, if you'll be in the area at the top of June, come on out to the Hi-Pointe Theatre and experience The Deadly Spawn on the big screen.
Thanks for reading.