Recent Reviews of The Deadly Spawn(PART 1):

homepage some reviews, part 1 reviews, part 2 production pics What budget? the release 1980 script & 1983 reviews DVD recording session What's the latest? Contact the writer-director NIGHTMARE USA ARCHIVE 2018

excerpts from the amazing book, NIGHTMARE USA, by Steve Thrower (FabPress, 2007):

The Deadly Spawn [is] one of the most enjoyable and exciting low budget horror films you could ask for.... a funny, gripping and atmospheric piece of work that puts many a monster flick of big studio pedigree in the shade....

A brief prologue showing the deaths of a couple of unwary campers is simply workmanlike, but the next few scenes draw us compellingly under the film's spell. Director Douglas McKeown takes time to introduce the household whose fates will be the focus of the story. These early scenes are so evocative and plausible you find, to your surprise, that you're not merely waiting for the Spawn to attack: with most low budget monster mashes, all you really want to see is teeth and flesh-wounds, everything else is an irritant. Not so here — without over-doing it or being pointlessly arty, McKeown captures the gentle, sleepy domesticity of a Sunday morning, as everyone just eases their way into the day. The wonderful music has a dreamy calm-before-the-storm feel, the acting is realistically low key, rain beats down on the windows: you would almost forgive the characters if they opted to deny us the usual screaming and bleeding and instead hopped back into bed like real people, for another forty winks...

But this is a horror film and such idyllic laziness is not an option. Bloodthirsty sceptics can rest assured that the laid-back parents soon lose their happy thoughts after a trip to the cellar, and the mayhem proliferates (in step with good characterisation) from thereon.

The Deadly Spawn reminds me of another great American horror movie, Don Coscarelli's Phantasm: both focus on believable, non-chippy teenage protagonists forced to deal with the destruction of their families, presented within a fantastical framework. They're liberally packed with highly inventive special effects. And both are mood-pieces: the prevailing emotional ambience being a blend of humour, horror and melancholy. But enough of the film's subtleties... What to say about the monsters? They're fantastic, a triumph of low budget dedication and design. The spawn-on-human effects scenes are just priceless, and even the less successful ones make up for in chutzpah what they lack in technical polish. Of all the effects in the movie, I'm always startled by the ultra-realistic early stages of the Spawn, skittering around like mutated mudskippers in the waterlogged cellar. (Imagine if the Eraserhead baby had babies of its own...) The more developed Spawn inspire a mixture of repulsion and hilarity: they even have a weird sort of cuteness, their cartoonish facial expressions exuding a Tex Avery pleasure in going about their gory business. By the time these critters have grown into man-eating giants the size of cattle they're riotously impressive, sure to stir the hearts of even the most jaded of fans. John Dods designed these magnificently angry crimson creatures, their huge gaping mouths packed with teeth sprouting from red swollen gums and dripping with alien mucous. I've applauded the film's other qualities but lets not mince words — this is one hell of a payday for monster fanatics. In many ways The Deadly Spawn is the apotheosis of the low budget monster flick — instead of a cute but obvious man-in-a-suit (Spawn of the Slithis, The Milpitas Monster, Bog), here we have a rude, aggressive, dementedly phallic/grungily vaginal creation, proliferating through several different stages, all of them dangerous; executed with balls-to-the-wall dedication by John Dods and given the utmost impact by Doug McKeown. It's obvious that the inspiration came from Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger's Alien: but where Scott and Giger had vast resources, McKeown and Dods carved their niche with a hundredth of the budget. If you have any love for the craft of monster-making, you can't fail to be dazzled.

But then, everything works well here. The young cast hold the story together admirably: there's nothing phony about their performances, even when they have to react in extremis to the most bizarre of alien marauders. They may have been new to the screen, but they never feel clumsy or uninspired. The scenes where Peter (Tom De Franco) fails to accept that his cherished world of science and logic can't explain the horrors that have befallen his family are intense and completely plausible within the generic context of the film. 13-year old Charles Hildebrandt, the youngster whose role as clued-in horror fan is pivotal to the plot, never hits a false note, and — a genuine rarity with child actors in horror films — never has you rooting for his death! The script foregrounds his interest in horror films,and in a clever, cannily written exchange has him answering questions from a psychiatrist-uncle about the effect of scary movies. McKeown takes this opportunity to shoot down the criticisms parents often raise when they decide to ban their children from reading horror comics, or watching scary movies on TV. It's all done without ostentation, revealing the child's mature distinction between fantasy and reality, then bolstering this by showing that he's actually more resourceful as a result of his passion for horror. Talk about understanding your audience: by cocking a snook at moaning, pleasure-denying parents, McKeown is guaranteed to strike a spark with viewers!

This genre-referential approach proved quite prescient: ironic use of movie lore was still infrequent in horror films of the time. McKeown's "postmodern" appeal to his audience's sensibilities easily pre-dates the "horror-irony" bandwagon of the 1990s and has the added virtue of offering a casual, playful setting for such ideas: far preferable to the ostentatious huffing and puffing of Wes Craven's Scream and its imitators. The Deadly Spawn is a playground of a film for genre enthusiasts, and provides an impeccable combination of thrills, kills and directorial flair. It's more than twenty years old, but I bet even the jaded, seen-it-all kids of today would get a kick from this if they tuned in on their bedroom TVs...

- and from the internet ... on

The Deadly Spawn (1983) 18th Apr 05

Plot Toothsome aliens arrive in small-town USA and begin munching on local people…

Review From the get-go, this was going to be terrific; a bad miniature landscape is always such a welcome sight. A meteor lands. Two campers decide to investigate: “Hey, let’s go look!” We know right away that they are expendable spawn-fodder. The main group of characters in this film are everyday small-town Americans – three high school teenagers, Ellen (top of her class), Pete (science whiz-kid) and Frankie (dumb-ass). And last but not least, Charlie (Charles George Hildebrandt), a kid of about 10 who is fascinated by monsters and horror in general. The plot is really quite straightforward; the spawn nest in the basement of the house, and generally munch-to-death anyone who comes close, eventually working their way through the rest of the house, sliding up walls, under carpets, going anywhere they need to in order to satisfy their insatiable appetite! Obviously this is a cheap film made by genre enthusiasts. It reportedly cost the mere sum of $ 20,000! It looks shoestring (even cheaper with Vipco’s crappy transfer, eugh!) but the content is rich. It has a similar feel to Sam Raimi’s first two Evil Dead films. The characters, for example, behave like real people. For a horror film, that is so unusual. No stupid dope-smoking, drunk, sex-obsessed teenagers here – the teenagers in this film are intelligent and resourceful, apart from Frankie. They talk like real people do – this device blew me away but I didn’t notice it until the second viewing. Early in the picture, Charlie’s Uncle Herb, a psychiatrist, sits him down and asks him a series of questions about his obsession with horror and monsters. This scene is so wonderfully acted that you may forget that you are watching a film, especially a cheapo monster flick! Charlie indicates in this scene that if he was to see a real monster, it probably wouldn’t scare him too much, because he surrounds himself with that sort of thing on a daily basis. Shortly later, Charlie dons his red magician’s cape and makes his way to the cellar where he witnesses something that would make any adult run for miles. This scene is fantastic and it made what was already a cool-as-fuck film even cooler. Charlie sees the giant spawn (huge, slimy toothsome puppet-beast) and he works out that the spawns’ primary sense is based on what they hear. He stands there in the dark, dripping wet cellar, a kid in a magicians cape, tricking the giant spawn by throwing objects around the cellar and clicking his fingers like some sort of child Paul Daniels / Van Helsing figure. He works out more about the beast than the teenagers do because he experiences it first hand, whereas the teenagers find a dead small spawn specimen, dissect it, prodding it and poking it and saying things like “It looks like some sort of nasty tadpole”. Pete is the sceptic and to be honest, he’s a bit irritating, e.g. “It’s scientifically impossible!” when its right before his eyes. What an arse. On the other hand, Ellen is more open to new theories and ideas, the open minded one, and we like her for that; “Without supposition, there’s nothing to prove.” Ah…the voice of common sense. Pity she gets her head bitten off... The film reaches its climax when the giant spawn makes its way though the house, munching as it goes in all its toothsome glory. This is however precipitated by a scene where a bunch of old ladies get together for a vegetarian lunch only to be attacked from under the chairs and then from EVERYWHERE, in a truly hilarious scenario. Nothing better than the sight of old ladies crawling all over the floor, with angry alien spawns gnawing them from all angles. Perhaps I forgot to mention that the elderly vegetarian enthusiasts inadvertently eat one of the spawn, which makes its way into the ‘green sauce’ just before the ‘on’ switch on the blender is activated. That’ll teach the old bints not to eat meat. Spawn Justice. It is hard to think of anything bad to say about The Deadly Spawn. It just gets better and better. Its done for the right reason, despite any shortfallings that it may have (I couldn’t really find any – some people may take issue with bad miniatures but I find that to be part of its charm). The gore is top-notch and there’s PLENTY of it. Faces being chewed off, heads being bitten off, grannies’ ankles being munched - the works. It’s humorous, well-acted, and the spawn f/x are brilliant. They don’t look like puppets, any of them, and there are so many of the little buggers! The giant spawn is a very deadly spawn indeed and looks horrid. How many teeth does that thing have?! (Answers on a postcard to HQ, located in the cellar). The Deadly Spawn has a bit of everything and delivers the goods. I’m disappointed I didn’t see this film when I was a kid, like so many others did. I would’ve had the shock of my life when I realised it was one of the few films that was as good as I had remembered! (N.B. The ending wasn’t mentioned in this review for a very good reason. Magic.) "

Posted by Zomblee

 "... shows just how resourceful and persistent young filmmakers were at the begining of the [1980s] to get their movies made - and to share with the audience their love of the genre...the entire thing exudes a charm not seen in a lot of independent movies being made today ... a hidden gem ..."

  - Chris Hartley, 11/30/05





. . . The breadth of movies referenced in director Douglas McKeown's work is impressively wide with the most obvious being Edward L. Cahn's It! The Terror from Beyond Space (58), the main inspiration for Alien, and Christian I. Nyby's The Thing from Another World (51), where the demise of the alien in that film is echoed in this film's third act.

Other vintage sci-fi movies that have played a part in the creation of The Deadly Spawn include the pulsating meteorite in Irwin S. Yeaworth's The Blob (58) and the rapidly multiplying asteroid monsters from Kinji Fukasaku's The Green Slime (68), the design of whose creatures may have had a bearing on John Dods' work in the 1983 production while the fact that the creatures are blind and attracted to sound may have been copied from Steve Sekely's The Day of the Triffids (62). Attentive viewers may also spot some visual cues from Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon (57), with the shots of back-lit smoke drifting eerily through the trees at the start of the film(82)....

. . . the real reason for the existence of The Deadly Spawn is to take advantage of the fall out from two very successful trends in exploitation filmmaking. From the science fiction genre McKeown's film introduces alien beasts whose main characteristics are jaws-within-jaws and teeth dripping copious amounts of gooey fluid....

The other cycle that McKeown's work is part of is the teen slasher sub-genre typified by Tom De Simone's Hell Night (81) and Mark Rosman's The House on Sorority Row (83) where characters are trapped in a building under siege from someone or something, picking them off one by one. And it is here that some of its most basic conventions are subverted.

First of all, the movie dispenses with the usual stereotypes found in this kind of film such as the blonde bitch, the blonde virgin, the practical joker and the rebel with a heart. Instead the three lead teen characters can be best described as likeable enough nerds, more obsessed with studying for their exams than anything else. In any other horror film they would be probably be among the first victims to be sliced and diced. The female (Jean Tafler) in the group is also revealed to be the equal of the males in terms of courage and intelligence and much more imagination when considering puzzles, as evidenced by her enthusiasm in dissecting a strange creature (one of the alien spawn) she has found, in order to discover more about it, while her male friends remain skeptical.

Another convention abandoned by The Deadly Spawn is that often credited with being imported by former porn directors like Sean Cunningham and Roberta Findlay (Blood Sisters 87) into horror, namely characters being punished for any signs of promiscuity, no matter how innocuous. Here the characters remain resolutely chaste, the only romance being a convincingly awkward scene between Tom De Franco (Dr Alien 88) and Jean Tafler that ends in a simple kiss. Ironically the nearest the film comes to titillation is at the start of the film when the mother stretches out in bed and is revealed to be wearing nothing underneath her rather sheer nightdress.

Traditionally children in horror and science fiction cinema fulfil two functions: either to be cute, or in a tradition dating back at least as far back as Mervyn Leroy's The Bad Seed (56) and continued with films like Sean MacGregor's Devil Times Five (73), Richard Donner's The Omen (76) and Gabrielle Beaumont's The Godsend (80), threatening. In this production young fantastic film fanatic George Charles Hildebrandt (son of the movie's co-executive producer and miniature specialist Tim) actually proves to be the hero of the piece.

He is the only one not to panic when confronted by the creatures lurking in the basement. He also discovers their weaknesses in the form of blindness and vulnerability to fire and heat, knowledge that, together with his extensive knowledge of sci-fi movies, he puts to good use at the film's climax. Having a love of the fantastic is seen as a positive trait by McKeown as revealed when his is questioned by his psychologist uncle (John Schmerling) over his obsession and proved to be entirely normal in every respect, despite his parents' misgivings.

Other surprises featured in The Deadly Spawn involve the rationalist supposed hero Tom de Franco completely losing control at the climax and slipping into shock, leaving his friend Richard Lee Porter and newly arrived classmate Karen Tighe to fend for themselves, and the unheralded death of Jean Tafler, the character audiences were supposed to most identify with.

While this subverting of genre expectation is refreshing in its own right what audiences were really sold on were the special effects employed in the film and, for a film budgeted at under ,000, these prove to be very ambitious.

The title characters themselves are wonderfully bizarre and diverse creations. The "queen" which seems to produce all the other beasts in the film is probably the most outstanding and can be best described as a ball with a huge mouth and thousands of teeth. The multitude of incisors seen sported by the queen is a common feature of all the alien creatures seen throughout the movie and are genuinely threatening. The queen's off spring are varied ranging from smaller versions of herself to very phallic snake-like creatures and much smaller tadpole/piranha/salamander hybrids which like to crawl through drains and swim through shallow water. Using a mixture of crude but very effective animatronics and skilful puppetry work, director John Dods (My Demon Lover 87) manages to avoid many of the pitfalls of those working in low-budget genre cinema, ensuring his monsters are genuinely threatening by allowing them to move about freely in any environment (though how they do this is wisely ignored) while using their body weight and teeth to overcome any obstacles such as doors and barricades. Easily outclassing the traditional "man-in-a-suit" type beast usually found in this genre, Dods' work is a triumph of the pulp imagination. The Deadly Spawn's aliens may arguably have influenced effects work in later movies such as Stephen Herek's Critters and Ted Nicolau's Terrorvision (both 86).

In addition to the creature sfx, the other main selling point of McKeown's film was undoubtedly the gore, a staple ingredient of this type of low-budget horror/SF hybrid. Gorehounds will generally not be disappointed with the efforts of designer Arnold Cargiulio (The Devil in Miss Jones Part II 83) which include lashing of arterial blood spurts and chestbursting along with some nasty looking bite marks. Among the highlights are the mother having layers of facial skin peeled slowly off and eaten by the queen and her offspring, creatures eating the contents of a character's eyeball sockets and a graphic decapitation followed by a very realistic headless torso flying out of an attic window onto the ground below.

As a semi-pro production with such an inexperienced cast, the performances are bound to be variable. However, to be fair there are no outstandingly bad performances from anyone and overall the actors remain likeable and the regional accents from some add something to the proceedings.The rest of the film's production values are very basic. Filmed on 16mm, the resultant footage is often grainy with lighting varying from shot to shot in a number of places, sometimes in the same scene, and afflicted by some very shaky camera shots. In addition, although the two characters are seen together in the first act and apparently feature together at the climax, it does appear that the scenes involving the older and younger brother were filmed at entirely different times and places, something which becomes very apparent in subsequent viewings though was probably not picked up on by first-time viewers.

Despite these shortcomings The Deadly Spawn has a number of interesting features in its favor. The most obvious is having a violent (and loud) rainstorm raging throughout the film, a master stroke which provides the film with a unique atmosphere and makes for a suitably chilly setting for such a film.Director Douglas McKeown (whose only film this appears to be) injects some style into the proceedings, in particular making impressive use of high and low-angled shots along with some imaginative compositions. He also very efficiently conveys the mounting panic at the climax as all defences against the marauding creatures prove futile. An impressively tense scene at this point has Hildebrandt rig up his special effects kit so that he can electrocute the creatures and only needs to plug it into the mains for it to work - unfortunately one of the aliens has partially swallowed the cable making it too short. Meanwhile a successful shock effect near the start of the film has the mother being shocked by her husband's hand clutching at her shoulder, turning round to confront him it turns out that the arm is sticking out of the queen's mouth. This may also one of the first movies to show a POV shot from inside a monster's mouth.

The Deadly Spawn proved a major success (at least for its distributors and exhibitors) in its theatrical run and has attracted a very solid fan base over the years. Surprisingly though, no sequel was ever mounted though one was planned. Glenn Takakjian (who did miniature work on this film) did direct Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor (93) for Ted A. Bohus which may have originated as a sequel to this film and was marketed as such in the Far East.

Co-executive producer and miniatures designer Tim Hildebrandt, together with his twin Greg (trademarked collectively as The Hildebrandt Brothers), is best known as a multi-award winning fantasy artist whose work include the earliest Star Wars (77) posters and promotional material for authors like JRR Tolkien and Anne McCaffrey as well as ground-breaking posters, comics and religious commissions. This appears to be his only direct contribution to a production outside of some documentaries.

Douglas McKeown is reportedly working on mulit-media theatrical and literary installations in New York.
~lain McLaughlin


The Deadly Spawn (1983)
DVD release
An 80's splatter creature feature classic.

A pair of unfortunate campers stumble across a crashed meteorite and discover that some monstrous worm-like creatures have hitched a ride to Earth. After a bit of camper-hors devours, the alien spawn take refuge in the basement of an isolated farmhouse and prepare themselves for the main course! Soon, the unsuspecting family become the entrees of an intergalactic monster buffet. A group of teenagers, led by an ingenious special FX-loving young boy, now have to stop the aliens from reproducing and taking over the entire world.

There's something so satisfying about watching a flick made by filmmakers who grew up reading Famous Monsters of Filmland and who used to terrorize their neighborhood with homemade monster masks and exploding blood squibs designed for their own cheap Super8 monster movies. The Deadly Spawn is one of those movies you have as much fun watching as the filmmakers had in making it. Director and writer Douglas McKeown echoes the boyish wonderment of classic 50s and 60s Sci-Fi thrillers — like Invaders From Mars and The Blob — where some over imaginative kid tries to save their small town (and all its disbelieving citizens) from the inevitable invasion of some bizarre and dangerous alien beings. The Deadly Spawn features classic creature designs by special FX guy John Dods), whose outstanding monstrosities reflect the burgeoning splatter-gore movement, while evoking the best of the old school creature feature monster FX. It's no wonder that Dods went on to create FX for productions like The X-Files, but I cannot understand why McKeown wasn't ever given a second chance at directing other horror flicks. He took Spawn beyond the limitations of its low budget and created a unique creature feature that should get more respect than it's gotten.

Synapse Films does horror fans proud by putting out a package of extras more bloated than a roadkill possum on a sweltering summer sun-drenched blacktop country road. There are two commentary tracks (including the director and some cast members), screen test footage and outtakes from the personal stash of the filmmakers and cast, a comic book styled prequel, an alternate open with enhanced digital FX, plus a crude load more.
~ Barry Meyer

lowculture - Nov. 17, 2014

Reflecting On the Splattery Ambition of The Deadly Spawn

by on 12:00 am

 "The ’80s especially was a time of unrestrained weirdness. Given Jersey’s low-cost of living relative to the shadow cast by New York and its near-safety compared to the Rizzo-darkened streets of Philadelphia, the state was an attractive location to shoot low-budget movies...The films that eventually found studio support may have seemed normal on the surface, but they contained a spirit far darker than their peers; and the ones that didn’t, the Frankenhookers, well, there’s a reason they were left to languish in the pits of direct-to-video Hell. It wasn’t because they were bad, they weren’t; it was because, what sane person is going to watch this?

"Never was this more apparent than with 1983’s The Deadly Spawn. The film was meticulously crafted over a series of weekends taking months to complete. It doesn’t resemble the slick production of a studio film of the era, even ones made on a modest budget like Poltergeist (1982). But that was precisely the point.

"'For me, subversion was the project,' said director Douglas McKeown in a recent interview with cult film site Midnite Ticket. 'The freedom to do this was only possible because we were making an ultra low-budget film far from any studio. Aiming for New Jersey real as opposed to Hollywood real is subversive itself.'

"Over the course of its nauseating 78 minutes The Deadly Spawn sprints through a series of horror tropes like a runner doing the 110 meter hurdles without concern for how its supposed to be performing; it doesn’t just mindlessly hop them in a conservative regard for the rules, it smashes through each hurdle like a maniac in blind pursuit of destroying everything in sight and in turn destroying everyone’s expectations along with that. Winning isn’t the point, because the runner knows he can’t. So, characters are offed when you least expect it, and they’re not the ones you expect to be going. The creature is put up front and center, chomping on anything and everything on-screen, breaking the long established tradition of sticking your monster in the shadows to build suspense. And that ending, well, it’s the best jump scare you’ll probably encounter in a film of this kind.

"That’s the point of a project like The Deadly Spawn, it’s what low-budget auteurs and genre filmmakers should be striving to make. They shouldn’t be working to craft films that simply reflect the reality of the environment they were made in. We get it. A lot of people were cashing in on low-budget horror in the ’80s, but The Deadly Spawn’s inventive splatter and its bonkers story show that you can reach beyond your limitations to make something people will remember fondly years later even without the advantages of a good budget or a strong marketing campaign. You don’t have to strive to just be, you should reach.

"Reach, it did. The Deadly Spawn was released to modest success after a bungled distribution plan by the 21st Century Film Corporation which saw the movie branded as an Alien (1979) clone as a result of changing the film’s title to Return of the Alien’s Deadly Spawn. As producer Ted Bohus recalls in a 2009 interview with website Crazed Fanboy, 'They thought there was going to be a sequel to Alien so they decided they would change the title to grab onto that. They re-released it with that title, which I hated. I told them that but it was in the contract that they could change the title if they wanted to. I didn’t have final approval over the second release if they deemed it needed a title change.' The thing is, the film did eventually find its audience, years on when no one should have even remembered the film.

"My first experience with The Deadly Spawn came almost a decade ago after I had graduated from high school. I found the film over the course of a lazy summer spent trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I’m still not sure I’ve figured that out, but what I did realize was a love for film. All film. I devoured it much like the titular creatures of Spawn did their victims. I saw the movie with a large for sale sticker on it, sitting on a shelf in a Blockbuster, a place I’d soon come to loathe as an employee. The cover jumped out at me. I recalled the cover art of the VHS, this was at the tail end of the long, slow transition from VHS to DVD, from years earlier where it rested on the shelf of a Mom and Pop video store just down the road (it was put out of business by Blockbuster’s aggressive expansion in the mid ’90s). It wasn’t the same copy, at least I don’t think it was, but it was enough to catch my attention. So I plunked down a few dollars, went home, and watched it.

"Mind. Blown.

"I was aware of 'gore films,' as I’d heard them referred to through the filter of conservative nose-raising, but the closest I had come was the Romero zombie movies, which while gory never achieve the delirious shock of a spawn eating someone’s face. The movie was a portal. Soon I was onto darker, stranger places — Canadian body-horror,  French surrealism, Italian sleaze. But Spawn stuck with me because it was a movie I could revisit every few years. I lost that VHS pretty soon after I bought it but discovered the film had already been released on DVD by Synapse. So every year or two I’d return to that house in the woods, I’d watch as it was invaded by something resembling a blob of intergalactic penis monsters with teeth, and then I’d forget about it for a few months only to return again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the movie, but I can say I’ve haven’t seen it enough that I still don’t cringe at the moments I’m supposed to. The Deadly Spawn is effective not because it’s a violent movie or because it’s gory movie. It’s effective because it’s a good movie. Like so many of its weird Jersey peers, it’s an underappreciated piece of trash-art that deserves to be revisited."