Dir. Douglas McKeown
In a fitting piece of connective tissue, a film mentioned in passing during my first review of this series, Things (1989), is being covered now. I still believe that as a first attempt at a film, made in someone's back garden, it is a success in terms of structure and technical quality. But my preferred film? I think a lot more personal opinion is involved, though I found enjoyed The Deadly Spawn. The titular spawn appear from outer space, breeding in an unsuspecting suburbs of a small American town. An aquatic species, the constant rain makes it a very bad day as they multiply and grow, a cross between tadpoles, sperm (let's be honest), and giant teeth stuck in various places. The spawn are flesh eating, ready to eat your mother or relative if one ever gets close to their new home inside the basement of one poor family. The film itself, made with the resources the director had, is a testament to resourcefulness and ingenuity. I also cannot help but love the fact this is a fifties b-movie transposed to the eighties. There are a lot of eighties films that reference the fifties, a love-in for a period when Ronald Regan wasn't a president but just a b-movie actor. The creators of this film decided to make a fifties sci-fi, without irony, within the context of the period the film was created in. Which means far and away more gore and prosthetic effects. A lot more prosthetic effects until the point you have to wonder how much fake blood and materials had to be bought for the production, and how much of a mess it made in the house the film was shot in. In the era of The Evil Dead (1981) I cannot help but be happy that there was a boom in this time of people who watched horror films making their own, some with varying results, some with legitimately great qualities.
It's a film that was made by genre film fans for genre film fans, going as far as having the closest to a hero be the youngest brother of the family the spawn have invaded. A Famous Monsters reading kid obsessed with horror films, watching them in the morning and waking his aunt and uncle, posters on the wall, and trying to scare his relatives with elaborate masks and costumes, adding effect with chemicals he could buy in magazines. I didn't have this sort of childhood, but my own had plenty of similar things that led to me loving this sort of material. Tiny books, smaller than the palm of my adult hand, about specific monsters (vampires, mummies, zombies etc.) including a chapter devoted to as many of the films made about them, many I still need to see. Books of ghoulish real events, and demons, aliens, monsters and urban legends like Bigfoot. I was once even forced to stand at the playground wall, looking at it, in primary school as punishment for scaring the girls with a plastic scorpion, something which has probably left some subconscious trauma lingering still inside me. It also, in a clever part of this very simplistic film, has an importance to the plot in that his knowledge finally can have real life use in reacting to this threat, while traumatised after, with stern courage, taking matters in his own hands as everyone is being eaten and his older brother and his friends are terrified. Rather than being an excuse for cheap references, it's a nicer tribute, even if its self service, in-love for these types of film, to see it part of the plot itself. The odd thing is that Things was also made by horror fans, the references in that film a layer to the illogical nature of it which made no sense and were difficult to see as tributes, more closer to lovable gibberish.
I wish if I made a film, I could make it with the technical accomplishment this has. The gore, as said, is suitably well made and quite disgusting at times, and the spawn themselves, while very rubbery, are suitably comparable to the obviously fake fifties American sci-fi monsters, but also have a real weight to them. The, ahem, little sperm spawn in particular are freakish in how someone managed to make them, with tails like tadpoles, swim in blood and water quickly. They also have character. Like Joe Dante's gremlins, they will gladly destroy anything while also eating anything, even vegetables. The thing is, while I find a lot to love about this film, I much prefer Things for its complete lack of comprehension and madness. I admit I was not well viewing this film, an unfortunate stomach bug that thankfully left me after that day, but I like my films, b-movies as much as the a-movies, to have more texture, more detail, and of course with Things complete lunacy. What I liked in The Deadly Spawn returning to it, beyond the technical achievement, is not the story and horror. It mainly is scenes of the spawn eating people and people running in fear of them, which makes up most of the film but is slight. Watched with having to fast forward through the commercials, the film so brisk that it gets to the next ad break quickly, and the film viewed as it was originally intended to is still very short. The few moments of personality the film show, which it needed much more of and, ridiculously, Things had, are the best. That the closest to the protagonist is the horror nerd but he takes his goal to kill the spawn with a seriousness that is bad ass. The moment his uncle asks his questions about his obsession for his psychology conference. Some slight romance with the older brother. And the kooky segue into a vegetarian party that goes ire, the best scene and the closest to Gremlins (1984) in anarchic tone. It's also a film surprisingly vicious, contrary to the original fifties sci-fi it's a recreation of, where anyone can be killed, leading to one really startling death that, while the film is jaunty in tone, is done seriously for its aftermath for the one moment it has more of a depth. My only regret is that The Deadly Spawn is slight. Unfortunately its director Douglas McKeown never made another film. Doing this review, I've discovered a continuation of this film, from another director, exists, but having never heard of it until now, with some knowledge under my belt, it's a shame that nothing more was continued from this film baring the cult appeal it developed.
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
Never really a chance for this one to get on the list. A b-movie monster film which doesn't get esoteric. It's to be watched for being a b-movie tribute that shows what one can do if they try their hardest.
A Cinema of the Abstract movie?
No, Things is. But again, the advantage of writing these reviews is that I appreciate the film more having thought more about it. I was really not that interested in writing this review, a little ambivalent about doing so, but with both the hectic pace this project will get to and the sense that a film like this is the kind of underdog cinema I can, if anything, get behind for its virtues, I'm glad now to have put up this review. It feels unfair to compare it to the Canadian entry though the comparisons can be made - while The Deadly Spawn is about aliens, Things is an alien floating in orbit around planet weird.