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Synapse Films presents
The Deadly Spawn (1983)

"What are those things? Frankie, what the hell are those things?"
- Kathy (Karen Tighe)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: January 14, 2005

Stars: Charles George Hildebrandt, Tom De Franco, Karen Tighe, Richard Lee Porter, Jean Tafler
Other Stars: Michael Robert Coleman, James Brewster, Elissa Neil, John Schmerling, Ethel Michelson
Director: Douglas McKeown

MPAA Rating: R for (gore, monster violence, brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:21m:23s
Release Date: October 26, 2004
UPC: 654930303696
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

During the early 1980s, the horror genre was pretty much taken over by slasher films and monster films were definitely out of fashion. That didn't deter certain devoted amateurs, such as Ted Bohac and Tim Hildebrandt, who created The Deadly Spawn, a cross between a high-gore motion picture and a home movie. Coincidentally, it opened the same weekend as Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead, which shared many of these characteristics.

A meteorite falls to earth, and it's carrying a cargo of its own: spores that form tadpole-like eyeless creatures. Unfortunately, they rapdily grow to be eight feet tall or larger, with hundreds of razor sharp teeth and an affinity for human flesh. Sam (James Brewster) and Barb (Elissa Neil) come to bad ends in their own basement. The rest of the family, teenager Pete (Tom De Franco) and horror-film fan Charles (Charles George Hildebrandt), plus aunt Millie (Ethel Michelson) and uncle Herb (John Schmerling), expect Sam and Barb to be gone all day, so they remain blissfully unaware of the spawn within the floors and walls of their home, until it's far too late.

Shot on 16mm, this has quite a few hallmarks of a home movie, including shooting in fantasy artist Tim Hildebrandt's home, and starring his eleven-year-old son in one of the lead roles. On the other hand, it has fairly incredible gore effects (Barb's demise in particular is well-executed as one of the spawn rips off part of her face) much better than those found in many Hollywood films. The creatures themselves are intriguing, in part since they were designed by Tim Hildebrandt, and also because they're practical effects, executed through puppetry of various kinds. The result isn't always convincing, but the monsters are certainly threatening.

The story is fairly thin, though the setup of keeping the principal cast in the dark for much of the film helps keep the suspense levels up. The low budget dictates that the monsters be kept in the dark for much of the first half of the film, also helping keep their first clear appearance more effective. There are some memorable setpieces, such as the electrician who wanders into the basement and the tea party hosted by Aunt Millie that finds a spawn wandering into the blender. Also notable is the psychological examination of Charles by Uncle Herb as he tries to concoct a diagnosis of some kind of abnormality in his monster-obsessed nephew, a sequence that will surely resonate with those who grew up with Famous Monsters of Filmland and endured sidelong glances from other family members.

Though the cast is almost entirely unknowns or amateurs, they're capable enough to suit the kind of film that it is. Since it was shot sporadically over two years, Charles visibly ages from scene to scene as he goes from eleven to thirteen years of age. Gore is plentiful, but sexuality is not emphasized other than a brief segment near the beginning. While it's not a classic, its status as a Video Nasty got it some well-deserved notoriety. It's a hoot of a guilty pleasure for gorehounds.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture is transferred from the 16mm camera negative. There are obvious limitations to how good something like this can look, but considering the source material it looks astonishingly good. Color is quite good as are the black levels. There isn't a lot of shadow detail, but that can probably be chalked up to home-grown lighting. As expected, it's somewhat soft and grainy but no visible edge enhancement is added to make the film something it's not. Well done on all sides. The transfer grade takes into account the limitations of the source.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The soundtrack is a 2.0 mono that is pretty clean. The audio all appears to be that spoken live from the set, and it accordingly has some limitations in clarity. The music sounds fine.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1) writer/director Douglas McKeown, production assistant Tim Sullivan, Charles Hildebandt, Tim Hildebrandt, special effects creator John Dods; 2) producer Ted A. Bohus
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:50m:52s

Extra Extras:
  1. Outtakes and bloopers
  2. Comic prequel
  3. Audition tapes
  4. Alternate opening sequence
Extras Review: Synapse provides a broad array of extras in supplement of the feature. First off are a pair of commentaries that are informative even though they are on occasion duplicative. They're enjoyable to listen to and neither has any significant dead spots or much in the way of narration. Bohac's commentary, not surprisingly, tends to focus more on the business of making such a low-budget ($18,000) picture, while the other covers the making of the film proper. That would be enough for many other films, but there's more: a red-band R trailer for the re-release under the title Return of the Aliens shows how the distributors tried to palm it off as the Alien sequel. A 4m:53s set of outtakes includes a good deal of behind-the-scenes footage and horseplay. A featurette provides a look at John Dods' workshop including the spawn and many other creature creations. There's a comic prequel that is fifteen screens long and gives a setup for the spawn and how they came to be in the meteorite in the first place. A still gallery includes a huge feast of publicity shots, ads, and concept art. A brief set of bios doesn't add a whole lot of value. The alternate opening sequence is less effective than the original version, but it's included as an extra. Finally, there are 15m:20s of audition tapes allowing a comparison of some of the principal actors with other, less-capable candidates. Interesting stuff.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Synapse does a marvelous job of bringing this to DVD, with a ton of extras to boot. If you like gory low-budget monster films, this disc is right up your alley.


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