Content Warnings: Gore, Mutilation, Child Endangerment
Review: Sometimes, as a horror fan, you come across a film that just shouldn’t be as good as it actually is. You know the signs: the low budget, the no-name actors, the tropes borrowed from many different movies, etc. After appearing in the Shudder menu, I assumed 1983’s indie, budget creature feature, The Deadly Spawn, was going to be a ridiculous little B-movie that would provide a good hour-and-a-half of entertainment.
But I was not prepared for how good of a movie The Deadly Spawn actually could be.
This movie’s quality is actually boggling. The plot deals with some standard sci-fi B-movie fare. A strange meteor lands in the peaceful hamlet where our protagonists, a nuclear family with two young boys, live. This meteor carries a deadly race of worm-like aliens that spend their life eating just about anything they can get their hands on. When the two boys of the family, college student Peter (played by Tom DeFranco) and young monster fanatic Charles (played by Charles George Hildebrant), become stranded in their home surrounded by the worms, they must quickly figure out how to defeat them and how to escape to find help.
Some reviews and descriptions of this movie describe it as an Alien (1979) rip-off, but this is a complete disservice to the actual ingenuity of the film. For starters, while the aliens in this film do rapidly grow and mutate into new forms, that’s about where the similarities between the xenomorph and the spawn end.
Furthermore, the preoccupations of these movies differ entirely. The Deadly Spawn is more interested in its gruesome films whereas Alien is a thematic masterpiece of tension and terror.
Which isn’t to say that The Deadly Spawn is inferior in its writing! Surprisingly enough, the characterization of the film’s characters is spot on. Most of our cast are actually quite intelligent, reacting like actual human beings in a scope of this crisis. For example, in an important and tense scene, Charles freezes in complete fear at the sight of the largest spawn in the house. This human reaction helps impart important information of the spawn’s biology and helps him escape later.
In another example, when Peter’s fellow biology students come to the house and get the chance to actually dissect the creature, the movie plays with a criticism of blind skepticism that’s actually not too bad. I wouldn’t call the dialogue cerebral or amazing, but it really does illuminate our character’s motivations and personalities in a rather short scene. Nor does the movie forget tension as the argument provides the perfect opportunity for the spawn’s influence to grow.
Speaking of the spawn, these little (and not-so-little) critters are the real star of the movie. For a measly twenty-five thousand dollar budget, the special effects for the monsters are amazing. You really feel the weight, slime, and teeth of these creatures with every movement. The gore and kill scenes make for some really gruesome and fun viewing experiences. I also have to give credit to the sound designers of this film. Specifically, the spawn communicate in these strange, hissing growls that immediately alert the characters, and the audience, to their presence. It’s a pretty haunting sound, and it’s going to be stuck in your brain after you’ve finished watching.
All in all, The Deadly Spawn is an underrated 80s gem made with a love for 50s B chillers. You don’t want to miss this one while it’s streaming even if the transfer isn’t so great. If you have the money to purchase physical media, I also highly recommend adding this baby to your collection.