A.K.A.: Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn
Directed by: Douglas McKeown
Written by: Ted A. Bohus and John Dods (story)
Douglas McKeown (screenplay) and Tim Sullivan (additional dialogue)
Producers: Ted A. Bohus, John Dods, Ron Giannotto, Jonathan Harris, Susan Harris, Rita Hildebrandt, and Tim Hildebrandt (the artist who painted the famous poster for the firstStar Wars)
Starring: Michael Robert Coleman, Ethel Michelson, John Schmerling, Charles George Hildebrandt (Tim’s son. Ah, the nepotism!)

As a young teenager in the ’80s, I idolized this film. There was once a magazine for amateur filmmakers called Cinemagic. It was put out by the same publisher as Fangoria andStarlog, and every month it would focus on a different aspect of film. Sometimes it was lighting, sometimes editing, and sometimes it was make-up and creature effects. It was in the pages of said magazine that John Dods, creator of the title beastie in The Deadly Spawn (who went on to bigger and much better things with The X-Files), showed me that with rolls and rolls of paper towels, gallons of liquid latex, and teeth–a whole lot of teeth, you too could make your very own monster. Oh, the days and nights I did spend in my bedroom wrapping sheets of foam around armatures, high from the fumes of the latex and giddy with the act of creation…

Where was I again? Oh, yeah…

As you may have already guessed by the monster made of paper towels, Douglas McKeown’s magnum opus The Deadly Spawn was shot on an extremely low budget with 16mm film stock. It begins, as so many horror films before it, with a meteorite streaking through the sky. It crashes into the wooded hills of a rural community, where it is discovered a pair of unfortunate campers (2 guys?). As in The Blob, a hungry alien terror slithers its way out of the still smoking rock and quickly devours them. As it eats, it grows. The more it eats, the more it grows.

The alien thing moves toward civilization, seeking refuge from a rain storm in the huge and creepy basement of an average American family. For various reasons, the adults who live in this home decide that they need to go down there and are gorily consumed. Heads are ripped off, arms are devoured, and blood sprays up onto light bulbs where it smolders and bakes. Soon, only a group of teenagers and a young boy remain.

These kids must now fight to survive. They try to escape the house in one piece, but are met at every turn by that pesky three-headed alien slug from the cellar. And now, it’s not alone. With it’s belly full, it has reproduced–creating hundreds and hundreds of little mouths that swim, climb walls, and…well…eat. How will the world be able to defeat this red menace?

Douglas McKeown’s direction is more than competent. There are some nicely composed shots, and a few interesting sequences (the best being the scene where the young boy goes down in the basement and discovers what remains of his parents). Overall, he manages to keep the film moving and gives us some fun scares and surprises along the way. Considering what he had to work with, I’d say he did a fine job.

The “actors,” on the other hand, are the real low point of The Deadly Spawn. Sure, they give it their all, and you can tell their hearts are in the right place, but when they open their mouths to speak, it’s all over.

But we’re not here for the human characters, are we? The real stars of the film are John Dods’ creatures. His toothy babies are seen actually swimming through puddles on the basement floor, slithering up the walls of the home, and wrapping themselves around rafters in the attic. They rip flesh from bones, eyeballs from sockets, and even cannibalize each other in a pinch. Just looking at them, you would never guess how they were constructed, but knowing what they are made of makes them all the more amazing to behold.

If you have experience with trying to put together your own low budget masterpiece, with your friends and neighbors as cast and crew, you’ll respect and appreciate the merits of this movie. These guys actually got this film into limited theatrical release in the early 80s! The fruit of their efforts (and possibly the second mortgages of their homes) is a quaint little horror gem that any fan of the genre can enjoy. If you’re feeling a bit nostalgic, or if you just love a good B-grade gorefest from time to time, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.

2 out of 5 stars for the acting

3 out of 5 stars for the film as a whole