“The Deadly Spawn” (1983): Angry space alien salamanders are feeding on human flesh!

By on July 20, 2018

In the beloved bargain basement-budgeted cult classic The Deadly Spawn — now streaming in our Horror section over on Night Flight Plus — it all comes down to a handful of plucky citizens to find a way to stop angry space alien salamanders from reproducing before they gobble up everyone in New Jersey, one bite at a time.

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This fast-paced 80-minute gorefest begins with two campers who investigate the crash landing of a meteorite in the New Jersey woods (lensed in and around Gladstone and New Brunswick, NJ, about an hour and a half drive west from New York City, NY).

They find the space rock is still red hot, but learn too late that the meteorite carries a terrifying creature inside it, a creature with row after row of razor sharp incisors and an endless appetite for human flesh.

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The alien creature quickly dispatches the hapless campers, then makes its way to a local New Jersey suburban neighborhood.

There, it moves into the dark, leaky basement of an old isolated house to birth its deadly spawn.

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The creature proceeds to kill Sam (James Brewster) and wife Barb, the parents of budding astronomy student and college science major Pete (Tom DeFranco) and his ten year old younger brother, obsessed monster and horror movie fan Charles (Charles George Hildebrandt, son of fantasy illustrator Ted Hildebrandt).

Our young hero Charles realizes what is really happening when he goes down into the basement and comes across the multi-fanged evil space salamander, a carnivorous eating machine.

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These creatures — designed in all of its stages by John Dods and his great SFX team — continue to grow in both size and large numbers, producing multiple offspring which infest the family’s home and begin spreading throughout the neighborhood.

Soon, Charles and Pete and some the people these space alien salamanders haven’t eaten yet — Aunt Millie (Ethel Michelson), Pete’s dimwitted friend Frankie (Richard Lee Porter) and love interest Ellen (Jean Tafler) — have to figure out how to destroy the Deadly Spawn before they take over their entire town.

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Read more about The Deadly Spawn below.

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Director Douglas McKeown (behind-the-scenes photos courtesy Monster Legacy)

The Deadly Spawn was a huge cult hit when it was released in 1983.

Most critics saw it as a heartfelt albeit bloody homage to a few recently-released movies that had inspired writer/director Douglas McKeown, including Friday the 13th (1980) and Ridley Scott’s big-budget space horror blockbuster, Alien (1979).

In fact, The Deadly Spawn was later retitled Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn (also: The Return of the Alien’s Deadly Spawn) for VHS home video releases in an attempt to cash in on Alien‘s and Aliens‘ (1986) huge box-office success.

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Much of this movie’s raison d’être, in fact, seems to stem from the filmmakers wanting to create a space monster of their own, one with razor sharp rows of teeth dripping copious amounts of goo.

We’ll go even go further and suggest that the basement where these creatures spend much of the film isn’t that different from the spaceship set from Alien, with its constant water leaks, and steam and strobe effects (caused here by a shorting fuse box).

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Attentive horror movie fans may additionally recognize that co-producer Ted A. Bohus’s story and McKeown’s script for The Deadly Spawn was quite likely inspired by the very same 1950s-era sci-fi invasion flicks that had initially inspired the makers of Alien, b-movies like Christian I. Nyby’s The Thing from Another World (1951), Edward L. Cahn’s It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), and Irwin S. Yeaworth’s The Blob (1958).

McKeown’s directorial vision was likely also greatly informed by a careful study of classic films by George A. Romero, Alfred Hitchcock and Jacques Tourneur, borrowing their use of shadowy camera set-ups, odd Dutch angles and extreme close-ups.

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Bohus has said he came up with the idea for The Deadly Spawn in 1979 after reading a National Geographic article about Arctic seed pods which were thousands of years old.

He began to think, what might happen if you put an alien seed pod inside a meteor and then have it crash, thaw and grow on Earth?

Bohus called SFX great John Dods and they soon began coming up with designs for their creature.

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John Dods works on the giant Spawn’s teeth, applying clearcoat to achieve a shining effect

McKeown and his crew — working on a shoestring budget, no more than $15-$25,000 total — spent ten months (September 1980 to June 1981) shooting the film on 16mm, which was later blown up to 35mm for grainy theatrical prints.

The Deadly Spawn enjoyed a successful initial theatrical run, which led film distributors and exhibitors to returning it to theater screens repeatedly over the years, building up a solid cult following in the process.

Numerous VHS and DVD releases have also increased that loyal following.

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Douglas McKeown on 42nd Street in NYC, during the film’s second theatrical release, 1983-84

Incidentally, the house were many of the scenes were filmed was where fantasy illustrator Tim Hildebrandt lived in Palisades Park, New Jersey (Dods also provided his workshop/studio: the basement of his apartment building in New Brunswick, NJ).

Hildebrandt — who along with his twin brother Greg, he is best known as a multi-award winning fantasy artist, and one of the original poster designers for Star Wars (1976) — was a co-executive producer and miniatures designer on the film, which appears to be his only direct contribution to a film production.

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Watch The Deadly Spawn and other cult horror film classics on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.