Sunday, March 18, 2012

Evil Spawn (1987)

Written by: Kenneth J. Hall, Ted Newsom
Directed by: Kenneth J. Hall
Starring: Richard Harrison, Bobby Bresee, John Carradine (sort of)

Not too long ago, my friend Brandon and I were discussing how internet shopping, while putting everything you could possibly want at your fingertips, has taken most of the fun out of shopping. There was a time that every CD, book, or movie I owned had a story behind it. I could tell you when I bought it, who I was with, and what else happened that day, whether it was a special road trip, or just a regular afternoon of playing frolf and going out for Chinese at the mall and hitting the used CD racks at the local record store. “I clicked a button and it showed up in the mail” just doesn't make for a very interesting story.

The state of Minnesota doesn't have sales tax on clothes, so every year when summer was almost over and a new school season loomed, mom and I would head up to the Mall of America to replace whatever I'd grown out of the previous year. Of course, living in rural Iowa, going to a place like that was also an opportunity to indulge in all kinds of cool stores that we didn't have back home. One of them was a sci-fi book store, the name of which escapes me. It's long gone, as the Mall just isn't the groovy place it once was, but I remember them carrying a huge stock of Doctor Who books and toys, among other things. On one particular trip, I remember trying to decide between a book of H.R. Giger's artwork, and a fine tome called the Illustrated Dinosaur Movie Guide. Giger is great and all, but anyone who knows me would have no trouble guessing which book I picked.

The Dinosaur Movie Guide is an extremely incomplete chronology of capsule reviews and trivia about the films of Barbra Streisand. I kid, of course. But a lot of the movies it discussed had about as much to do with dinosaurs as Yentl did. Along with opening my eyes to the fact that there were still Godzilla movies in production and tantalizing me with all kinds of awesome-sounding things that actually did have dinosaurs in them, the book also included entries for stuff like Rawhead Rex and Yor, Hunter from the Future. These strange and wondrous horror flicks became instant must-sees. The book also provided me with one of my first illicit glimpses of breasts, as the poster art shown for this movie (which is even less deserving of inclusion than most of the stuff that got thrown in just because it had a monster in it) features star Bobby (in a bit of serendipity, I accidentally typed that as “Booby” on the first try) Bresee's chesticles. Now, almost two decades later, I finally got my grubby mitts on this charmingly stupid load of crap (and yet I still haven't managed to track down a copy of Yor, which makes me sad). Granted, this wasn't one of the flicks I've been dreaming of seeing for almost two decades, and I'm kinda glad for that. When I finally saw it, Rawhead Rex became one of my favorite 80's monster flicks, but Evil Spawn wouldn't have been able to live up to twenty minutes worth of anticipation, let alone twenty years.

The movie opens with a bit of text telling us that a Venus probe called Odyssey is returning to Earth bearing a cargo of microorganisms for examination, but some eeeeevil scientists are planning to use them for greedy and illegal purposes. Then we get a look at the Odyssey itself, and it's the spaceship from Planet of the Dinosaurs! Come to think of it, that might be why this movie got included in a book about dinosaur movies, but that's a pretty tenuous connection (although there is an alternate cut called Alien Within, which has a load of different footage and who knows, maybe they recycled some of the dinosaur FX in that one).

One of the nefarious purposes those scientists use the microbes for is as an all-purpose fountain of youth, and that's just what aging actress Lynn Roman needs to get the starring role that will restart her ailing career. Too bad the side effects include dizziness, amnesia, irritable bowels, restless leg syndrome, and turning into some kind of giant bug monster that eats lying agents and sleazy directors and role-stealing young starlets.

And that's pretty much the plot. It's a fast, cheap, slapdash remake of The Wasp Woman, basically. Even though he didn't direct the whole thing, I'm including this as part of Fred Olen Ray-diation Poisoning because he produced the various versions of it (and if I'm any judge of style, had more than a little involvement in the creative process beyond finding money), and personally shot the scene with John Carradine as the mad scientist. That scene was shot as a generic piece of filler and the dialogue was kept intentionally vague so that it could be used in many different movies so they could claim the honor of “starring John Carradine” to get suckers like me to watch them.

I was originally going to do his most current picture, Dino Wolf, this week, but it was such a dull flick I couldn't think of anything to say about it. And wouldn't you know it, another little piece of serendipity, this one just happened to come in the mail from Netflix and I found out while doing preliminary research for Dino Wolf that I had accidentally ordered yet another Fred Olen Ray movie, which makes it even more appropriate for the theme of this little project. While this flick is, on a technical level, far worse than Dino Wolf, that is also its strength and saving grace, because that's what makes it so much more entertaining. There's nothing like a little technical polish to make a crappy monster movie just good enough to be boring. Evil Spawn's charm comes from the recycled FX footage, the hastily shot padding scenes like the one with the couple out looking for their cat – the loss of which the man blames on the woman's insatiable hunger for tacos, and the fact that the production was so impoverished they didn't have the time or money for extra takes when the actors flubbed their lines. Hell, there's a radio announcer talking about the killings at one point while the camera just gazes lovingly at the stereo one of the main characters is listening to, and HE FUCKS UP HIS LINES! They didn't even bother to fix the voiceover parts! And if your fetish happens to be blood running down a naked girl's back and into her butt crack, this one's for you.

Clocking in at under 75 minutes (making it even closer kin to not only its direct ancestor The Wasp Woman, but to all those cheap 50's and 60's horror programmers), the movie doesn't wear out its welcome. The biggest misstep it makes is Lynn Roman's constant railing against ending her career in a bunch of cheap b-horror movies, which I imagine the writers thought was really clever. So clever, in fact, that they made her say it every fourth or fifth line. If you're looking for some cheesy monster fun to watch with friends, you could do worse.

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