Evil Spawn (1987)

Evil Spawn (1987)‘Remember that scientist who went crazy a few days ago and then was crushed by a jeep?’

A fading Hollywood star finds leading roles harder to come by, and, in her desperation, resorts to an experimental anti-ageing treatment. Unfortunately, this has been derived from Venusian spores, and she transforms into an alien creature with a lust to kill…

Welcome to the world of Grade-Z movie mogul Fred Olen Ray. This micro-budgeted, uncredited remake of Roger Corman’s ‘The Wasp Woman’ (1959) may be credited to writer-director Kenneth J Hall, but it’s Ray who seems to have been the moving force behind the production. His name might not appear on the screen, but he produced the film and even directed a little of the finished product.

The film opens with a caption informing the audience that a probe has returned from Venus bringing alien spores and that the following story we’re about to see involves the misuse of these extra-terrestrial germs. We’re even shown a less than wonderful spacecraft model approaching Earth (probably sourced from one of Ray’s other productions). After the drawn-out opening credits that follow (never a good sign), a bearded man in a laboratory (Gary J Levinson) is attacked by a nasty orange glove puppet. He gets sick and lurches out to an alleyway where he interrupts a couple of bickering lovers and ends up caught between a jeep and a hard place.

Evil Spawn (1987)

‘I’m not sure this mud pack is working…’

This incident’s been arranged by Evelyn Avery (Dawn Wildsmith, billed here as Donna Shock), who works as the assistant to mad skin specialist Dr Zeitman (John Carradine). He’s too busy dying to know what she’s up to and hands over his great work to her before he finally expires. Wildsmith, who seems to have the same hairdresser as Elsa Lanchester’s ‘Bride of Frankenstein’, then takes the serum from Carradine’s research and offers it to over-the-hill film star, Lynne Roman (Bobby Bresee). She’s desperate to regain her youth so she can be cast in the prestigious lead of a new production by director Mark Randall (Mark Anthony). Bresee takes the injections, of course, and the inevitable transformations follow.

If the finished film has more than a touch of the ‘home movie’ vibe around it, then that’s for a good reason. Most of it was shot in Bresee’s real-life Beverley Hills house. Her character only leaves it twice; to go to a party with Anthony and to visit the office of her slimy agent Harry (Fox Harris). Of course, we don’t see her and Anthony at the party, or her travelling to the agent’s office (basically a desk he sits behind with a few posters on the wall from other Ray productions, including ‘The Tomb’ (1986) also with Carradine). At least Bresee didn’t have far to go after filming finished every night.

‘Damn, these aren’t my reading glasses!’

Carradine’s one scene in the picture was his conversation with Wildsmith (Mrs Fred Olen Ray, at the time). Ray directed it and made the dialogue as non-specific as possible so that he could insert the footage into subsequent movies, as and when required. He also supervised a different version of this film, hiring director Ted Newsom to add extra footage with actor Richard Harrison so that he could reissue it as ‘The Alien Within.’ Sadly, it doesn’t look as if Carradine had to do much research to get into character as the dying scientist. He seems to be having difficulty breathing and delivering his dialogue. This could have been great acting, of course, but, if so, it’s remarkably convincing.

If this all sounds like it makes for a terrible movie, then, yes, the film isn’t very good. However, surprisingly, there are a few compensations. To begin with, Bresee is quite good as the fading actress. Perhaps too good, if the intention was to present this as a comedy, which is possible given some of the corny dialogue and Wildsmith’s campy performance. The commentary on the problems of an actress ageing in Tinseltown is not exactly subtle, but it’s still valid. Bresee is betrayed by her agent, gets the brush off from director Anthony and finds that boyfriend, Brent (John Terrence) has traded her in for younger model, Tracy (Leslie Eve). Her only real friends are biographer, Ross (Drew Godderis) who can’t help with her career, and secretary Elaine (Pamela Gilbert), who is far too young and beautiful to be allowed to live!

Evil Spawn (1987)

‘If I write myself a few more lines, no-one will notice.’

Another plus is the full-sized creature FX designed by Ralph Miller III and executed by Hal Miles, Michael Deak and their crew. The monster doesn’t look great, and we never see the suit in motion, but, given the minimal resources that were probably available, it’s actually pretty good. Also, some of the gore FX, such as an arm being torn off, are even better. They look like they belong in a production of a far higher quality. There just isn’t enough of them. This becomes less of a surprise when we look at Miles and Deak’s subsequent credits.

Deak worked on entries in both the ‘Halloween’ series and the ‘Friday the 13th’ franchise and many productions of Charles Band’s Empire Pictures. He eventually graduated to the SFX crews of major studio tentpoles such as ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl’ (2003) and ‘Hulk’ (2003) before supervising the FX on Michael Bay’s ‘The Island’ (2005). He also worked on the ‘Tranformers’ series and ‘TRON: Legacy’ (2010) before taking a decade-long break to return for ‘Bill & Ted: Face The Music’ (2020). Miles specialised in animatronics, and his later credits include James Cameron’s ‘The Abyss’ (1989), ‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch’ (1990), ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ (1991), ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie’ (1995), among many others.

‘This sounds like something out of a bad science-fiction film,’ Bresee mutters at one point. Quite.

The Alien Dead (1980)

The Alien Dead 1980‘That meteorite didn’t kill those people, it turned them into goddamn monsters!’

Some young people having a ‘weed party’ on a boat are were struck by a rock falling from space and presumably killed. A few months later, a small rural community is terrorised by their reanimated corpses, who emerge from the surrounding swamps with a taste for human flesh.

Ultra low budget crappola from the Florida swampland that marked both the debut of legendary cheap shot filmmaker Fred Olen Ray and the penultimate appearance of Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe, heading back to the bayou 34 years after facing off against Johnny Weismuller in ‘Swamp Fire’ (1946).

The film tries very hard to be ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968) but scenes of swamp zombies chowing down on rednecks are simply ugly and tasteless, rather than frightening. It also doesn’t help that they are staged with the kind of ineptitude which makes for some glaring continuity errors. Whenever the story flags, which is often, another white trash girl decides to go skinny dipping in the swamp, a pursuit which inevitably involves the removal of clothing followed by more monster ‘action’ and the inevitable blood capsule bursting in the mouth. Or, as a fun alternative to the dreary mayhem, how about some completely irrelevant bluegrass music? Yee-ha!

The SFX and makeup are pretty laughable and the action scenes crudely cut together in an attempt to disguise the lack of professionalism on show. Apparently, all southerners are stupid rednecks, who talk slow and spend all day swilling beer and ‘huntin’ ‘gators’. The dialogue is a mixture of plodding exposition and yet more plodding exposition. This is a major problem as the plot is not exactly complicated.

The Alien Dead (1980)

…and that makeup tutorial had looked so easy on YouTube…

Star Crabbe is side lined throughout most of the action, appearing only briefly as a lazy sheriff in a limited number of scenes. This is typical of no-budget moviemaking; hire an old star for a day or so, get him on film and then get a distribution deal based on his ‘name’ that allows you to film the rest of it (without the star, of course). Whether this was precisely Olen Ray’s M.O. in this case is unrecorded, but it was probably something similar. Throw in a few locals who want to dress up as zombies and be in a movie and there you have it.

This is the sort of movie that would have turned up at your local video store in the early 1980s in a big, shiny, plastic VHS box that was falling apart and had loud, colourful OTT artwork that had absolutely nothing to do with the content of the tape inside.

The climax is truly, truly pathetic and an appropriate end to an utterly turgid experience.

You can buy ‘The Alien Dead’ (1980) here, but I really wouldn’t advise it…