The Deadly Spawn

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The Deadly Spawn
Directed by Douglas McKeown
Produced by Ted A. Bohus
John Dods
Tim Hildebrandt
Written by Douglas McKeown
Starring Charles George Hildebrandt
Tom DeFranco
Richard Lee Porter
Jean Tafler
Karen Tighe
James Brewster
Elissa Neil
Ethel Michelson
John Schmerling
Music by Paul Cornell
Michael Perilstein
Kenneth Walker
Cinematography Harvey M. Birnbaum
Edited by Marc Harwood
Distributed by 21st Century Film Corporation
Release dates
April 22, 1983
Running time
78 min
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25,000

The Deadly Spawn is a 1983 science fiction horror film directed by Douglas McKeown and starring Charles George Hildebrandt. In some territories, the film's title was changed to Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn or The Return of the Alien's Deadly Spawn in an attempt to cash in on the worldwide success of Ridley Scott's 1979 film Alien.

It follows the story of a crash-landed alien that finds refuge in the basement of a house and grows to monstrous proportions, eating those unlucky enough to venture down. A handful of teenagers try to survive the onslaught of the creature and its young.


Two campers are nearby when a meteor falls to Earth. When they go to investigate, they are attacked and eaten by a bizarre life form that emerges from the crashed rock.

Near the crash site is a large house. The house is the home of Sam (James Brewster) and Barb (Elissa Neil), and their two children, high schooler Pete (Tom DeFranco) and his younger brother Charles (Charles George Hildebrandt). Visiting are Aunt Millie (Ethel Michelson) and Uncle Herb (John Schmerling).

Sam and Barb rise before anybody else is awake; they have an unspecified trip planned, which Barb hopes can be put off because of the incessant rainstorm. Sam insists, and he goes downstairs to check the basement for flooding. When Sam goes into the basement, he is eaten by the bizarre monstrosity. Barb suffers the same fate when she goes down to see what happened to Sam.

Aunt Millie is awakened by screaming, but she attributes it to the horror movie that Charles is watching on TV in his room. When Aunt Millie returns to call Charles to breakfast, he surprises her by wearing a scary mask and costume and setting off flash powder when she opens the door. Pete fancies himself a scientist, and he sets up a study date with three classmates, Ellen (Jean Tafler), Frankie (Richard Lee Porter), and Kathy (Karen Tighe).

Aunt Millie has plans to have lunch with her mother, Bunny (Judith Mayes). Uncle Herb, who is a psychologist, is interested in talking with Charles about his interest in the macabre. Herb asks Charles how real the monsters are to him, and if he ever thinks he'll see one in real life.

Uncle Herb falls asleep in the living room, and Aunt Millie heads over to her mother's house to help set up the luncheon. When an electrician arrives to investigate a circuit breaker malfunction in the basement, Charles dons a costume and goes down to scare him. There, he discovers the basement is swarming with tadpole-like creatures. Charles follows them until he finds them feasting on the electrician's body. Around are some larger versions of the creatures: a huge one, presumably the original, has developed three different heads. The smaller ones seem to be spawn given off by the adult monster. Realizing that the eyeless creatures react to sound, he stands silently while the large creature disgorges his mother's head for the spawn to feast on.

Meanwhile, Ellen and Frankie have discovered one of the creatures dead on the way over to the house. Science-fiction fan Frankie hypothesizes that the creature could be from outer space, but hard-nosed scientist Pete dismisses that theory. Ellen then argues with him about the importance of imagination in scientific work.

At Bunny's house, Millie arrives and they prepare the luncheon, unaware that the spawn have infested the house. One of them gets into her food processor, tainting the vegetable sauce she is making. When her guests arrive, all of them older ladies, the arm-sized creatures suddenly emerge and attack them. The women fight back and manage to escape in Millie's car.

Back at the house, Pete, Ellen and Frankie seek out Uncle Herb to get his opinion on the creatures but find that he has been killed and mutilated by the spawn. The three-headed adult creature charges them, and they run upstairs to Charles's bedroom and barricade the door. Charles distracts it by turning on a radio, which it eats, causing an electrical fire which partially burns it. Pete and the others then see Kathy arriving, and their warnings to her go unheard over the din of the rain. The monster nearly grabs her outside Charles' bedroom, but the teens manage to pull her in.

The teens decide to head for Pete's bedroom, where there is a phone to call for help with. However, the adult creature ambushes them. Pete runs to another room, Frankie and Kathy run up to the attic, while Ellen stays in Charles' bedroom. The creature easily breaks down the door, then bites her head off and defenestrates her body.

Pete climbs out onto the roof and sees Ellen's body on the ground below. He also notices his parents' car, still in the garage, meaning they never left. Kathy and Frankie see Ellen from the attic window, too, and Pete eventually climbs in through the small opening. Traumatized by the sight of the body, he becomes unhinged, fighting with Frankie to open the attic door, and the shouting noises attract the creature. Meanwhile, Charles has concocted a plan: he has filled a prop head with explosive flash powder, with a frayed electrical cord trailing behind to act as a fuse, which he plans to feed to the creature.

The creature notices Charles and leaves Kathy and Frankie alone. When Charles screams, the noise causes the creature to devour the prop head which he is holding out in front of it. However, the cord proves too short to plug into an outlet. One of the arm-sized spawn creatures lands on his right shoulder from the above rafter and begins biting into him. Fortunately, the smaller creature gets in the way of the adult when it lunges at Charles, and it ends up chewing on it instead. Now that the mouth is close enough, Charles manages to get to the outlet, and the adult explodes.

With the threat no longer a secret, a massive hunt for the spawn has been mobilized. Policemen and townspeople go around killing spawn and burning the remains. Aunt Millie returns to the house to care for Pete and Charles as best she can. Frankie and Kathy are also shaken but alive, and are taken away in an ambulance.

That night, a lone patrolman stands guard outside the house. His contact on the CB radio is confident that the spawn has been wiped out, but then the patrolman hears a low rumbling, and sees the hill by the house lift up, revealing that it sits atop the mouth of a colossal spawn.


Producer Ted Bohus said that he conceived the idea for The Deadly Spawn in 1979, and that he was inspired by an article in National Geographic about seed pods that were recovered from the Arctic.[1] According to Bohus, he created an initial creature design that involved a man in a suit, but associate producer and effects director John Dods was unenthusiastic about that prospect.[1] Several days later, Dods returned with several alternatives, including the "Mother Spawn" that was eventually used in the film.[1]

Actor and director Tim Sullivan got his start in film as a 15-year-old production assistant on The Deadly Spawn.[2] Dods was the brother of Sullivan's art teacher, and Sullivan earned the chance to work on the film as a result of that relationship.[2] Among other tasks, Sullivan assisted in the manipulation of the main spawn puppet, which was made of rubber and controlled from below by wires.[2]

It has been suggested that the character of Ellen, Pete's girlfriend, was killed off because Tafler got another acting job, but screenwriter McKeown disputed this. He decided early on to shatter the conventional expectations of the audience and maybe the rules of the genre, in order to justify Pete's subsequent breakdown. The horrific effect on the audience of such randomness was to be a bonus. In any case, Ellen's fate was a spectacular shock, and Kathy, the "second lead," wound up being the one who survived.


Much of the movie was shot in Gladstone, New Jersey and New Brunswick.[3]


The film score by Michael Perilstein was released by Perseverance Records on December 21, 2004. AllMusic awarded it 3.5 out of 5, with reviewer Jason Ankeny describing it as an "innovative score" that "deserves greater notoriety".[4] Ankeny praised its atmosphere, and said that it successfully reached a "balance between serious musical aspirations and the tongue-in-cheek demands of the material".[4]



  1. ^ a b c "Deadly Spawn Production Information",, undated.
  2. ^ a b c Kane, Paul, and Marie O'Regan, Voices in the Dark: Interviews with Horror Writers, Directors and Actors, McFarland, 2010, pp. 182-183. ISBN 0786456728
  3. ^ The Star Ledger. October 26, 2014. pg. E7
  4. ^ a b Ankeny, Jason. The Deadly Spawn [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack],, undated.

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