Spawn from Outer Space
A meteor falls in the woods near an unspecified town of America. In the tradition of The Blob, the meteor actually houses a visitor from outer space: the Deadly Spawn. Devoid of any eyes, the fleshy creature hunts by sound, using its many-teethed mouth to mince its preys to death. Ted A. Bohus, the producer of the film, commented on the idea behind the film: “I came up with the idea for The Deadly Spawn in 1979 after reading a National Geographic magazine, about seed pods brought back from the Arctic. They were thawed and grown. The seeds were thousands of years old. Why not put a ‘seed pod’ inside a meteor and have it crash, thaw and grow on Earth?”
With a budget limited to only 25,000 dollars, The Deadly Spawn obviously could not feature advanced creature effects. In fact, it is remembered as the quintessential low-budgeted Monster film of the 80s. The titular creature was designed in all of its stages and brought to the screen by John Dods and his special effects team. The first approach thought for the Monster was to use a suit — but Dods insisted on using other techniques. Bohus said: “I drew up a few designs and showed them to John. He looked at them and shook his head, ‘Oh no, not another man in a rubber suit monster.’ I told him we were not going to have much of a budget, but if he could come up with something with that basic design (three heads, lots of teeth, pincer arms)… and could build it cheaply… go for it! Within a few days, John came up with some cool designs. Some totally unpractical, some cool, but too expensive and then the three-headed, no man in a suit, cool Mother Spawn.”
For the first sequence involving the Monster, in which it is mostly off-screen, only a shadow is shown; the effect was produced with a simple cardboard composite, projected onto the tent. The Spawn is next seen when it attacks and violently devours Charles’ father. This stage, nicknamed the ‘Mother’ Spawn or the ‘Mama’ Spawn by the special effects crew, was created as a full-size mechanical puppet. It was first sculpted in clay and then moulded. The mechanical understructure, which featured rough mechanisms allowing jaw closure for its three heads and arm movement, was covered with a skin made in sheet foam rubber. Said skin was draped with paper towels — which were previously coated with liquid latex rubber; this gave additional texture to the Spawn’s skin. The Monster’s peculiar overlapping teeth were instead moulded in actual dental acrylic and polished with powdered pumice stone. “I really wanted to be a dentist,” Dods jokingly commented.
The ‘Mama’ Spawn was built in John Dods’ basement; when the time came to bring it on set, the crew realized that it was actually too large to pass through the doorway that led to the shooting set. Due to that reason, one of the puppet’s three heads was removed — only to be reassembled onto the main body once inside the set. For the 4-5 shots from the inside of the Spawn’s maw, a specific camera rig was built with rough mechanisms that enabled the jaws to open and close.
The dreadful Monster spawns (hence the title) dozens of quickly-growing offspring. A good number of models was built; much like the ‘Mama’ Spawn, the younger creatures were covered with a sheet foam rubber skin — but lacked the paper towel treatment. Those stages of the life cycle include newborn creatures, no more than a few inches long, more serpent-like young spawns, and adolescent spawns already displaying rudimentary arms sprouting from their sides. All the models featured rough mechanisms that allowed jaw movement. The so-called ‘mini-spawns’, the first stage, are first seen swimming in the layer of water of the basement. This effect was achieved by first cutting an undulating track hole on a plate. Several of these plates would then be placed on the floor. The baby spawn models, with a flexible structure on their underside that fit onto the track line, were then placed onto said track. To make them ‘swim’, the models would simply have to be pulled from under the raised set, or via a wire. The flexibility of the rubber allowed fluid movements. The whole construction of this simple effect only costed around 50 dollars.
The same basic concept was used for the bigger spawns seen slithering on walls: similar tracks were cut, and the models were either dragged with a wire or moved from the other side of a set wall. When the young spawn slithers into the food processor, it was operated from its right side by a puppeteer.
In the final shot of the twist ending of the film, a gargantuan Spawn head rises from under the hill near Charles’ house — roaring in the night and into an uncertain future. The giant Spawn was created as a miniature model, with only a basic mechanism for its head to rise up and its jaws to move. Once again, the skin was made with the precedently described ‘paper towel’ technique. The teeth of the creature were this time moulded in plaster — due to budget restraints — and sprayed with clear coat to achieve visual continuity with the other creatures.
For more images of the Deadly Spawn, visit the Monster Gallery.