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Spasms
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by Jack Sommersby

"Should Hiss Off"
1 stars

Not even Joe Bob Briggs could find much to like in this rock-bottom calamity.

In 1982 that eclectic actor Oliver Reed co-starred in the acceptable British killer-snake horror movie Venom, and though the contextual value was lacking he gave it his all, refusing to merely coast through the proceedings. A year later there's the abysmal Spasms, which involves another killer snake (though as opposed to a black mamba, the reptile involved here is considerably larger and of the supernatural variety), and Reed would be more than justified in coasting, especially since his role is borderline unplayable, but, dedicated thespian he is, he acts the part as if it hadn't been played before -- which, as far as I can recall, it hasn't. His San Diego multi-millionaire Jason Kincaid experienced quite the treacherous ordeal seven years prior: during an expedition in the jungles of New Guinea he and his brother were attacked by a giant serpent; he managed to escape but his brother was killed. It's the present day, and because Kincaid has maintained a telepathic link with the snake after having been bitten he knows it's not of this world and has employed someone to be present in the jungle where a weird ceremony is held by the natives to literally raise the snake from Hell. (This is during the opening credits, and it's the only section that works simply because the staging is reasonably good.) We don't actually see the giant serpent, but from its bluish-colored point-of-view we do see it wasting little time in demonstrating its innate hostility, killing several of the natives before being captured with some huge nets. It's put on a cargo ship on its way to San Diego, and Kincaid retains the services of college professor Dr. Thomas Brasillian (Peter Fonda), whose area of expertise in psychiatry is "extrasensory perception": Kincaid has had a "lingering connection" with the serpent since that fateful day, seeing what it sees, and wants Brasillian, with an array of brain-waves-monitoring machinery, to make an official record of it all. As if this inanity weren't enough to fully populate Fruit Loops City for decades, a disposable subplot is thrown in involving a seedy private investigator attempting to steal the serpent for a mysterious religious leader who wants to either slay or worship it (we're not sure which, though his menacing demeanor and scary-looking assistants suggest the latter). Predictably, the serpent gets loose shortly upon arrival and unleashes merciless havoc onto all those involved, and it's about as thrilling as watching a landlord unclog a hundred drains in a Skid row tenement building.

For all its whopping implausibility Venom worked because its frightening story premise (that of kidnappers and their hostages trapped inside a three-tiered house in downtown London with one of the world's deadliest snakes loose inside) was tactfully adhered to and compactly executed. Spasms, on the other hand, is amorphous and slack -- it doesn't play by any one set of rules, with the serpent striking sporadically in between bouts of unbearably bad dialogue; and because it strikes in various unrelated locales without any rhyme or reason of how it got there, the sustained-suspense factor is practically nonexistent. There is one novel touch: the serpent's bite causes an ultra-inflammatory condition where the victim swells up to the point of internally bursting, and the first two times we see this Dick Smith's special effects are fairly nifty -- it's as if the blood in the bodies had been replaced with sulfuric acid. (Of course, why Kincaid was able to survive such a bite several years prior isn't answered.) It isn't until the very end that we actually see the snake rather than seeing from its viewpoint, and it's appallingly fake-looking like something out of H.R. Pufnstuf. But a low budget can't be blamed for all the movie's shortcomings. There's a laughable scene where Brasillian, knowing perfectly well the formidable foe he's up against, enters a greenhouse with a mere rake to do battle with the beast, and for the sole sake of drawing things out the beast waits an absurdly long time before striking out at this fool. It's also something of a horny little devil -- so some gratuitous nudity can be thrown in, it invades a women's dormitory and gruesomely does in a pretty blonde in the shower. There's a hint of incestuous longing on the part of Kincaid with his pretty twenty-year-old niece that's there just to get an easy reaction out of us, and a queasy one, at that, it does. Fonda, uncharismatic and smarmy, makes for a truly lackadaisical hero, the kind not even a mother could love. (He wears sunglasses in most of his scenes, as if he were ashamed at agreeing to appear in this travesty and didn't want to be recognized.) Granted, the lighting by David Cronenberg regular Mark Irwin is a cut above what we expect, director William Fruet moves the camera around as much as he can to lend some visual variety, and the scoring by Tangerine Dream isn't without merit. Then there's Reed, lending beyond-the-call-of-duty intensity to even the most mundane of lines. When he exclaims, "He's bloating!" we're bloating -- with unintentional laughter.

A better alternative would be "Venom," which the home-video company Blue Underground has graced with a tip-top video transfer and some cool special features.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25027&reviewer=327
originally posted: 03/30/13 10:18:57
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USA
  01-May-1984 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  William Fruet

Written by
  Don Enright
  William Fruet

Cast
  Peter Fonda
  Oliver Reed
  Kerrie Keane
  Al Waxman
  Miguel Fernandes



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