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Home | Film Reviews | Film Review: Spasms (1983)

Film Review: Spasms (1983)

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A gigantic serpent is captured on a remote island and shipped to an American college for experimentation. A British millionaire and an American scientist find themselves in hot pursuit of the beast when it escapes from captivity and starts to kill innocent people.


I don’t even know how many days have gone by since this misbegotten 80’s experiment began. What I do know is that it’s been going for way too long now. But I agreed to watch these films hand picked for me by my thoughtful editor (I’m hoping he reads this and has some pity on me) and the Black Saint is a man of his word so….

Today’s movie is called “Spasms” and it has a bit of a pedigree to it. Oliver Reed and Peter Fonda headline the cast & makeup deity Dick Smith handled the sfx makeup. It even made the cover of FANGORIA magazine way back in the day so you might be thinking that there’s something good waiting for you here but unless you enjoy endless POV shots of people running away from something that’s really not all that frightening then you might wanna pass on watching this one. But let’s get into the story…

Reed plays Jason Kincaid, a big game hunter who, while hunting in Micronesia, becomes psychically connected to a mythical snake after it bites him. Because of this “Curse” he sees every attack that the snake is responsible for through the snake’s eyes. This, as you may already suspect, turns out to be pretty darn annoying for poor Jason. Of course the serpent is captured and brought back to San Diego for research and the sucker breaks loose and poor Jason can’t get a good night’s sleep because that big ole snake is rampaging & biting people all over the place without a care. And when this sucker bites you, you just don’t die. Nope, when he nips you you start to expand as if you were being filled with air…and then you keep on swelling up until you explode!

Peter Fonda plays Tom Brasilian, a doctor specializing in psychic phenomena. He offers Kincaid the use of his lab to try to figure out why he’s seeing what the snake is seeing and hopefully put an end to it. Kerrie Keane plays Suzanne Cavadon who seems to be in the film just to look scared of something and be constantly at Fonda’s side as he runs around for no good reason. There is a silly subplot regarding a snake cult and Al Waxman plays a man who is hired by the leader of the cult to steal the snake from the research lab it’s being kept in before it escapes. Exactly why they want the friggin’ snake isn’t exactly too clear but they must not want it too badly if they’re paying the decidedly unfit Waxman to get it for them.

It’s pretty obvious that in the end Kincaid has to confront the snake and kill it to free himself from the curse and we do get to see that not so epic struggle eventually but to get there you have to sit through a seemingly endless series of unrelated scenes of people looking concerned or of Waxman sweating profusely as he follows the trail of the snake and of course we see Reed waking up screaming every five minutes or so (Even when the snake isn’t killing anybody). Turns out that when the film was completed it came up a few minutes short of feature length so a bunch of scenes with natives dancing around a fire were added to pad the film’s length. It only makes to make an already near incomprehensible film even more confusing. But what makes it worse is that it’s all so very boring. You’d think that a film with a giant rampaging snake slithering around San Diego making people explode when it bites them might be bad….but not boring.

I suspect that films like “Spasms” are films that actors like Reed or Fonda participate in because they found out that there gonna come up short on the mortgage next month so a quick payday is in order. Reed quite looks as bloated as the victims of the snake are but he’s just out of shape. Fonda is barely in the movie and when he is his line readings are just that…readings. There are absolutely no emotions evident in his voice, he’s just going thru the motions here and (I suspect) hoping no one ever sees this movie. Dick Smith’s sfx work is pretty good but the swelling does get to be a bit excessive sometimes, especially when Waxman gets it. It’s very reminiscent of Joe Belasco’s bladder work on David Cronenberg’s “Shivers” (1975) which isn’t meant to sound like a knock on it, I just didn’t think it was very original looking.

But since the film is about a giant snake then it ought to have a kick ass snake slithering around shouldn’t it? Yeah right…every so often we see a quick glimpse of it’s tail or a shot of it’s head from the side but we don’t see much more than that until the end and what we see is so amateurish looking that I’d rather they didn’t show the snake at all & left it’s appearance to my imagination. It’s head (We NEVER see it in it’s entirety) looks like it was fashioned from a combination of paper mache and clay. It is stiff with no articulation at all & not one bit frightening. The best part of the film is an sequence in which the snake attacks a sorority house. Although the victims seem to run exactly to where there is no escape from the snake it is a fairly exciting few minutes in an extremely boring film.

So he question is “Should you see this movie”? If you have to see every film Oliver Reed was in, then you’re gonna want to see this then aren’t you? But in all honesty, you really shouldn’t, it’s a pretty bad movie with little to no redeeming value to it. It’s not even one of those “So bad it’s good” movies. Director William Fruet does a decent job considering what he had to work with and Tangerine Dream created the “Serpent’s Theme” which plays every so often but the film is a dud, plain & simple. 1/2 a shroud is what I’m gonna rate this and that’s only because I admire the chutzpah of Reed & Fonda for appearing in this movie. I wonder how much they got for being appearing in it? I wonder if it was even worth it in the end?

Spasms (1983)

One comment

  1. Victor De Leon

    gotta see it. fonda and reed. no brainer but i am fore-warned aren’t I? thanks for the review. good job.


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