Spasms (1983)

spasms3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant snake uses telepathy.

Years earlier millionaire philanthropist Jason Kincaid (Oliver Reed) got attacked by a giant serpent snake while on a trip in Micronesia. His brother, who went with him, died from the attack, but Jason survived and in the process began acquiring a telepathic connection to the snake. He pays some poachers to capture it and have it brought to his mansion. He also tries to use the services of Dr. Brasilian (Peter Fonda) who specializes in ESP research to help end the ongoing communication that the snake has with him.While Kincaid’s private lab is being constructed the snake is kept at the university lab run by Brasilian, but the reptile escapes and begins killing anyone it sees.

The film is based on the novel ‘Death Bite’ by Michael Marky and Brent Monahan, who wrote it in hopes of cashing in on the Jaws craze and having it made into a movie. The two were excited when a Canadian production company decided to produce it, but quickly became disillusioned with all the production delays and rewrites. When the original studio went bankrupt and the new one insisted on adding in a supernatural element the two writers to walk-off the set and disown the project.

Despite the film’s checkered history I found the production values to be quite impressive especially for a horror movie. The on-location shooting is varied and authentic, particularly the island setting and the main character played by Reed is less cardboard than in most other scary movies. Unfortunately the pacing is slow and not enough happens. I was expecting more scares and blood, but there really isn’t much of it.

The film’s biggest downfall is that you never get to see the snake. Initially during the attacks everything gets shown from the snake’s point-of-view by having a blue filter put over the camera lens, which doesn’t work because it’s done via a tracking shot making it look like the snake glides through the air instead of slithering like a real one would. Outside of a few seconds of seeing its head pop-up, which looks like a hand puppet, we’re never shown the beast in its entirety. Originally the idea was to use live snakes, which would’ve been great, and a 14-foot Indian Python was brought in, but this was found to be too costly and time-consuming, so it got scrapped. They then tried to use animatronics, but director William Fruet didn’t like the way it looked onscreen, so this was shelved too essentially making this a snake movie, but without any snake.

Despite being reportedly drunk most of the time during the production Reed adds a nice intensity though it made no sense at the end when he begins walking around without a cane even though he had being using one the whole time earlier. The special effects showing the victim’s arms and faces ballooning out after they’re bitten is pretty cool, but the ending is a letdown. It was supposed to feature a violent showdown between Reed and the snake, including having his arm swallowed by the beast, but director Fruet didn’t like the look of the special effects, so these scenes were cut and flashbacks showing things that had happened earlier got thrown-in simply to pad the runtime.

The big lesson here is that if you’re going to make a movie about a giant, monstrous snake then you need to at some point show it. Even if it means spending big on computer effects, or bringing in a real one, the effort has to be made. Trying to do one without actually showing the snake, as the snake here is probably seen a combined 10 seconds and never its full body, and expecting the audience to still go home satisfied afterwards is pretty absurd.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 28, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: Pan-Canadian Film Distributors

Available: VHS

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