Color, 1983, 90m.
Directed by William Fruet
Starring Peter Fonda, Oliver Reed, Kerrie Keane, Al Waxman, Miguel Fernandez
Code Red (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)


SpasmsSpasmsJust after he made the troubled but fondly remembered black mamba thriller Venom, Oliver Reed returned for another, much trashier snake fest with this offering from Canadian director William Fruet, best known for The House by the Lake, Funeral Home, Killer Party, and the daffy Blue Monkey. Like Venom, this was pulled from a pulpy paperback novel, this time Death Bite written by Michael Maryk and Brent Monahan-- but due to production issues, the end result bears little resemblance to its source. In fact, both the minimal theatrical release in the United States by PDC and the seemingly omnipresent VHS from Thorm EMI gave little indication that this was a snake movie at all, instead focusing on a terrorized woman in the shower and one of makeup legend Dick Smith's puffy creations.

Wealthy industrialist Jason Kincaid (Reed) is on a mission to capture the gigantic island snake that killed his brother, especially since he shares a psychic link to the reptile and gets unpleasant, blue-tinted visions every time it kills. The fact that the serpent is responsible for Kincaid's nasty limp is just one reminder of the trauma as he also looks after his dead brother's daughter, fluffy-haired Suzanne (The Incubus' Keane). Meanwhile on the snake's island (where it's worshipped in very long tribal rituals and summoned to carry dark souls back to hell) the beast is captured and ordered to be sent over to Kincaid for study by Dr. Tom Brasilian (Fonda), but instead it's unleashed on Toronto by some dim-witted cultists. Soon the snake is unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace (including a female-inhabited apartment in one bloody highlight), with Jason and Tom racing against time to stop the supernatural serpent before the body count gets out of control.Spasms

Despite extensive promotion during filming, this one ran afoul of many production problems including a pair of rowdy stars and massive financial pitfalls and mismanagement; you can read a detailed breakdown of its messy history here. All told it's Spasmssurprising the end result is as entertaining as it is, with Reed giving it his all and the snake attacks generating a respectable number of jump scares and brief but gruesome thrills (especially Al Waxman's show-stopping fate in the third act). The climax is a bit of a lopsided mess since some crucial footage couldn't be shot, but if you're just in the mood for a monster movie with hammy acting and spirited attack scenes, you could do a lot worse.

Code Red announced plans for a DVD release of this film several years before their no-frills disc finally hit the streets (or at least the Internet) in 2016, sold directly through their store. Apparently efforts to locate a complete usable print turned out to be fruitless, so what we have here is a matted, blown-up 16x9 version of the best master available (sporting a Warner Bros. logo at the beginning), which is at least an improvement over the pale, fuzzy Thorn EMI version. Unfortunately it also sports some brief but very noticeable damage including a nasty analog tape crease and roll at the 37-minute mark, so if you're nostalgic for the old days of tape glitches, here you go. On the bright side it's a longer cut of the film, clocking in at just over 90 minutes compared to the 87-minute version released by Thorn EMI. (Nothing major here, just more dialogue by the looks of it.) The English mono audio is fine for what it is and should make you wish they'd bothered to release a vinyl 45 version of that Tangerine Dream theme song at the end.

Reviewed on May 9, 2016.