Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Spasms (1983)

Seven years ago, millionaire Jason Kincaid (Oliver Reed) and his brother mounted an expedition into the wilds (or something) of Micronesia to try and get behind the truth of a local legend about the door to hell opening there every seven years to let out a giant snake. The expedition cost the brother his life and left Kincaid with a telepathic connection to and an obsession with a possibly demonic, loud yet stealthy snake of quite variable size.

Now, seven years later, Kincaid has hired some poor idiots to catch his arch enemy and transport it to his mansion in the USA. Kincaid hopes having the thing in close proximity will somehow make it easier to sever the telepathic bond between him and the hellish animal (though the film also insinuates that this particularly dubious idea might actually be caused by the snake's malevolent telepathic influence). To help sever the unpleasant bond, Kincaid hires psychiatrist and ESP researcher Dr. Tom Brasilian (Peter Fonda, who is all relaxed, man).

Alas, evil never sleeps. A snake worshipping cult of satanists thinks Kincaid's snake is the devil himself, and has therefore hired the shady Crowley (Al Waxman) to steal it before it can even get into the millionaire's and Brasilian's hands. This being the sort of film that it is, it will come as no surprise to anyone that Crowley's attempt to steal Plissken the snake (combined with an attempt of Kincaid's niece to kill it that is only in the movie to make things superficially more complicated) only sets the animal/demon/whatever free so that it can finally begin its murder spree.

Will Kincaid and Brasilian be able to stop it before it eats itself through the whole population of a university town?

If this rather confused sounding plot synopsis (and believe me, I left out much that is superfluous and obviously only in the movie to bring it to feature length) has left you in any doubt, let me just state the obvious here first: even in the area of the animals running amok film, where my expectations of quality are especially low, Spasms is a horrible film any way you look at it. William Fruet's direction is at once bland and roughly jumpy, reminding me quite a bit of the worst parts of Mexican lucha cinema of the late 70s, where elderly directors working on material they don't care about with no budget to speak of were pushed into service by producers who frankly didn't care much either. The most obvious difference is the absence of masked wrestlers (Peter Fonda being not a very good Santo) and filler.

Instead of horrible night club scenes, Fruet (also at least co-responsible for the script) prefers to add as many ridiculous and cheesy flourishes right out of the 70s (quite an idea for a film made in 1983) as he can find, producing a film that adds the devil to a giant snake to devil worshippers to virally induced telepathy to Peter Fonda's funding difficulties until there's no room to develop any single element in the movie properly and everything turns into an incoherent mishmash of this, that, and Peter Fonda "charming" leading lady Kerrie Keane.

What I can't say about Spasms however is that it's boring. There's always way too much ridiculous nonsense going on for that problem ever to manifest. The horrible special effects alone, featuring a snake that very much looks like a toy somebody has painted over to look more threatening, should be enough to keep the easily entertained (like me) happy.

While every single element of the film is badly executed, the sheer mass of crap (which, Peter Fonda explains "charmingly", is an unladylike thing to say - in this movie's world, that's the sort of thing you say to a woman to get kissed, by the way) the film throws monkey-like at its audience is nearly automatically entertaining. After all, if you don't like blue snake-o-vision, you'll probably like the very polite satanist ritual, or Al Waxman nearly exploding from snake poison, or the totally subtle gratuitous (as if it ever were) nudity.

Plus, Oliver Reed does some perfectly, inappropriately intense scenery-chewing of the type only the truly great actors know to produce. If that's not enough for you, though, you'd best keep away from Spasms.


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