Friday, October 21, 2011

Movie Review: 'Spasms' (1983)

By Ryan Clark
Spasms is the best Oliver Reed vs. Snake movie ever made.  Believe it or not, there is more than one.  Venom (1981) has a better premise, but ultimately disappoints because all you really want to see is Reed and Klaus Kinski kicking each other's ass.  Spasms is a little more schlocky, but way more consistent and entertaining.  It's also Canadian, which helps a good deal.  Canada looks nearly identical to the United States and regularly stands in for that country on film, so what is it about the atmosphere of Canada that makes the films shot there instantly recognizable?  The majority of audiences probably wouldn't notice the difference, but someone weaned on Prom Night, Black Christmas, The Brood, and Humongous definitely would.

Reed plays a limping millionaire with a psychic link to the monstrous snake taken from an island inhabited by dancing natives.  The snake killed his brother many years ago, so Reed hires a college professor (Peter Fonda) to study it.  A botched attempt by snake-worshipping Satanists to steal it from the lab sends the snake on a killing spree around the campus.  Every time it attacks someone, Reed sees the snake's blue-tinted point of view.  It's kind of like Eyes of Laura Mars with a giant reptile, only not as glamorous.

My description makes Spasms sound better than it actually is, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the film.  I wasn't really expecting to like it at all, despite Reed's reliable presence.  The female lead, played by Kerrie Keane, has really big hair and stares a lot.  Fonda starts off joking around and later says his lines like a superhero.  Al Waxman is a sleazy detective hired by the Satanists to steal the snake.  You can tell his death scene was supposed to be the film's big set-piece, but the filmmakers really mishandled it.  The pictures printed in Fangoria Magazine in 1983 show a very detailed transformation by Dick Smith.  Unfortunately, most of it doesn't appear in the film.  There's an effective dorm room attack that involves a shower door and much thrashing about.  Sometimes all you need is a little blood on glass to make things right.

Yes, the ending feels rushed.  Yes, there is a distinct lack of characterization, and no explanations are given for the characters' actions.  Spasms is what it was intended to be – a cheap horror movie about Oliver Reed sweating profusely while a gigantic snake bites people – and nothing more.  Uneven though the execution may be, director William Fruet (Killer Party, Death Weekend) managed to deliver an entertaining mess despite the odds.  And that's all you can ask from such a film.


  1. I have to agree, I like Spasms despite it's problems. Oliver Reed, even a sweat Oliver Reed, somehow makes it all look so good.

  2. So true. That man was so watchable!