Once you see it... you'll feel it the rest of your life.
Year of Release: 1983
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 92 minutes (1:32)
Director: William Fruet
Peter Fonda ... Dr. Tom Brasilian
Oliver Reed ... Jason Kincaid
Kerrie Keane ... Suzanne Cavadon
Al Waxman ... Warren Crowley
Miguel Fernandes ... Mendes / Tasaki
Marilyn Lightstone ... Dr. Claire Rothman
Gerard Parkes ... Capt. Novack
George Bloomfield ... Rev. Thomas Thanner
On a tiny pacific island, a number of grotesque painted natives screech in frenzy as the Demon Serpent, known as N'Gana Simbu, is summoned to appear. With uncontrollable deadly fury, the monstrous snake strikes into the tribesmen causing death and destruction.
When a young scientist imports the snake to his own country, N'Gana Simbu finds new victims whose bodies become hideously deformed when poisoned by the snake.
Spasms... ya know, this is pretty much exactly what'll happen if Jesus finally gets around to comin' back so they can make a sequel to the bible. Think about it, the first thing that'd happen is some televangelist that pockets 35% off the top of the cancer kids' money throws a big cargo net over 'im an orders his organ player to haul 'im off an lock 'im up in a cage built to resemble a talk show stage where they force 'im to perform miracles at gunpoint so the collection plate'll fill up quicker. All the while Jesus just kinda sits on the couch while they're runnin' ads for real estate in Heaven with a tear runnin' down his face like the Indian in the 1970s anti-littering campaign ads. I dunno about you but I hope he never comes back, just for his own safety. Sometimes it's so embarrassin' to be part of the human race that you just feel like nailin' yourself to a cross as a means of escape. This's gettin' kinda gloomy, lets try to be a little more positive. Know who really loves this one? I mean, besides everybody that's been subjected to any giant killer snake movie released after 1997 just because their standards're so low? Nick Lowe. Come on, you remember Nick. He loves the sound of breakin' glass, and while the movie may not have the proverbial bull in a china closet, it's got the next best thing; giant snake loose in a science lab. Seriously, this sequence has more shattered beakers an test tubes than a stem cell research lab besieged by southern Baptists. I'm not even kiddin' about this, there's more broken glass on the floor in there than a redneck bar in west Texas after the barkeep announces last call. I kid you not, there's so much screamin', hollerin' an destruction of all things breakable you'd think there was a Trayvon Martin protest goin' on in there. Make sense now? I thought it might. Fred Durst loves it too. So Nick, for all you do, this one's for you. Alright, so you're probably figurin' that once you've seen one giant snake movie you've seen 'em all. Not true, for anything released before 1997. Exception granted for King Cobra, but anyway, just trust me on this, I've never led you astray before.
First thing you're gonna wanna take away from Spasms is that it's not the least bit degradin' or cruel to throw coins into the pacific ocean to watch starvin' kids dive for 'em. Poor kids can't even afford goggles, so by the end of the day their eyes're so bloodshot they look like Kid Rock after a month long drunk. Second, even if you're completely certain the crane operator doesn't have a clue what they're doin' without the aid of your frantic hand signals, it's never a good idea to stand directly under the object it's lifting. *Especially* if you know they have no idea what they're doin'. An third, even if you're the kinda person that gets sexual gratification from knowin' stuff other people don't, take the time to explain to your peons just what exactly they're dealin' with when you send 'em out on a mission. You lose enough flunkies, the word starts gettin' around, an once people realize the job's more dangerous than the Al-Queda #2 spot, you're either doin' these jobs yourself or havin' to pay a living wage. So, now that I've helped you out by providin' facts to aid you in your everyday lives, I've got a question. How come it takes the natives in the movie two straight days of jitterbuggin' around a bon fire to summon this big snake deity, when your average white guy is pretty much guaranteed to run into it just by goin' on an unrelated hunt? Seriously, how come it's so much harder for the natives to summon the big snake. You'd think they'd be experts on the subject, but no. They've gotta dance around for days on end like they got fire ants in their loin cloths, all the while their butt cheeks're showin' an their ass hair's gettin' singed off, just to get this big snake to come to their party. White guys? They just run into the snake while they're out for their morning constitutional. It's just like tryin' to get a cab at night in a red county. What's more, the snake only wants to sink its fangs into the natives once they've started pokin' it with pointy sticks an tried roastin' its giblets. It's like the natives aren't GOOD ENOUGH for the snake to really wanna pour it on an start perforatin' every last one of 'em. Then, once it gets to the city, it goes exclusively after white folks. Like it's glad it finally got outta that jungle nightmare so it can latch onto people that're WORTH killin'. I realize that if you wanna make the news you've almost gotta go with white victims, but I dunno, it just seems to me like this snake missed the part about all men bein' created equal, ya know? It's what's on the INSIDE that counts. An on the inside we all look like that stuff they use to make Big Macs.
The movie begins on an island where a buncha natives're havin' your standard college bonfire to celebrate finals bein' over an havin' an excuse to run around with their hineys showin'. I thought all black people could dance? These guys're terrible. Maybe their choreographer's white, I'll bet that's the problem. But anyway, they're tryin' to summon the devil serpent for a couple Europeans in exchange for a Bic lighter an a couple sticks of Juicy Fruit when all the sudden the bonfire goes nuclear an ignites half of New Guinea. Once that happens the two Euros watch a gigantic snake spring up quicker'n a Payday Loan shop in the ghetto an puncture native after native while they're runnin' around in circles like Winn Dixie employees in a fire drill til one finally has the sense to lure it into a cargo net an all the others run up an start chantin' "ABBA gabbo muchtar" at it. As best as I can tell, they're sayin' "white dancing queens borked everything, lets get 'em." A little later, a phone rings back in civilization an Oliver Reed answers. You remember Oliver, played the doctor in The Brood an looks like Joseph Stalin? It's one of the Euros from the island, an he tells Oliver he's got about 150 natives holdin' the monster down an that he's a little concerned that maybe there's something to this native legend about it bein' supernatural. Oliver still wants it though, so the guy has 'em load it up in a shippin' crate in exchange for the little water compass that broke offa his dash board. The next day, Peter Fonda's whinin' to his colleague about how his research grant's gettin' taken away just just cause his theory's completely impossible, not to mention stupid. He'd stay awhile longer an keep whinin' but he's gotta go meet Oliver for lunch even though he don't know 'im or know why he's bein' asked over. En route, Oliver's feisty niece (Suzanne, who thinks importin' the snake's about as clever as Larry the Cable Guy) rides up on horseback along the fenceline borderin' the road wantin' to know why the hell if they're in San Diego his car's got a steerin' wheel on the right side of the car. An they say men are aggressive drivers, woman's got pasture rage. So Peter an Suzanne pull up to the house around the same moment an Oliver brings 'em inside an tells Peter about how his huntin' buddy got killed by this big ole snake in New Guinea an how now all his friends won't go huntin' with 'im anymore an keep makin' Dick Cheney jokes behind his back. It got ahold of him too, but he seems to have survived somehow an now he sees what the snake sees anytime it starts puttin' the bite on somebody. Peter explains that he's just got "viral telepathy" from the snake venom an tells 'im he's bein' a big baby an to get a place in town if he's gonna call 'im out here every time it happens. Oliver expected this, an he says he'll take up the payments on Peter's research, as long as he spends all his time tryin' to fix his snake dreams. Some psychiatrist, Freud figured out what the snake dreams're about decades ago. Anyway, even though Peter figures Oliver's probably just doin' way too much peyote, he immediately vacates the high road an goes for the cash.
Elsewhere, a fat asshole by the name of Crowley shows up at the shippin' port an throws his keyring into the water where the inner city youth divin' team earns a living each day by scoopin' up coins so we'll know we're supposed to hate 'im. Then he bribes a dock jockey to keep an eye on the shippin' container that just came in cause he's got plans for it. Unfortunately, the guy signalin' the crane operator can't seem to keep his eye on it, or realize that if he's standin' directly under it there's a good chance the operator can't see 'im anyway, an pretty quick the hook holdin' the cable breaks an the container smashes 'im into cherry pie filling. Meanwhile, at a Baptist church in the deep south, a priest dressed in black is havin' all his subjects grab up a snake from the communal snake fountain as he tells everybody about how much better off we all are since Eve listened to the serpent an took the apple. Then he has them throw their snakes in the air an wave 'em around like they just don't care that they're all gettin' chewed up like tourists visitin' North Korea. About that time Crowley shows up to talk to the reverend who's a real no nonsense kinda guy that takes his snake cult real serious an don't appreciate Crowley's non believin' attitude. The reverend wants the giant snake cause he thinks it'll make a great prop an that it'll help his membership take off if he can be the first religion to prove his deity isn't a fictional character. Elsewhere, the dock jockey decides to investigate just what he's guardin', only when he peeks inside the big fridge they're storin' the snake in he loses a contact lens an has to lean in real far to look for it. Suddenly, a couple fangs the size of railroad spikes go through his forearm an he tries to justify his stupidity by rantin' about how it's illegal to traffic animals this way. But he'll never get to share his moral outrage with anyone, cause pretty quick his arm starts bubblin' up like a jacuzzi an his asthma kicks into high gear an he ends up havin' to jump overboard so he don't have to look at the tobacco juice spewin' outta his arm anymore. While that's happenin', Oliver's tryin' to give a speech, only the snake attack's takin' over his brainwaves again an he has to excuse himself so he can go out in the parkin' lot an yell at Suzanne for carin' about 'im. Then he goes home an starts watchin' his vacation slides an flashin' back to him'n his buddy wrestlin' a giant pickle monster til he has to run for his life an pitch himself down an embankment an get his shorts filled up with sand. This old man came rolling home. While he's doin' that, Suzanne comes in an tells 'im again how terrible an idea all this is an that she don't want 'im to get aerated the way her Dad did. Oliver tells her he brought her here to cook his dinner not to give lectures, but then he feels bad an they hug.
The next morning, Suzanne goes to meet Pete so they can spring the snake from customs, only once it's loaded into their truck, Crowley an his cult appointed assistant follow 'em an watch 'em wheel it into Pete's lab. But once his colleague finds out what's in the fridge she freaks out like... well like your Mom did when you brought a snake into the house. Then everybody goes out into the hallway so their voices'll carry farther while they're yellin' at Pete, everybody except Suzanne anyway, an once they're all outta sight she cranks the heat on the fridge up to about 250 degrees Celcius an heads out with Pete. That evening after everyone's gone home, Crowley an his associate (Duncan) enter the lab. Only Duncan notices the temperature on the reefer's set on "Hell" an not only is that real bad for the snake, but they've gotta get the lid open like two hours ago or else the smell is gonna be worse than a Japanese squid boat in August. Unfortunately, when Duncan opens it up the snake rears up an punctures 'im like a voodoo doll. Crowley runs for it but he's more afraid of the night shift janitor than the snake so rather than shoot through the lock on the door he just runs around the room while the snake Willow Smiths its tail back an forth destroyin' the place til the night shift hears the commotion an opens the door, allowing the snake to escape. Elsewhere, just as Pete's about to show Suzanne his little Pete, his phone rings about 750 times til he finally gets up to tell the telemarketer he's happy with his cable provider. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. It's lab security, an they're real mad. So he an Suzanne head over an he spends most of the trip yellin' at her about bein' denied critical; need to know, information. She retaliates with the fact that the stupid thing was supposed to be medium well an gettin' served up at a specialty restaurant in Arizona by now an she didn't see the point in explain' every little thing to 'im. Then Pete inspects the bodies while the Mickey Rooney-esque janitor yells at 'im. Then the dean of the college yells at 'im. Then he goes out to find the snake an Suzanne yells at 'im for tryin' to be a hero. By this point Pete figures the snake is lookin' like a much better conversational companion an that if he doesn't get away from these people pretty quick he's gonna climb the clock tower an start pickin' off loud people. So Pete an Suzanne dick around in a greenhouse for awhile til they get so close to the slithering terror that if it were a snake it woulda bit 'im, after which it runs 'em outta the greenhouse an down the street where they run into Oliver an stop long enough to see why he's there an to puke a little.
Then the cops show up an Oliver has to start talkin' like Donald Pleasence in Halloween, tellin' 'em how they dunno what they're up against. Elsewhere, the reverend is P.O.'d about losin' his best brainwashed flunkie an he tells Crowley he'd better get it together or he's gonna make 'im clean out the snake fountain with his tongue. Later, once Oliver's run down the plot up to this point for the detective (Novak), they show Pete the corpses an ask 'im if he knows why they're meltin' like the corpses at the end of The Evil Dead an Oliver starts havin' snake vision again as it watches a girl go into a sorority house. Within moments it's in the house an chasin' the future Waffle House waitresses all over the place til it finally gets ahold of one an flings her right through the bathroom door an into a shower scene. The blonde in the shower tries to scream "occupied" but it don't do any good an pretty quick the snake's gettin' some shower action. This's gotta be the first documented case of a big snake in a sorority house where the snake wasn't welcome. The next day, Crowley goes to stake out Oliver's house an parks his white van out in the bushes so it's perfectly camouflaged, an waits. Meanwhile, Pete hooks Oliver's brain up to one of those machines that draws an exact replica of Lawrence Tierney's pulse rate an watches the print out for awhile like he knows what he's doin'. Some time later, we pan back over to Crowley, who, after some time, decided that killin' a few dozen beers would greatly increase his snake huntin' prowess. Not surprisingly, by this point he's grabbin' at his gun, but first he's gotta put his rifle down so he can empty it. Unfortunately he picked a real bad time to engage in indecent exposure, cause it's all he can do to dive back in the van just as the slithering menace shows up an causes serious feelins of inadequacy. Unfortunately (I guess?), the snake jimmies open the back door with a credit card an jerks 'im around like a PTSD patient tryin' to get assistance from the VA. Then it fills 'im so fulla venom that his face starts pulsatin' like he just read the script for Jaws: The Revenge an explodes like a Japanese nuclear reactor. Oliver's watchin' the whole thing, only he can't (or won't) tell Pete an Suzanne where it's happenin'. So when they head out into the hall so Suzanne can yell at Pete some more, Oliver sneaks out, gets in his car, an heads for home for the final confrontation with big slinky. Oliver's tired of this MUGGA FUGGIN' snake in his MUGGA FUGGIN' brain.
Alrighty, well, when it comes to the big snake genre, it didn't really get stupid until Anaconda. And to be completely fair, Anaconda's only problem is its terrible CGI. Seriously, that's it's only real problem. But it's completely and utterly debilitating. That's back when CGI was really just starting to be used any time the opportunity presented itself, and I will admit, CGI has come a long way since then. It's only 75% as terrible as it was in 1997. Anyway, it ruined that movie. Spasms, is one that you seldom hear about in the big snake genre for some reason. Honestly, the snake looks pretty decent, the problem is that you see it very infrequently, and only for very short flashes. Maybe the editor saw something I didn't and decided to keep the snake sequences short. Perhaps they didn't look quite so good when you had time to take a good long look, I dunno. I do know that the movie advertises big snake and doesn't deliver as often as it needs to. Really, up until the climax, you've got maybe 5 seconds. And by the end of the movie, a total of perhaps, 25 seconds. That's not to say that there isn't a decent amount of snake pursuit sequences, but most everything is implied with point of view shots and reaction shots from the actors. It's also got a bit of a pacing problem, which I think is caused by too much needless subplot. By now I'm sure you know what the esteemed Mr. Briggs would say about this. Way too much plot gettin' in the way of the story. Additionally, if the IMDB's budget estimate is to be believed (and I don't), somebody's runnin' around with about 3.5 million bucks in their pocket. I cannot fathom where almost 5 million Canadian dollars went for this movie, particularly when it had so little opportunity to make it back once it was completed. It didn't hit many screens at all and to date has no DVD release. Granted, they paid some actual actors, though not particularly famous ones even today. Even more strangely, during shooting, the budget apparently ran completely out and the ending had to be padded with flashback sequences. Seriously, somebody's embezzling here. And on the subject of padding the movie, even though that padding didn't amount to much more than a minute or two, it's senseless. Nobody who'd watch this kind of movie cares about the length. Wanna know what they do care about? Being bored. Padding almost always leads to boredom. Was it really that important that it made 92 minutes? Would it have been a complete disgrace if it'd come in at 89 minutes? Honestly, it could stand to be shaved down to around 87, that'd probably improve the pacing dramatically. It really isn't too bad, and I don't intend to make it seem such, it's just a little disappointing is all.
Well then, lets latch onto this thing an see what oozes out after it explodes. The plot, with the exception of one element, is okay. Unfortunately, not only does it have some pretty bad movie science with the whole "viral telepathy" thing, but that angle does nothing to improve the movie. We really don't need for Oliver Reed to see the killings as they happen so he can get that look on his face like somebody's threatening his nuts with a table saw. It over stretches even my ability to suspend disbelief, which is pretty tough. Beside the fact that it's unnecessary, which just makes it doubly bad. Now that I think about it that's a pretty big plot point, so that's gonna leave a mark. The acting is actually pretty good, it's got some noteworthy actors, and the performances are generally better than what you'd expect from a giant snake movie from the 80s. There are a couple characters thrown in to increase the body count that aren't all that great, but there's nobody that really stinks up the place. Here's who matters and why: Peter Fonda (Futureworld, Race with the Devil, Spirits of the Dead), Oliver Reed (The Pit and the Pendulum 1991, The House of Usher 1989, Gor, Venom, Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype, The Brood, Burnt Offerings, Z.P.G., Paranoiac, Night Creatures, The Curse of the Werewolf, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll), Kerrie Keane (Alien Nation: The Enemy Within & Millennium, Bates Motel, The Incubus), Al Waxman (Class of 1984, The Clown Murders), Miguel Fernandes (Trancers, Ghost Story, Rabid), Marilyn Lightstone (Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe), Angus MacInnus (High Plains Invaders, Hellboy, Hellraiser II, Murder by Phone, Superman II, Star Wars, Rollerball 1975), Gerard Parkes (The Pyx), Denise Fergusson (Killer Party, The Incubus), John Bayliss (Dead Ringers, The Clown Murders), Barry Flatman (The Returned, Saw III, The Dead Zone), David Bolt (Videodrome, Murder by Phone, Prom Night, Phobia), Les Rubie (Blue Monkey, Funeral Home, Black Christmas), Walker Boone (Darkman III, Blue Monkey, Deadline, Visiting Hours), Don Buchsbaum (Class of 1984, Scanners), Julie Khaner (Escape from Mars, Videodrome). Gerard Parkes also played the "silly creature" from "outer space" on Fraggle Rock.
The special effects are the selling point. I mentioned already that you don't see the snake nearly enough, and that certainly does serious damage to the score, but what you do see of the snake is very good. At least as relevant, are all the festering, bubbling, gooey bite wounds the snake leaves on people, and they're all fantastic. The best one, which they were obviously very proud of (and rightfully so) because they put it on the cover of the VHS, was Al Waxman's face pulsating that looks like a moldy grapefruit with rats inside fightin' for ownership. It's thoroughly disgusting and extremely well executed. And that's mostly what you've got, that pulsating nastiness on various parts of people's bodies. So it's a little short on quantity, but not on quality. The shooting locations are alright. The shipping port comes off as very authentic, the jungle looks good as well. Otherwise you've got mostly city shots of Toronto, Canada which are adequate but not particularly interesting. The only really atmospheric location is the jungle sequence that's supposed to take place in New Guinea, although I suppose the short scenes on the boat aren't too bad either. Nothing special, but decent. The soundtrack... well, if you're not familiar with Tangerine Dream, they were (or are?) a German electronica style band that generally produced only instrumentals. They're a bit difficult to describe, but you'd definitely say that when they first started producing albums, they were not what the public was used to. They did quite a few soundtracks in the 80s, most of which went over a lot better than Spasms, including: Risky Business, Firestarter and Legend. It's really a pretty good soundtrack, and one that does a great deal to increase the atmosphere of the movie. I like it. Despite the stupid plot and the moderately slow pacing, it's still a little too good to fail, but do be warned, it's a bit dry. But when we finally get something worth lookin' at, they're definitely something special. Check it out if you thought Boa was garbage.