Monthly Archives: January 2021

Review of Evil Spawn (1987) Blu-ray From Retromedia

Evil Spawn (1987)

In 2020, Retromedia put out the best release yet of Evil Spawn on Blu-ray. If you love the film, you’ll want to get it. If you don’t care for the film, you may still want to stick around because I have things to say.


Evil Spawn clocks in at just under 71 minutes. Despite that, it tells a relatively complex story. It centers around Lynn Roman (Bobbie Bresee) — an aging movie star for whom parts have dried up.

This is bad enough, but she also has a stalker fan who kills a scientist and befriends another to get a drug that returns youth to its users. It also turns them into horrible monsters, but no one said beauty was easy!

Lynn takes the drug but it doesn’t solve her problems. Instead, she runs around killing most of the people in her life. Given they are (1) her agent (Fox Harris); (2) her philandering boyfriend (John Terrence); and (3) his girlfriend, it isn’t too bad. But she also kills her devoted assistant, Elaine (Pamela Gilbert), although she is naked throughout.

Eventually, the police arrive and kill her. More or less the end.

The story is framed by her biographer (Drew Godderis) writing the story of her life. This is mostly just to allow a “shock” ending that is neither shocking nor particularly welcome. (Admittedly, I don’t like seeing writers die.)

Audio and Video

The film is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. It’s fine — better than we could reasonably expect. There are no subtitles at all.

This release has a 2K video transfer from the original negatives, which are mostly 16 mm. The aspect ratio comes out to be roughly 1.6:1.

It looks good but there is one major problem. The right edge of the video is often distorted. Given the film was originally released on VHS at 4:3, I wonder why they didn’t cut it out. But it’s easy enough to ignore.


The film has a good selection of extras. It’s just too bad Fred Olen Ray didn’t include others who were involved. Clearly, he doesn’t get along with Bobbie Bresee but why not Kenneth J Hall or even Ted Newsom? Still, fans should be happy about what is here.

  • Behind the Scenes (2:27): video from later scenes from the film.
  • On Location Footage (33:44): video from the shoot by boom operator Ralph Langer. It includes scenes where Dawn Wildsmith’s character comes to Lynn Roman’s house. There is also a lot of Pamela Gilbert naked in the swimming pool with a smaller monster than ultimately appeared in the final cut.
  • John Carradine Outtakes (4:46): footage shot by Ray in 1986 that would eventually contribute to a few other films.
  • The Case of the Missing Monster (1:16): stills of the original monster (seen in On Location Footage).
  • Night Owl Theater (4:07): An introduction to the DVD release of Evil Spawn with Ray playing the part of a rich asshole — the kind of person who doesn’t watch his films. It’s his take on Joe Bob Briggs, who is no less fake.
  • Trailer (2:20): not really a trailer. More a selection of the most impressive moments in the film cut together.

Commentary Track

Fred Olen Ray provides perhaps the worst recorded commentary track I’ve ever heard. It sounds very much like he was watching the film on his computer and recording using his webcam.

But that alone speaks well of the commentary because he is most definitely watching the film, which is not always true. However, he doesn’t spend much time commenting on the action.

In fact, roughly half the track is general stuff about him. So if you are interested in how he got into the business, there’s lots to appreciate. For example, I learned that he worked a bit with Ed Wood in 1977.

Ray doesn’t have all that much to say about the filming of Evil Spawn. He admits that he wasn’t really around. At that point, he was directing million-dollar films and this was a $30,000 film.

Sadly, much of the commentary is about settling scores — especially with Frank and Bobbie Bresee. But he even goes after Gary J Levinson. Apparently, Levinson was convicted of distributing child pornography. That isn’t Ray’s problem with Levinson, however. Ray is angry because he implied that Ray didn’t have much talent in an interview decades ago.

Regardless, there is a lot of interesting information in the commentary. But we would have learned a lot more about this film is Kenneth J Hall had done the track instead.

The Alien Within

The high point of the extras is the inclusion of The Alien Within. This is an 85-minute feature. Ray hired Ted Newsom to create it using Evil Spawn. This is like what was done to The Madmen of Mandoras and Sam’s Song. But this is a much better effort.

They don’t just sandwich the film inside a new frame. That would be difficult given that the story was already structured that way. But they make the film instead about a film producer who, like Lynn Roman, is using the drug.

Most of the rest of the film is seen through the perspective of PIs played by John Henry Richardson and Suzanne Ager. They are great together and I would definitely watch a film with those two characters.

Of course, there are fundamental problems with doing this to a film. The main one is that the resulting film is unfocused. As much as Richardson and Ager might be fun to watch, they aren’t even the main characters of the film. And most of the film is about Roman, even if the film is not structured to support that.

Additionally, the new material is clearly shot more quickly with less thought. So it just doesn’t look as good as the core material. I’m afraid that will always be the case in situations like this since they are, at base, a cash grab.

There are, however, a few things that the film fixes. The death of the stalker character makes a lot more sense. And the ending is better.

But we are still left with an over-long scattered film where all the best parts are taken from Evil Spawn.

Historical Context

I learned about a bit of a kerfuffle regarding Evil Spawn from Matty Budrewicz at The Schlock Pit. In the original review of the film in Psychotronic Video, Weldon (I assume) wrote:

Here’s the shoddier west coast version of almost the same story [The Rejuvenator], but with laughable special effects, lots of nudity, and a script obsessed with making cheap movies. Bobbie Bresse (MAUSOLEUM) is the faded blond star who injects a youth serum that backfires and turns her into an insect monster. John Carridine appears for a few minutes as the feeble Dr Zeitman who tells crazy, evil Donna Wildsmith (with really stiff hair) to “carry on with my plan.” Bresse has an eye-catching nude shower scene, then looks pretty funny when her teeth grow and her eyes turn red, and later when she has a rubber face. She dreams that she wins an Oscar (see Joe Spinnell interview). A poster for Fred Olen Ray’s The TOMB is on a wall. (Ray, uncredited, did rewrites and shot additional footage. Hall, the credited director, recently made GHOST WRITER with the Landers sisters.) Forry Ackerman, who helped make Bobbie Bresse a “cult figure” is seen cleaning a pool. Choice bad dialog is repeated over and over in the deranged actress’ mind. Despite everything, EVIL SPAWN is non-stop fun in a sort of desperate way. The best part for me was when a stunning Pamela Gilbert, as the monster woman’s secretary, goes for a nude swim. It’s that kind of movie.

Kenneth J Hall was not happy about this. And I can understand why. As unaffected as I am, I get annoyed about all the uncredited writers, directors, and so on that are thrown around. Film is almost always a collaborative effort. There are so many people who don’t get the credit they deserve.

At the same time, we get sloppy writing that gives big names more credit than they deserve. Would Weldon have undercut Hall in this way if some no-name had shot a few minutes of the film?

Hall Responds

So Hall wrote a letter, which appeared in Psychotronic Video #4:

I normally let these things slide, but the review of EVIL SPAWN (PV#2) marks the second time Fred Ray has been credited for writing or “fixing up” the film. The source of such misleading information can only be Fred himself. It baffles me why a man who’s done so many features wants to take a bow for my little picture, especially since he didn’t want his name on it to begin with. The truth is, Fred was the original producer/director on the project, first titled WASP. George Edwards wrote several unconnected scenes, which Fred shot in one day [seen in On Location Footage]. After that he lost interest in the film, much to the chagrin of Bobbie and Frank Bresse who co-financed it. Several months later, I was asked to finish it, writing a script around approximately five minutes of existing footage. I was also asked to incorporate one of Fred’s “generic” John Carradine scenes into the plot. These were scenes he’d hired the aging actor to do — presumably for one movie — which he’s subsequently spliced into several other films like THE DEMENTED DEATH FARM MASSACRE and STAR SLAMMER. I wrote and directed the rest of the film on a seven-day schedule for a budget of less than $30,000. Fred had little involvement during that time. He never read my script and rarely visited the set. After my cut was completed, he stepped in to supervise post-production, which was done very shoddily. There is a further history to EVIL SPAWN involving a number of lawsuits. Suffice it to say the behind the scenes story is more convoluted than the one on the screen, to this day, no one involved, including myself, has seen a profit from it.

Ray Responds

I think that response speaks to a badly managed production where different principals had very different ideas about what was being done. Regardless, Ray wasn’t going to let this sit. He responded in the following issue:

EVIL SPAWN, as Ken Hall tried desperately to state, is all his. He wrote most of it and directed most of it and it certainly bears his unmistakable “style.” Outside of hiring Ken as my employee and placing a certain amount of faith in him as a first-time director, I had little to do with the film and have never implied differently. I wish Ken would stop trying to drag me into this loser. If he’s unhappy about the fact that he hasn’t made any money, how do you think those of us who LOST money on him feel? With the paltry budget he delineated it seems impossible that any picture could lose money, but his did. Thanks a lot, Ken.

That’s harsh! It’s also, well, false. As Ray discusses in the commentary, the film lost money because of all the problems between Ray and the Bresees. Thankfully, his anger at Hall seems to have dissipated. I certainly understand how disagreements can go.

Should We Believe Fred Olen Ray?

But it’s a bit hard to believe that Fred Olen Ray is quite as blameless as he claims. As I’ve noted in the past: making films is hard; it is a profession that most rewards the ruthless.

And there is something that he said in the commentary that bothers me. “Now they were supposed to have paid all the participants — Ken Hall, anybody who had a share in the film — The Bresees were to have paid them from the money they had received [from foreign distribution].”

Is he saying he never paid anyone? What it sounds like to me is that with Ray and the Bresees fighting, the contracts were effectively destroyed and they were the only parties who made any money. And that’s messed up.

Buy Evil Spaw

But regardless of all the behind-the-scenes nonsense, I recommend buying the Evil Spawn Blu-ray. It really is a good film with worthwhile extras.

Evil Spawn artwork cropped from Amazon under Fair Use.

Psychotronic Films We Watch in December 2020

Psychotronic Review

I’ve been watching a lot more films these days thanks to the invention of Watch2gether, which allows me to watch films with my friends. In particular, I’ve been watching a lot of stuff from Shudder with my friend Andrea.

As a result, I’m usually watching two films every day. It doesn’t show up here because I also re-watch stuff that I’ve already posted on Short Takes.

We just posted our 600th capsule review, which was #2 on the list below. At the rate I’m going, we should top a thousand by the end of the year. We’re still a long way off from beating Michael Weldon’s 7,000+. But our capsule reviews are longer with way more details. And now we are posting lots of newer stuff. Not that it’s a competition…

December 2020 Films

  1. America’s Most Haunted (2013)
  2. Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold (1995)
  3. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
  4. Child’s Play (1988)
  5. The Cleansing Hour (2019)
  6. Creepozoids (1987)
  7. Crocodile (2000)
  8. Dead End (2003)
  9. The Evil Eye (1963)
  10. The Final Girls (2015)
  11. Ghost Writer (1989)
  12. Head (2015)
  13. Hell House LLC (2015)
  14. Hellboy (2004)
  15. Inhumanwich! (2016)
  16. Kill, Baby… Kill! (1966)
  17. Killer Fish (1979)
  18. Macabre (1980)
  19. Mausoleum (1983)
  20. Midnight Movie (2008)
  21. Monster a Go-Go (1965)
  22. Moonshine Mountain (1964)
  23. Nekromantik 2 (1991)
  24. Nightbreed (1990)
  25. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)
  26. Night of the Demons (1988)
  27. Night of the Demons (2009)
  28. The Nightshifter (2018)
  29. Salem’s Lot (1979)
  30. Scare Me (2020)
  31. The Skull (1965)
  32. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
  33. Sneakers (1992)
  34. Suburban Gothic (2014)
  35. Twice-Told Tales (1963)
  36. Vampire Circus (1972)
  37. We Go On (2016)
  38. Witchboard (1986)
  39. Zombeavers (2014)

America’s Most Haunted (2013)

I’ve seen any number of “fake ghost show comes upon real ghost” films. This one is pretty watchable. It does have a bit of a twist ending plus it features James Karen who is always fun to see.

Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold (1995)

I’m a fan of Fred Olen Ray. And this film features much of what has made him an icon in the low-budget film world. There are lots of fun film references. But the plot is clunky and few jokes land.

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

This film is pure cake. It’s just a fun ride with a lot of cool effects. It shows that Carpenter can do just about anything. I bought the SHOUT! Factory Blu-ray for a dollar at a junk store. Otherwise, I never cared much about owning it. But there have got to be super-fans out there because this is a wonderful film!

Child’s Play (1988)

I avoided watching this film for decades because I figured it was a comedy. It’s not. It’s more like a filmmaker challenge, “Make a scary film with the most ridiculous villain possible.” And they succeed remarkably. Killer Piñata is better, but it’s still really good!

The Cleansing Hour (2019)

This is probably the best of the “fake ghost show comes upon real ghost” films. The acting, design, and effects are all great. I do think the ending takes too long, but this is true of most films these days.

Creepozoids (1987)

This is a very effective and efficient Alien-style monster movie. There are lots of David DeCoteau films I like more but you can see why this one is so often mentioned as one of his best.

Crocodile (2000)

Never mentioned as one of Tobe Hooper’s best, Crocodile is a lot better than most films like this. The best thing about it is that the first act is short because nothing makes he fear for the future like the young people in teen horror films. But this one gets going fast and pushes constantly to the end.

Dead End (2003)

This film would have worked well as an episode of The Twilight Zone. It features a somewhat clear idea rendered simply (but effectively) with excellent acting. Few will be surprised by the denouement, but the ride is well worth it.

The Evil Eye (1963)

This is a beautifully shot film by Mario Bava that was hugely influential. It’s funny that they cast an Italian woman to play an American and an American man to play an Italian. But it all works well with radical shifts in tone.

The Final Girls (2015)

This is another of the “killer film” films. It works as a parody of the slasher genre, but it’s actually a lot more than that. And the teens are far less annoying than usual. It features lots of gore but isn’t especially scary. I really liked it.

Ghost Writer (1989)

Maybe I’m watching too much horror, but I just loved this film. It’s very funny but also sweet. It’s hard not to conclude that Kenneth J Hall actually likes women. It makes Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold look bad by comparison.

Head (2015)

This is a fairly serious slasher film made entirely with puppets. I’m still debating the ending with my friends.

Hell House LLC (2015)

Another “fake ghost show comes upon real ghost” film — in this case, people who put on haunted houses for Halloween. It’s a found-footage film and works quite well. I could have done without the ending, but that’s seems to be my thing.

Hellboy (2004)

Hellboy is a good film, but the opening sequence without the title character works a lot better for me. Now that we proved Guillermo del Toro can even make a good superhero film, can we move on. Sadly not.

Inhumanwich! (2016)

A funny parody of Monster a Go-Go. There is a lot of content like this made for people like me. Given I find so few of these people out in the world, I have concluded that 90% of all psychotronic fans make movies. That’s great, but anyone going after this demographic is bound to lose money!

Kill, Baby… Kill! (1966)

Another great film from Mario Bava. It’s mostly atmosphere. The plot doesn’t matter all that much. As I get older, I prefer these kinds of films, which is why I’m so fond of the Italians of these decades.

Killer Fish (1979)

This Karen Black heist film works well enough. I think Barracuda from the same time is way better.

Macabre (1980)

Mario Bava’s son has much of his father’s talent. This is a supremely twisted story. Nothing will surprise you but it’s still a lot of fun!

Mausoleum (1983)

This film mostly just rambles without much atmosphere. It does feature some rather good murders and you get to look at Bobbie Bresee naked. But you are much better off watching Evil Spawn.

Midnight Movie (2008)

A rather good “killer film” film. I think a sequel to it might have been even better. Once the characters are inside the film, the world is much more interesting. And it’s horrifying to think of those left inside it.

Monster a Go-Go (1965)

I remembered hating this film. On re-watching it, I can confidently say that I was right. Go ahead and read my article, The Curious Creation of Monster a Go-Go. But the film itself is a slog.

Moonshine Mountain (1964)

Herschell Gordon Lewis really did have his own style. This film is actually pretty fun and it unfolds a bit differently that you think when it starts.

Nekromantik 2 (1991)

A funny but deeply disturbing romanance between a woman and the guy she likes hanging out with and the corpse she likes fucking.

Nightbreed (1990)

This is a typical kind of Clive Barker film where the plot doesn’t matter all that much. There is a decent plot that you can follow. But that’s not why you should watch it. It has lots of interesting moments.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)

I’m really torn on this film. Most of it is really good. And the ending is so trite and that really destroys the rest of the film. So maybe turn it off when you get to the reading of the will?

Night of the Demons (1988)

Linnea Quigley gets naked with some lipstick. Other than that, the film is okay — better than most teen horror films.

Night of the Demons (2009)

Linnea Quigley only gets a cameo here. And the teens are far more annoying than in the original. It has a lot of atmosphere and is directed in the flashy style. I’m sure a lot of people like it.

The Nightshifter (2018)

This is one of the best films I’ve seen recently. It’s Brazilian and in Portuguese. Even before the plot really gets going, the film grabs your attention with the conversations between the morgue worker and the corpses.

Salem’s Lot (1979)

I suspect the reason Stephen King so often hates the films that are made of his novels is that they don’t capture the combination of small town life and impending doom. Hooper and company do this beautifully here. This is a good film to share with people who aren’t horror fanatics but are okay with the genre.

Scare Me (2020)

This is a very well-written play made very stylishly into a film. I loved the first half but lost my way toward the end. Well worth seeking out.

The Skull (1965)

Amicus goes for style and atmosphere here but I really think the Italians do it better. Still, a pretty interesting film.

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

A feminist slasher film?! That’s right. But the fact that this film has something to say doesn’t make it any less fun. In fact, having well-developed women characters actually makes it better.

Sneakers (1992)

This is a heist film with an all-star cast. It’s fun but these days I have a hard time getting past the fact that the plot makes no sense. Also: I’m still not sure what motivates the bad guy — because I kind of want him to win. More and more I think this film is actually slapping down leftists by liberals: the way to change the world isn’t upsetting the system but by giving to Greenpeace. Okay. But awfully safe and boring.

Suburban Gothic (2014)

Another film about a young man who comes home only to find that some wickedness has taken over. In this case, there’s a major reversal. Also: this is a very funny film.

Twice-Told Tales (1963)

This is a pretty romantic horror trilogy. It was doubtless a good date movie at the time of its release. It’s a well-made film and a pleasant watch.

Vampire Circus (1972)

Done well, there is no way a circus-themed horror film can miss with me. I like the bright colors and acts. This film certainly has its problems with pacing but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

We Go On (2016)

This is an excellent take on the haunted person genre. It has very impressive moments but is worth a watch even without them.

Witchboard (1986)

We seem to be flooded with Ouija board films these days. This is an earlier one that is quite good. Some of the deaths are kind of obvious though.

Zombeavers (2014)

This is a well-made zombie film but with the usual assortment of really annoying teens. Everyone dies, which kinda shows that beavers are good for the ecosystem.

See you next month!