‘You scream, you expand, you explode. A new source of evil is discovered and is out of control.’
Spasms – aka Death Bite – is a 1982 Canadian horror film directed by William Fruet (Death Weekend, Funeral Home; Trapped) from a screenplay co-written with Don Enright, based on the 1979 novel Death Bite by Michael Maryk and Brent Monahan.
Interviewed for the book They Came from Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema, William Fruet told author Caelum Vattnsdal: “Spasms! That was kind of a silly movie. I was hired. I did the job. That’s it.”
The movie stars Oliver Reed (Paranoiac; Blue Blood; The Brood), Peter Fonda (Open Season; Race with the Devil; The Harvest), Kerrie Keane (Incubus) and Al Waxman (When Michael Calls; The Clown Murders).
The production ran out of money before shooting was finished and the final scene had to be heavily padded with flashback sequences in an effort to lengthen the movie to a respectable runtime. The film’s bladder special effects were designed by Dick Smith (The Exorcist; Ghost Story; Scanners), whilst Carl Fullerton and Stephan Dupuis proved other makeup special effects.
According to interviews with director William Fruet and other people involved in movie at the time when it was released, a longer version of the ending fight between Oliver Reed and the giant snake was planned and filmed, it included parts where he stabs the snake and snake swallowing his arm but due to the problems with effects the scene was not finished and had to be cut.
A scene where a sailor who is bitten by snake gets his arm swallowed by it was also cut, and there was also a nightmare sequence in which some victims of the snake show up covered with gory wounds. Director said that he shot some additional violent scenes for the Far East versions of the movie but none of these sequences was ever reported to be included in any version of the movie.
The film was given a limited release theatrically in the United States by Producers Distributing Corporation in May 1984. It was issued on VHS by Thorn EMI Video in the US and VTC and Xtasy in the UK.
In 2016, the film was issued as a limited edition DVD by Code Red – see review and article about the movie’s production at For-the-Hell-of-It Reviews – but is not yet available on Blu-ray.
Big game hunter Jason Kincaid (Oliver Reed) oversees the capture of a massive serpent on a remote island.
He takes it to the US because it killed his brother, and he now shares some kind of psychic link with it. Kincaid enlists the help of psychologist Tom Brazilian (Peter Fonda) to study the animal and the mental connection, but they do not count on a group of snake worshipping Satanists to complicate matters by accidentally setting the reptile free…
“Perhaps the most unbelievable thing in the film is that the snake would be any kind of match for Reed; sweating profusely, eyes bulging, fingers on temples: these are the latter-day Reed staples, which he trots out here in full commitment to the performance. He even throws in a few quiet moments for those who can remember him capable of such. You get full Ollie, is what I’m saying.” Daily Dead
“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 managed to deliver an entertaining mess despite the odds. And that’s all you can ask from such a film.” Thrill Me!
“All told it’s surprising 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.” Mondo Digital
“I’ve always thought that mediocre is the worst thing a movie could ever be and this has all the charm of that copy of People’s Friend you couldn’t be arsed looking at, not even the ads for everlasting shoes, in the doctor’s waiting room last week. A real mind-number that is only partially saved by Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack and a pert pair of erect nipples during a single shower scene.” The Spinning Image
“Many of the effects have been eclipsed in recent years, and the snake p.o.v. shots are cliches, and with the exception of Reed, the cast is only O.K. But the snake, created by Raymond A. Mendez, is not bad.” Mike Mayo, Videohound’s Horror Show
“Terribly hammy performances from both Fonda and Reed don’t help the silly cause and the steadicam snake point-of-view shots get pretty tiresome after a while.” James J. Mulay (editor), The Horror Film
“Spasms is an interesting snakesploitation movie hampered by a meager budget. Oliver Reed gives a strong performance (and just coming off the set of Venom he surely had practice), which is certainly more than the role deserves. He chews the scenery and invests plenty of emotion in the role. There are times when he is so intense that his hands shake uncontrollably, though this may be due to his chronic alcohol addiction at the time.” Canuxploitation
“Screenwriter Don Enright also introduces a pointless snake cult; his adaptation should have been exciting (the book certainly was) but it generates surprisingly little suspense and uncoils lethargically to a downright unsatisfying anticlimax. Tangerine Dream provides an unmemorable “serpent’s love theme”. John Stanley, Creature Features
“It has some good death scenes, thanks to makeup by Dick Smith…” Michael J. Weldon, The Psychotronic Video Guide
Principal filming took place between August and October 1981 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Buy VHS: Amazon.co.uk
Buy VHS: Amazon.co.uk