SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION (1989) Reviews and overview

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Spontaneous Combustion is a 1989 American science fiction horror film directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre; Poltergeist; Lifeforce). It was written by Tobe Hooper and Howard Goldberg, based on a story by Hooper, and was produced by Jim Rogers. It was released in the US on February 23, 1990 by Taurus Entertainment.

The film’s notable score was by Graeme Revell: Dead CalmPitch Black, Bride of Chucky, Freddy vs. Jason and more.


Main cast:

Brad Dourif (Malignant; Trauma; Child’s Play), Cynthia Bain (Pumpkinhead), Jon Cypher (The Food of the Gods), William Prince (Monsters TV series), Melinda Dillon, Dey Young, Tegan West, Michael Keys Hall, Dale Dye, Dick Butkus. Director John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) has a cameo role as a radio technician.

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Would-be actor Sam Kramer (Brad Dourif) finds out that his parents had been used in an atomic-weapons experiment shortly before he was born, and that the results have had some unexpected effects on him…



“Brad Dourif conveys an animal madness with maniacal glee as cursed protagonist Sam Kramer … Hooper’s film has an enigmatic nub and a great deal of vision but is woefully ham-fisted, barely coherent and utterly preposterous.” Dan Goodwin, Scream magazine

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“Even though horror by nature doesn’t always have to make complete sense in order to be effective, it does need inspiration and the narrative center of Hooper’s film instead feels too dramatically deficient to be genuinely entertaining. If there is much to recommend here it is Dourif’s delightfully deranged performance and his more than ample capacity for the macabre.” A Nightmare on Samityville Street

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“There have been allegations about constant rewriting on the set of Spontaneous Combustion, as well as other production problems, including creative interference, so perhaps it is not surprising that the film, overall, is pretty weak. Hooper has certainly done better, but he’s rarely done worse.” John Kenneth Muir, Eaten Alive at a Chainsaw Massacre: The Films of Tobe Hooper


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… a contemporary twist on ’50s sci-fi as filtered through Hooper’s often overlooked surrealist bent. Indeed, Sam’s mind-boggling synthesis with a nearby nuclear power plant, and subsequent dissolving into a swirling pool of glowing goo, Altered States-style, is as wildly imaginative, laconic and idiosyncratic as anything else in Hooper’s delectable oeuvre. And, simply, it demands to be seen.” Zombie Hamster

“no one makes bad movies as deliriously entertaining as Tobe Hooper, whose career continues its spectacular downward slide … Spontaneous Combustion is a lot of fun. It’s got far too many subplots, a nice sense of paranoia, effects that are both icky and ridiculous, and it moves too fast for logic. Beat that, Troma.” Ty Barr, Spin magazine


“All in all, it’s no classic by any means but the fun, scenery-chewing performances and often wild practical visual effects make it an enjoyable ride for ’90s horror fans.” Nathaniel Thomson, Mondo Digital


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Spontaneous Combustion commences on a high note of creativity and wit, but then promptly goes down in flames.” John Kenneth Muir, Horror Films of the 1980s


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Cast and characters:

Choice dialogue:

Doctor Cagney: “We should have flushed you when we had chance. You’re a freak!”

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