The Hollywood studio machine eats people up and spits them out. We all know this. It’s understood as a given for anyone entering the world of cinematic celebrity. Aside from those who get involved in drugs and murder and sleazy sex/religious cults or whatever, there is the omnipresent threat that at any moment, the phone may stop ringing because you have been deemed too old. The difference between the former examples and the latter is that people have no choice in the aging process. We begin dying the moment we’re born, and careers in Hollywood tend to die very prematurely indeed. I think (I have no hard evidence for any of this, mind you) that an actor or actress knows that their career is on the downswing the moment they receive a screenplay wherein they will be playing the parent of one of the main characters or worse the grandparent (or – Horror! – scripts for television movies). And women get it worse than men, clearly. Men are said to get distinguished with age. Men mature. Women age, and the shelf life for a top actress who can headline a film and put asses in seats (who are scarce enough to begin with) is shorter than that of a mayfly. It’s not uncommon to be considered over the hill by the time an actress is in her thirties. It’s no wonder that they cling in desperation to their careers by getting all manner of plastic surgery done. The sad irony is that said work typically makes them look more cartoonish than if they had simply allowed themselves to grow old with grace. They make of themselves a freak show, and one thing that people love to watch is a freak show (celebrity or otherwise). I believe we’re all culpable to some degree or another in this cultural perpetuation, but to go into it and all of its permutations at any length isn’t why we’re here, so I’ll be brief. We moan that older actors and actresses get shit parts in shit films, but how many of us would pay for a theater ticket to see a big budget film with Diane Lane playing the lead role? Don’t lie. The vast majority of people would either wait until it hits video or cable or pirate it off a torrent site, if it even hits their radar at all. How many studio executives would take a chance on a project like that? Very few, if they value their tenuous jobs. Though the occasional bright light does shine through this darkness, these glimmers are few and far between. All of this ties into the Kenneth J Hall (Ted Newsom and Fred Olen Ray are also listed on IMdB as directors, but if memory serves, only Hall is credited onscreen) schlockfest Evil Spawn (aka Alien Within aka Deadly Sting aka Alive by Night aka Metamorphosis). It just does very little to save the film.
A space probe brings alien microbes (which are actually quite large for microbes as I would define them and so not actually microbes at all) are brought to Earth to be studied. Evelyn (who pronounces her name like He-Man villainess Evil-Lyn and is played by Dawn Wildsmith) murders a fellow scientist (apparently in his garage-turned-laboratory) and takes the microbes back to her mentor Dr. Zeitman (John Carradine who really struggles just to get through his scene; I felt bad for the man, frankly), who also promptly croaks. Evelyn approaches aging actress Lynn Roman (Bobbie Bresee, thirty-seven years old at the time this was released) with an anti-aging serum derived from the microbes, and once Lynn reaches her snapping point and decides to take the drug, the beast that has been raging inside her is finally unleashed.
Okay. From the above synopsis, the film’s plot probably doesn’t make a ton of sense. That’s because the film doesn’t make a ton of sense. Characters come and go just because. Plot threads are brought up, scarcely tied into the main plot, and then completely forgotten. The characters all act extremely dumb and/or whiny. The world these people exist in is entirely unbelievable, even if you look at it through the lens of trash cinema (though doing that would likely make the film a bit more palatable). Not one of these people are motivated by anything other than plot conveniences. The picture’s story is almost a total lift of 1959’s The Wasp Woman (and if you want to read about a seriously messed up end to a starlet’s career and life, look up some information on Susan Cabot sometime) an, to a lesser extent, both versions of The Fly, but at least in those films, the characters pretended to do something every now and then. The lion’s share of Evil Spawn is Lynn crying about her career, bellyaching about the movie she wants to be in, and being hopelessly untethered from reality a la Norman Desmond but not nearly as interestingly (and Sunset Boulevard is another influence on this film, though Billy Wilder likely spins in his grave every time this film is screened). Even at seventy minutes long, this film outstays its welcome. It’s like waiting for a boring guest to leave, then he says something that briefly piques your interest and snaps you out of your stupor, but then you swiftly realize that they’re still depressingly tedious, and go back to counting the seconds until it’s all over. The only thing this film has a plenitude of is naked women, and they are certainly attractive enough, each and every one. Just not enough to make sitting through this whole thing worth the effort. There’s also some gore and a relatively decent monster costume (especially impressive if the estimated thirty thousand dollar budget is to be believed), but again, it’s just too little, too late.
Outside of the fear of irrelevance embodied by Lynn in her bid to stay in the spotlight is the motif that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Her biographer (Ross Anderson) is essentially a meathead. Her boyfriend Brent (John Terrence) gives the impression he doesn’t want to be seen in public with Lynn, and is cheating on her with some floozy (who he brings to Lynn’s house just so they can both become victims…I mean, just to get a little action). Her agent (Fox Harris) is a two-faced slimewad, who dicks Lynn over for a younger client. Her producer pal (Mark Anthony) lets her have it with both barrels when she all but begs him for a role in his next big movie (“No amount of diffusion can take that away,” re: Lynn’s wrinkles). Naturally, there’s only so much a woman can endure, and since almost all of these characters are so deplorable and/or bland, we can’t wait for Lynn to “Hulk out” and start laying waste to them. We’re in her corner, because she’s the victim. Normally, audiences love films like this, but our main character in this one simply isn’t sympathetic enough for us to give a shit about her travails. Sadly, it makes the creature/murder scenes little more than bathetic rather than cathartic.
MVT: The only reason to watch this is for its exploitable elements (read: nudity and blood), and even then I would likely just recommend trying to find a condensation of those scenes without all the other shit.
Make or Break: The death of Elaine (Pamela Gilbert) is the highlight of the film for a few reasons. One, I think she’s the best looking woman in this film. Two, she’s stark raving nude when it happens. Three, the blood streaming down her back and into the crack of her ass does actually make a great image, all things being equal. You got me on that one, Mr. Ray.