Color, 1983, 90 mins. 10 secs.
Directed by William Fruet
Starring Peter Fonda, Oliver Reed, Kerrie Keane, Al Waxman, Miguel Fernandez
Code Red (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

SpasmsSpasmsJust after he made the troubled but fondly remembered black mamba thriller Venom, Oliver Reed returned for another, much trashier snake fest with this offering from Canadian director William Fruet, best known for The House by the Lake, Funeral Home, Killer Party, and the daffy Blue Monkey. Like Venom, this was pulled from a pulpy paperback novel, this time Death Bite written by Michael Maryk and Brent Monahan-- but due to production issues, the end result bears little resemblance to its source. In fact, both the minimal theatrical release in the United States by PDC and the seemingly omnipresent VHS from Thorn EMI gave little indication that this was a snake movie at all, instead focusing on a terrorized woman in the shower and one of makeup legend Dick Smith's puffy creations.

Wealthy industrialist Jason Kincaid (Reed) is on a mission to capture the gigantic island snake that killed his brother, especially since he shares a psychic link to the reptile and gets unpleasant, blue-tinted visions every time it kills. The fact that the serpent is responsible for Kincaid's nasty limp is just one reminder of the trauma as he also looks after his dead brother's daughter, fluffy-haired Suzanne (The Incubus' Keane). Meanwhile on the snake's island (where it's worshiped in very long tribal rituals and summoned to carry dark souls back to hell) the beast is captured and ordered to be sent over to Kincaid for study by Dr. Tom Brasilian (Fonda), but instead it's unleashed on Toronto by some dim-witted cultists. Soon the snake is attacking an unsuspecting populace (including a female-inhabited apartment in one bloody highlight), with Jason and Tom racing against time to stop the supernatural serpent before the body count gets out of control.Spasms

Despite extensive promotion during filming, this one ran afoul of many production problems including a pair of rowdy stars and massive financial pitfalls and Spasmsmismanagement; you can read a detailed breakdown of its messy history here. 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 messsince some crucial footage couldn't be shot, but if you're just in the mood for a monster movie with hammy acting and spirited horror scenes, you could do a lot worse.

Code Red announced plans for a DVD release of this film several years before their no-frills disc finally hit the streets (or at least the Internet) in 2016, sold directly through its store. Efforts to locate a complete usable print turned out to be fruitless, so what we have here is a matted, blown-up 16x9 version of the best master available (sporting a Warner Bros. logo at the beginning), which is at least an improvement over the pale, fuzzy Thorn EMI version. Unfortunately it also sports some brief but very noticeable damage including a nasty analog tape crease and roll at the 37-minute mark, so if you're nostalgic for the old days of tape glitches, here you go. On the bright side it's a longer cut of the film, clocking in at just over 90 minutes compared to the 87-minute version released by Thorn EMI. (Nothing major here, just more dialogue by the looks of it.) The English mono audio is fine for what it is and should make you wish they'd bothered to release a vinyl 45 version of that Tangerine Dream theme Spasmssong at the end.

In 2018, Code Red decided to offer the best option possible on Blu-ray by presenting an HD scan of "film elements," which presumably means a print but a really great-Spasmslooking one, with ten minutes of the standard def source (upscaled) inserted where necessary. For the record, the tape section starts at 40m13s and goes to 50m23s, which luckily means it doesn't affect big highlights. You can see sample grabs from the SD segment by clicking here, here, or here. The bulk of the transfer looks shockingly good if you're familiar with this film's sorry video history, with dark scenes faring much better in particular and little tactile details like hair and clothing finally looking pin sharp. The DTS-HD MA English mono track still sounds decent for a particularly undemanding mix. Extras include the trailer (in very VHS-y quality) and particularly random bonus ones for Lightning Bolt, Exorcism's Daughter, Devil Woman, Vengeance (confusingly in Italian with no title card), This Is a Hijack!, and Top of the Heap. The region-free Blu-ray (which is still framed at the more opened up 1.78:1 rather than the 1.85:1 listed on the packaging) comes with a limited slipcover (which looks pretty cool, actually) for the initial batch when order through Ronix Flix or the Code Red store, or internationally only from Diabolik until 3/25/18.

Updated review on March 3, 2018.