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THE DEADLY SPAWN – Michael Perilstein

February 22, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

deadlyspawnOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

When I was about nine or ten years old, my best friend at school had one of those Casio keyboards – the kind of inexpensive ones you bought a nine year old so they would have something to do when the weather was bad outside. I distinctly remember being at my friend’s house one time, playing with the keyboard, and improvising some stupid little melody using one finger. Now bearing in mind that I cannot read music, cannot write music, and never graduated beyond one-fingered keyboard tapping, you will begin to understand what I mean when I say that my amateur plonkings that day were, on the whole, better than Michael Perilstein’s score for The Deadly Spawn.

The film, released to absolutely no critical acclaim in 1983, was one of those “killer something from outer space” types, in this instance an alien organism with an uncanny resemblance to a giant penis. The penis-monster finds its way to Earth attached to a meteorite, and immediately begins to eat its way through the cast – James Brewster, Elissa Neil, John Schmerling, et al. The film was directed by Douglas McKeown, and had an original score by composer Michael Perilstein, who went on to enjoy an  unsuccessful career scoring classic fare such as ‘Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers’ (1988) and the concept album ‘Godzilla vs. Your Mother’. Quite how this film, or Perilstein’s music, managed to be regarded as a “cult classic” is quite amazing. Beyond the camp interest of seeing grown men and women being devoured by giant phalluses, and (judging by the CD booklet) some incredibly gruesome special effects, I can see no discernible value in the project whatsoever – even the argument “it’s so bad its good” would not seem to be applicable.

As far as the music is concerned, I’ll start with the positive: Perilstein’s main theme, played on bass flute in “Afternoon of a Spawn”, with added rock guitar in “Let’s Spawn”, with a lounge jazz feel in “Here Today, Spawn Tomorrow”, and on solo piano in “The Spawn Who Came In from the Cold”, has a sort of mock-disco electronic cool to it – completely inappropriate for the film it accompanies, but which somehow gets your head bobbing and your body rocking during the final cue, “The Deadly Spawn (End Theme)”. Secondly, the package of the CD itself is great. Producer Robin Esterhammer, writer Paul Tonks, and the composer have pulled out all the stops to produce a superior product which does not take itself seriously. All the usual legal mumbo-jumbo that adorn CDs have been replaced by humorous (and quite surreal) paragraphs talking about (among other things) the company logo, and Perilstein himself has written a truly unintelligible “About the Composer” section which could be considered quite pretentious if it wasn’t so hilarious.

Unfortunately, that’s as good as it gets. It’s actually quite difficult to describe the rest of the CD without resorting to foul language. Perilstein’s electronics moan and groan, occasionally making noises that could be confused with the death cries of a cat, fax machine dial tones, or the sound old computers used to make when they were connecting to the internet. The rhythms employed are simplistic to the point of childishness. There’s no countermelody – hell, almost no melody! – and virtually nothing in the way of thematic development. Possibly worst of all, it even seems as though Perilstein occasionally flubs his own keyboard playing, with a number of chords which just sound plain wrong and miss the beat.

Occasionally, Perilstein uses wet samples similar to those Jerry Goldsmith used in scores like The ‘Burbs and Gremlins 2, but despite being intended to convey a sense of menace, cues such as “Creeping Right Along” actually end up sounding comedic and out of place – exactly the same as they did when Goldsmith used them. VERY occasionally, his music is reminiscent of John Carpenter (notably his 1980 classic ‘The Fog’), but without Carpenter’s talent for memorable, effective minimalism.

There’s also a randomly-sampled snare drum which tries to inject some life into the otherwise lifeless “All That Slithers Is Not Good”, while the pseudo-romantic theme, “Spawn With the Wind”, is elevator muzak at best, repeating a simple phrase over and over again, backed by slushy sampled cymbal hits. The 12-minute suite, “Spawn, But Not Forgotten”, is a new piece written by Perilstein specifically for this album, which takes the thematic material from the original film, mixes it with thematic material Perilstein wrote for a sequel which was never made (“Spawn of the Dead”), and gives it a hip-hop beat and fake thunderstorm FX. Sadly, it’s no better than the rest of the album – in fact, almost unbelievably, some of the synth samples Perilstein uses sound worse than the ones he was using 22 years ago.

I find it completely inexplicable how men such as Esterhammer and Tonks, who I hold in high esteem and whose taste and judgment I respect, would pour their time and money into releasing a score this bad. It really is completely inept, boring, and at times laughable. The only thing this stops this CD from receiving a zero stars rating is the cheesy enjoyability of the final cue; beyond that I would implore all who read this review to steer clear. If, for some reason, I have not dissuaded you from purchasing The Deadly Spawn, you can always go to Perseverence Records’ website and waste seventeen of your hard earned dollars. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Rating: *

Track Listing:

  • The Landing of the Meteorite (0:19)
  • Afternoon of a Spawn (2:35)
  • All that Slithers is Not Good (2:55)
  • Creeping Right Along (3:44)
  • Spawn With the Wind (2:11)
  • Let’s Spawn (4:09)
  • Here Today, Spawn Tomorrow (2:32)
  • Spawn Lake (3:02)
  • The Spawn Who Came In from the Cold (2:29)
  • An Upstream Battle (3:38)
  • The Deadly Spawn – End Theme (4:04)
  • Spawn, But Not Forgotten – Suite (12:36)

Running Time: 44 minutes 20 seconds

Perseverence PRD-005 (1983/2005)

Music composed, arranged and performed by Michael Perilstein. Recorded and mixed by Carlos Ayala. Mastered by James Nelson. Album produced by Michael Perilstein and Robin Esterhammer.

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