On this isolated tropical island in the Pacific the natives are performing one of their most sacred rituals which involves invoking the spirit of a snake god, but they are being observed from the jungle by a hunter and his team. As the ceremony builds to a frenzy, the creature appears and begins chasing them around the site, attacking some of the tribesmen but it is being lured into a trap: nets fall on it and capture the beast, which is what the hunter wanted all along. He has been instructed by his boss Jason Kincaid (Oliver Reed) to bring it back to the campus of the university where he works...
Doesn't that sound like a great idea? Maybe not, as you can see from the first five minutes where this was going even if you couldn't see the actual snake very well, director William Fruet opting to keep his villain hidden apart from the odd quick shot. This might have been down to the production's coyness, it might have been a lack of faith in their mechanical snake puppet, or it could just as easily have been down to the fact that they ran out of money before shooting was complete, hence the rather brief running time and over-reliance on the snakecam footage where we were given a point of view shot of the reptile as it slithered at speed through the scenery.
In that regard it resembled The Evil Dead's roaming spirits, though that was as far as the comparisons went: Sam Raimi's horror pointed forward to the future of shockers, while Spasms was resolutely backwards-looking, essentially a fifties B-movie dressed up with eighties gore. Those makeup effects were designed by the legendary Dick Smith, but mostly relied on the commonly seen bladder effects of this era, as what happens when the snake bites you is not spasms (why it's called that is a mystery) but full on bloating up and practically melting. Which might have indicated what was on offer was a bunch of fun, trashy scenes, though as it played what you mostly had was silly, yet taking itself far too seriously.
It was drawn from a novel entitled Death Bite by Michael Maryk and Brent Monahan, which was your basic wild animal on the loose chiller, though here the screenwriters saw fit to add in a snake-worshipping cult to the mix to explain why Al Waxman is trying to capture the trophy to bring back to a mysterious Reverend and his congregation, though this is a subplot which goes nowhere fast. Wait a minute - Al Waxman?! That's right, this wasn't an American production at all, and his presence made it clear this was one of those Canadian efforts mimicking those from south of the border to make it a more enticing proposition to potential audiences. There had to be imported stars, naturally, and along with Reed Peter Fonda showed up as a scientist investigating ESP.
What does ESP have to do with snakes, you may ask, the explanation being Kincaid was bitten by the monster on an earlier trip, and as the venom didn't kill him (just gave him a pronounced limp) it instead gave him a psychic link to its brain, which explains why Kincaid describes it as some guardian for the gates of Hell. Fonda's Dr Tom Brasilian is called in for research, though to no one's surprise once the serpent is delivered it is set loose by Al's meddling and begins picking off supporting cast members such as a dormitory of students (one of whom supplies gratuitous nudity). To be fair, these attack setpieces are at least energetically handled, it's the oh so grave business in between which sinks the mood, and no wonder when you see Ollie hooked up to Peter's brain scanner so he can stare horrified into space as he "sees" through the creature's eyes, a scene of unintentional camp this could have done with more of. It's an awfuly convoluted way to set a giant snake on people. Music by Eric N. Robertson with a Tangerine Dream theme.
Canadian director of low-budget horror and thrillers. Best known for the 1976 revenge shocker Death Weekend, Search and Destroy, Spasms with Oliver Reed and the voyeuristic thriller Bedroom Eyes. Has mostly worked in TV since the mid-80s, on shows like Friday the 13th and Poltergeist: The Legacy.