August 4, 2016 This Week in Horror Movie History – Spawn (1997)
This week in Horror movie history, back on August 1st of 1997, Fantasy Thriller Spawn hit theaters. Based on the supernatural Comic Book character created by Todd McFarlane, the film’s script was drafted by Alan B. McElroy (Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers 1988, Wrong Turn 2003). Directed by Mark A.Z. Dippe in his most high-profile directorial gig, it was was produced by Clint Goldman in also his most high-profile producing gig, and had high exceptions. Adding to the buzz, it featured a cast that included Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now 1979, The West Wing series) and John Leguizamo (Die Hard 2 1990, Ice Age series). Despite these heavy-hitters, the New Line Cinema distributed Spawn was thrashed with negative reviews. Still, it doubled its production budget at the box office and all these years later is considered a cult classic.
The story begins with Special Forces agent and Black Ops soldier, Al Simmons (Michael Jai White: Universal Soldier 1992, The Dark Knight 2008) who has been double-crossed and murdered. After making a deal with the devil, he must exact revenge on the perpetrators and save his surviving family: his widow Wanda (Theresa Randle: Bad Boys series, Space Jam 1996) and daughter Cyan (Sydni Beaudoin: 13 Going on 30 2004). Martin Sheen co-stars as Simmons’ boss, Jason Wynn, and John Leguizamo as the evil clown/Violator.
When Spawn, the Comic, came out in 1992, Columbia Pictures came calling, but creator Todd McFarlane pulled the plug when creative differences arose. The New Line head honcho, Michael DeLuca, an avid Comic collector, showed interest, so McFarlane sold the rights for one dollar with the stipulation that he be allowed carte blanche creatively as well as retaining merchandise rights. However, the studio had eyes for a PG-13 rating, a factor that perhaps hampered the film’s success.
With a modest estimated budget of $20 million, production was only given exactly three months from August 13th, 1996 to November 13th. Most of that time was spent on digital effects that went from seventy to over 400 done by Industrial Light & Magic, and doubled the budget. These sequences consisted of the Hell world and Spawn’s transformations. Interestingly enough, these effects were reportedly turned in two weeks before release. Aside from the CG Hell world, the rest of the sets were shot in NYC and Hollywood Studios. Adding to the overall darkness of the film, these sets had a gritty, lived-in, futuristic feel.
As far as the cast, from the start, White took to playing Spawn as he saw Spawn as a tragedy as the character plays out. To that end, he plays him with rage and sadness with a bit of Comic Book overacting while Leguizamo was his usual manic self that he was in that stage in his career. Sheen, being one of the veterans on the production (the other being the late Nicol Williamson, who played another hellspawn, Cogliostro), played Wynn with much over the top bravado.
Like a Comic Book based film, upon Spawn’s theatrical release, there were obvious differences between the movie and the Comic that audiences did not like. For instance, Simmon’s friend, Terry Fitzgerald is black as opposed to D.B. Sweeney (The Cutting Edge 1992, Taken 2 2012), who is white, plays Fitzgerald in the movie. The said reasoning behind this was the studio did not want to pigeonhole the movie to a certain demographic. Another difference was that Cyan is Fitzgerald’s daughter in the Comic as opposed to being Simmon’s daughter in the movie, which changes the emotional pull of the movie. Wanda’s and Simmon’s relationship changes from Comic to film too, in that they go from being married to being betrothed. Also, Simmons’ murderer was changed from Chapel, a character in the Youngblood Comic, to Jessica Priest, a character created for the film, played by Melinda Clarke (Return of the Living Dead 3 1993, Return to Two Moon Junction 1995) in the movie. In the film, Simmons worked for an agency called A6 as opposed to the CIA in the Comics, but most disturbing to audiences was Spawn’s powers were changed from Comic to movie.
When it was all said and done, Spawn bowed out earning approximately $87.8 million worldwide with most negative reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes and Internet Movie Database, both movie rating sites, has given the movie a 19% “Fresh” rating and a much more forgiving 5.2/10 respectively while becoming a merchandising bonanza with new comics still in print, action figures, clothes, and decorations that sell today.
Despite the negativity, through the years, Spawn has stayed relevant in audiences’ minds with spin-offs that include a 1997 Spawn TV series and three video games, like 1997’s Spawn: The Eternal, Spawn: In the Demon’s Hand, and Spawn: Armageddon, as well as references in TV and movies like the 2003 Buffy the Vampire episode, “Slayer: Dirty Girls,” 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard, and video games like 2011’s Duke Nukem Forever. There was a sequel in the works in 1998 with reports through 2011 just to have the potential movie never getting out of development hell. Then, McFarlane went on record to say the movie is going to be a reboot with production hopefully starting this year to keep Spawn alive to old fans, and bring new fans for the 21st century. With that said, 1997’s Spawn still holds a place in many fans’ heart.