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From Tobe Hooper, the director of Poltergeist, comes Spontaneous Combustion, a weird bit of burn injury pornography (so to speak) that otherwise comes off as an oddball Cable TV drama with a touch of mystery and romance thrown in for good measure. In other words, it's a movie few could truly love, and this bare-bones Cheezy Movies release is one destined for the dollar store racks. The bigger mystery is the late Hooper himself.
Hooper is a mystery we can no longer solve, in the same way we can't solve or save Spontaneous Combustion, which takes the entire first third of the movie merely setting up the premise. So there's strike one against it; odd pacing. We find a spunky Atomic Age couple willing to field test a nuclear bunker. The bomb goes off, and the shelter survives, but not before the couple gets in a family way. When their son arrives, he runs a little hot, if you catch my meaning. A half-hour later and years down the road, that son has grown into Brad Dourif, attempting to cement new love while his ex-wife keeps him on a tight leash. Meanwhile people he knows, loves, and sometimes (I think) merely meets, seem to randomly burst into flames. Oh yeah, and when he gets pissed, sometimes his finger turns into a flame-thrower.
At this point, the movie starts another odd pivot into a horror-mystery to which we already know some of the answers. The answers we don't already have, we don't really care about, for a variety of reasons including lack of attachment to the characters, little in the way of dynamic tension, a needless and off-putting cameo by director John Landis, and more. Spontaneous Combustion is, to put it mildly, painfully stupid. As an unwanted bonus the title card even has a helpful Cheezy Movies imprint super-imposed in the corner for a few moments.
Writer/director Hooper gives us a few moments of dummies writhing in flames, some relatively nasty burn effects, and a lot of low-rent flames and sparks super-imposed all over everything at key moments, which were probably as laughable then as they are now. Hooper just didn't have the budget to pull this movie off, and even if he did, it still would have stunk. The director seems to have spent his life chasing Texas Chain Saw, a movie he made only because he was told it would be an easy way to get distribution. (We all know how well that went.) Had he not been forced into the horror mold, would he have even been considered a good director? We'll never know. But we can be thankful at least that he gave us one of the best horror movies of all time. This one isn't it. Skip It.
Who knows the provenance of this Blu-ray presentation, though I'd guess it's merely up-scaled from DVD or something. It's in a 1.85:1 ratio, and at times has film damage, conspicuous during flamey scenes. Otherwise detail levels vary from acceptable in close-up, to soft and murky. Dark scenes tend to break up into chunky blacks, while other times soft lights and smoke posterize. Overall, it's a disappointing presentation.
English Dolby Digital Stereo Audio, while a bit on the quiet side, seems damage and distortion free.
Extras are limited to three Cheezy Movies Trailers.
Tobe Hooper's Spontaneous Combustion is a mess of uneven tone, poor pacing, genre confusion, and bad choices. Not even Brad Dourif can save it. Other than delivering a few decent bits of burn injury pornography, this painfully stupid movie is a chore to sit through. Zero extras and a brief instance of logo-imprint on the title card (a huge no-no for anyone who cares about the movies they choose to own) mean that you can safely Skip It.
- Kurt Dahlke