Spontaneous Combustion

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

As part of an experiment in the 1950s, some citizens were exposed to immense levels of radiation. This all took place as part of Project Samson, a top secret operation to determine the effects of an atomic bomb’s fallout. The catch here was that a serum was created to protect from the harmful radiation, so if an enemy ever dumped the bomb on American turf, we might have some level of safety from the blast. The test subjects are Peggy (Stacy Edwards) and Brian (Brian Bremer), a young couple who has to take shelter in an underground bunker, while a test atomic blast is let loose in the same area. As it turns out, they make it through the event just fine and even wind up expecting their first child while within the bunker’s confines. But within mere moments of the child’s birth, both parents are burned alive by a strange blast of fire, which experts label as spontaneous human combustion. The child survives and seems to have a normal existence, so three decades later, Sam (Brad Dourif) shows no ill signs of his experience as an infant. He has a good job and a loving girlfriend, but unknown to all those around him, his temper is volcanic and when angered, his rage can engulf a person in flaming blasts. This intense power has him hunted by the government, who wish to bring this human firecracker back under control, before he loses it all and unleashes a massive assault on the world around him.

This one has a solid premise and features direction from Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist), but the main force behind Spontaneous Combustion is the performance of its lead, Brad Dourif. His insane effort here really makes this one shine and without him, I have to assume this movie would have crashed & burned. Not that it found much success with Dourif, but his presence adds a lot to the experience. The writing is decent on the horror scale and I think the premise is well explored, since we have frequent scenes of fire and explosions, just as you’d want from a flick called Spontaneous Combustion. But this is still a lower budget picture, so the special effects are on the weak side, though when you’re talking about people burning alive, you shouldn’t nitpick, if you ask me. Its fun to see Dourif dash folks with his flame powers, so who cares if some of the attacks look fake? And Hooper and his crew do their best to make the most of the effects, so in the end, I don’t see the point in raising a ruckus in that department. You can question the writing and some of the acting, but leave the burn effects alone, as they look just fine for a low budget horror movie. So if you’re a horror movie buff or just like to see people set on fire, then make sure to give Spontaneous Combustion a look.

I’ve said it once it this review, but I will say it again and again, Brad Dourif is the main reason this one doesn’t tank. He is well known to horror fans, but has never garnered much mainstream success, though he might now that he’s been in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. As usual, he brings a lot of energy to his role and that makes it seems more effective, since he doesn’t simply sleepwalk through his performance. Then again, we’ve always known Dourif was an excellent actor and he’s had numerous elite level efforts, but since he works mostly within the horror genre, he has been mostly overlooked. He does get a lot of smaller roles though, but here he takes the central part and runs with it. Other films with Dourif include Child’s Play, Urban Legend, Color of Night, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Eyes of Laura Mars. The cast also includes Melinda Dillon (Magnolia, A Christmas Story), Stacy Edwards (Driven, Primary Colors), Cynthia Bains (Pumpkinhead), Brian Bremer (Test Tube Teens from the Year 2000, Society), and even football legend Dick Butkus (Gus, Johnny Dangerously).

Video: How does it look?

Spontaneous Combustion is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This movie might not have been given much attention from any other studio, but Anchor Bay has made sure it looks as good as possible here. The print is very clean, with only minor marks to be seen, while grain is minimal throughout the feature. I found the colors to be bright and natural, with (no pun intended) warm flesh tones, whilst black levels seem accurate and effective also. This is a low profile, low budget movie, but it looks quite good in this treatment.

Audio: How does it sound?

This disc uses a 2.0 surround track, which provides a better experience than you might expect. The film’s music makes good use of the surround channels, as do the somewhat sparse sound effects. A few scenes really light up the system, but there’s much less audio presence than you’d expect from this kind of material. I don’t fault this sound mix though, as the material just never pushes the action too much. But the track fires up when it needs to and dialogue sounds terrific, so the material seems well handled at all times.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This disc includes the film’s theatrical trailer.

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