With the passing of Tobe Hooper last week, it seemed fitting to showcase one of his lesser known titles, the 1990 Brad Dourif vehicle, Spontaneous Combustion. And it just so happens that I picked up the VHS at this year's Shock Stock so I was all ready to go.
The child of parents who underwent nuclear experimentation thirty years earlier, Sam (Dourif) begins to experience some fantastical side effects.
Man, this one is a strange beast. The transition from the eighties to nineties brought about a shift in horror from the outward monsters and the supernatural to the inward and the more psychological oeuvre spearheaded by Adrien Lyne's Jacob's Ladder in 1990. Hooper's Spontaneous Combustion almost seems to want to inhabit both spaces. On the back of some nuclear hysteria, the first act portrays a very human story. Then Brad Dourif starts shooting fire out of his arm!
Hooper had a solid track record of mixing horror and sci-fi elements – Invaders From Mars and Lifeforce being the two most obvious – and it continued here. I feel like he was always contemplating how to best meter out the humour in his films. He often talked about how the humour in Texas Chainsaw was so black it took several years for most audiences to realize it was even there. That was why he ratcheted it up to eleven in the sequel.
In Spontaneous Combustion, I feel again Hooper did not want to choose. The things that were happening onscreen were so bat-shit bonkers, yet everyone involved was playing it straight. Dourif was the only one who seemed to be increasingly distressed at his predicament. And I must ask, has there ever been a better angry screamer in cinematic history? This was just one of several really meaty roles he'd have that year (Exorcist III & Hidden Agenda were two other standouts) and he gave one-hundred-and-ten-per cent. It felt like the wheels were going to come off the cart at several points during this movie and he just soldiered on.
This movie's many flourishes were not lost on me. John Landis' cameo was good for a laugh and holy Lisa's (Cynthia Bain) neon phone made me very envious. You know, it also struck me that considering how many doctors were in this movie it was amazing that none of them seem to know how to give an injection. And while the pyrotechnics may not have been as dazzling as say the ones in Firestarter, I thought they did some ridiculously awesome things with them.
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