Case Number 02413: Small Claims Court


Anchor Bay // 1990 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 27th, 2002

The Charge

A new force in fear from the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist.

The Case

Back in the golden age of the 1950s, a group of military folk decided to test a special serum that would keep folks safe from harmful radioactive materials should a nuclear bomb ever detonate on American soil. The guinea pigs were all-American lovers Peggy (Stacy Edwards, Driven) and Brian Bell (Brian Bremer, Society). After Peggy and Brian survive the nuclear test explosion in a below ground bunker, all seems well with the world. Heck, they even have a little baby, conceived while they were underground. However, things take a deadly turn for the worse when Peggy and Brian are swallowed up in flames only moments after the birth of their child. The doctor's only explanation: spontaneous human combustion. Flash forward a few decades later: Peggy and Brian's son Sam (Brad Dourif, the voice of Chucky in Child's Play, Stephen King's Graveyard Shift) has grown to be a strapping young man with a respectable job and a doting girlfriend. But underneath his smiling exterior Sam hides a rare and tragic gift: he has a temper that -- when ignited -- can cause people to explode like tin foil shoved into the microwave. It's a race against time for Sam as the Evil US Government (otherwise known as "The Man") attempts to gain control of this ticking human time bomb...BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE (dum-dum-duuuuuum)!

Poor old Tobe Hooper. Apparently he only had two good movies in him -- the cult hit The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the supernatural extravaganza Poltergeist (and the latter, it could be argued, was more Steven Spielberg's production than Hooper's). Sure, it could be argued that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 and The Mangler were decent, but only decent in a sharp cheddar cheese sorta way (possibly muenster...I'll have to get back to you on that one). And don't even get me started on Hooper's putrid, low-budget rip-off Crocodile. In 1990, Hooper crossed Firestarter and The Toxic Avenger and produced the action horror flick Spontaneous Combustion. In a way this film was horror's answer to Backdraft -- err, minus Ron Howard and that film's spectacular production values. Though Spontaneous Combustion may not be cinema's best movie about insane pyromaniacs, it does include its fair share of giggles and groans. There are plenty of scenes featuring bodies engulfed in explosions -- nothing says "true love" like going down in flames with your high school sweetheart. (Insert Elvis "hunk-a burnin' love" joke here). Genre fans will receive an extra added bonus with the inclusion of horror staple Bard Dourif as the film's resident protagonist (and of course by protagonist I mean "human governmental experiment who goes completely batshit"). Wild eyed with a heavy dose of insanity, Dourif puts a fair amount of gusto into his performance as Sam, a man tortured by his past...and some intense flames shooting horizontally from his right eye socket. The rest of the cast -- including a thickly accented Melinda Dillon (A Christmas Story) and a cameo by director John Landis -- all run around the screen in a scurried attempt not to get caught in Dourif's sizzling stare. Sure, most of this is all just hokey drama with cheap effects, but it is fun at 3:00am with a six pack as your companion. For some reason known only to the cosmos, Hooper hasn't been able to make a passable movie to save his life in the past ten years. With Spontaneous Combustion he's halfway there.

Spontaneous Combustion is presented in a decent looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As usual, Anchor Bay has done a fine job of cleaning up a transfer that most likely wouldn't have been given such lavish treatment. The print is clear and attractive without any edge enhancement marring the image. While a few very minor imperfections abound, overall this is a fine print with bold colors and strong black levels. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English and aptly supports the film. There aren't a ton of directional effects to be found here, though the dialogue is clear and free of any excessive hiss or distortion. No alternate subtitles or soundtracks are included on this disc. Unfortunately, fans will be disappointed at the lack of extra features on this disc -- all that's included on this edition of Spontaneous Combustion is a theatrical trailer for the film.

Review content copyright © 2002 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 71

Perp Profile
Studio: Anchor Bay
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)

* None

Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Theatrical Trailer

* IMDb