Spontaneous Combustion (1990) poster

Spontaneous Combustion (1990)


USA. 1990.


Director/Story – Tobe Hooper, Screenplay – Tobe Hooper & Howard Goldberg, Producer – Jim Rogers, Photography – Levie Isaacks, Music – Graeme Revell, Visual Effects – Apogee (Supervisor – Stephen Brooks), Pyrotechnic Effects – Guy Farra, Mechanical Effects – Tony Hooper, Makeup Effects – Steve Neill, Production Design – Gene Abel. Production Company – Tobe Hooper/Henry Bushkin/VOSC/Black Owl Productions.


Brad Dourif (Sam Kramer/David Bell), Cynthia Bain (Lisa), Jon Cypher (Dr John Marsh), Melinda Dillon (Nina), William Prince (Lewis Orlander), Brian Bremer (Brian Bell), Stacey Edwards (Peggy Bell)


In 1955, Brian and Peggy Bell become test subjects for a drug that will immunize them to the radiation from an H-bomb blast. Not long after, they give birth to a child but the child causes them to spontaneously combust in the delivery room. In the present day, the same child, Sam Kramer, now a university student, discovers a terrible ability to create fires whenever he is emotionally distressed.

In the far distant past, Tobe Hooper made a classic called The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Some of the less tolerant members of the horror press started accusing Tobe Hooper’s career of being little more than a single note followed by a long downslide. It is not a view that one entirely agrees with as Hooper has made some commendable films – Salem’s Lot (1979), Poltergeist (1982), Lifeforce (1985) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), although opinion about the merits of these widely differs. After Spontaneous Combustion (and indeed all the films that Tobe Hooper has made in the 1990s), it becomes increasingly harder to keep defending him. (See below for Tobe Hooper’s other films).

Spontaneous Combustion is an amazingly silly and incoherent film. The plot, which has been tiresomely ripped off from Firestarter (1984), seems to have been randomly slung together, with Tobe Hooper and co-writer Howard Goldberg happy to leave gaping holes and make the rest up as they go along.

Pyrokinetic Brad Dourif causes a victim's head to explode in Spontaneous Combustion (1990)
Pyrokinetic Brad Dourif causes a victim’s head to explode

Anything that the film might have aspired to is wrecked by Brad Dourif, who gives another of his deranged, tortured performances, most of it yelled out at the top of his voice, which sends the film totally offbeam. Almost as silly is Melinda Dillon’s quaveringly fake Germanic accent in a role of little purpose.

Tobe Hooper’s other genre films include The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), the dull Eaten Alive/Deathtrap (1977), the fine tv adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (1979), The Funhouse (1981), the Steven Spielberg-produced ghost story Poltergeist (1982), the enjoyable psychic alien vampire film Lifeforce (1985), the remake of Invaders from Mars (1986), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), the tv movie I’m Dangerous Tonight (1990) about a haunted dress, an episode of the John Carpenter anthology Body Bags (tv movie, 1993), the erotic film Night Terrors (1993), an awful Stephen King adaptation The Mangler (1995), the weird apartment dwellers black comedy The Apartment Complex (1999), Crocodile (2000), the remake of Toolbox Murders (2003), Mortuary (2005) and Djinn (2013), as well as work on various genre tv series.

Trailer here

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