By Barbara Shulgasser-Parker,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Violent '90s apocalyptic horror tale is dreadful.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
There is a devil, he is angry, and he wants to destroy the world.
Positive Role Models
An intelligence analyst helps thwart the devil's plot to bring on Armageddon. A kind little girl befriends a man with a horribly burned face.
Violence & Scariness
A woman is shot in the head. Another woman is stabbed in the chest. A man is doused in gasoline and set on fire. He rises from the dead with a burned face. A woman's leg is "bitten" by a magical biting tool an undead soldier uses on her. People shoot, knife, and fight each other. A deadly virus is unleashed on innocent people and 10,000 are reported dead. A man eats a slice of pizza covered with maggots, which he calls anchovies.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A supernatural devil-clown extends a snake-length tongue at the face of a woman who's tied to a chair.
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"S--t," "crap," "hell," "skid marks," "fart," "retard," "butt," "buttocks," "damn," and "a--hole."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults smoke cigarettes.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Spawn is a campy horror movie from 1997 about the devil and his minions plotting an early apocalypse that will include horrific death of most of the world's population by way of an Ebola-like virus. Crude, violent, and loud, the movie includes such language as "s--t," "crap," "hell," and "a--hole," plus a variety of fart sounds, brief references to and display of "skid marks" on underwear, adults smoking cigarettes, and incomprehensible plot points. A woman is shot in the head. Another woman is stabbed in the chest. A man is doused in gasoline and set on fire. He rises from the dead with a burned face. A woman's leg is "bitten" by a magical biting tool an undead soldier uses on her. People shoot, knife, and fight each other. A deadly virus is unleashed on innocent people and 10,000 are reported dead. A man eats a slice of pizza covered with maggots, which he calls anchovies. Note: Some versions of the movie are PG-13 and some are R.
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What's the Story?
SPAWN is an apocalyptic horror tale based on the Todd McFarlane comic book character. The devil has given power and wealth to Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen), head of a CIA-like organization, in exchange for his help arranging an early Armageddon, which will include miserable death and destruction to millions by way of a virus so powerful it makes "Ebola look like a skin rash." First Wynn must deliver his best assassin, Simmons (Michael Jai White), to the devil by murdering him. The devil, it seems, suffers a short supply of quality killers. Wynn sets Simmons on fire and after some time in hell, Simmons, dead, is sent by the devil back to the living, in the form of Spawn, a guy covered in a changeable suit of skin-tight armor and possessed of superpowers and a really bad attitude. Spawn has agreed to lead the devil's army in exchange for getting to see his now remarried wife, Wanda (Theresa Randle). Betrayals and double betrayals play out. Spawn is assigned by the devil and his hench-thing, Malbolger (John Leguizamo), a cross between The Joker and Beetlejuice, to kill Wynn, who is also an ally of the devil. Cagliostro (Nicol Williamson) seems to be a force for good, although he, too, had been an assassin five centuries earlier. D.B. Sweeney plays Terry, an intelligence analyst who unwittingly helps the evil Wynn but later tries to save the Earth from destruction. The violence is nonstop -- supernatural, devil-powered creatures throw each other long, painful distances; warriors shoot and knife enemies and, in some cases, attempt decapitations. People are shot and stabbed. A man is doused with gasoline and set on fire. His burnt face and hands are seen after.
Is It Any Good?
This is a lumbering, explanation-heavy, oddly un-scary horror movie that features what looks to be a computer-generated giant goat-yak with yellowed carnivore teeth in the role of the devil. Good actors, including White, Sweeney, Leguizamo, Williamson, and Randle, mightily try to make sense of a frustratingly nonsensical story, offering far more questions than answers. The devil has hatched a convoluted scheme to speed up the arrival of the Apocalypse by recruiting a mortal assassin to kill a bad guy, who was already recruited by the devil. Huh? Why does the devil need to kill one of his own bad guys to trigger the End of Days? And why does he need to hire out? Can't he do it himself? C'mon, he's the devil! And why are two heroes here both assassins? Doesn't the career description of assassin put that job squarely in the "bad" category? The good news is that viewers likely to enjoy Spawn's giant goat-yak with yellowed carnivore teeth probably won't get caught up in such trivialities as logic.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about violence in movies. What is the impact of media violence on kids? Why do you think Spawn has so much violence?
How seriously should anyone take this imagined story about the existence of a devil who is trying to bring the world down to his evil level? How does this depiction of the devil and hell compare to others you've seen in movies, on TV, and in books?
Several characters have made deals with the devil -- to gain power and wealth in exchange for doing his evil deeds. Do you think some people in ordinary life give up pieces of their humanity for fame or wealth? Do you think this movie is trying to address that human failing?
Do you think this movie is effective in evoking fear? Why or why not?
- In theaters: August 1, 1997
- On DVD or streaming: June 7, 2005
- Cast: Michael Jai White, Martin Sheen, John Leguizamo, D.B. Sweeney, Nicol Williamson
- Director: Mark A.Z. Dippe
- Inclusion Information: Black actors, Latinx actors
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 96 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: March 11, 2023
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