Spawn creator Todd McFarlane came to San Diego Comic Con this year prepared with a massive announcement: a new, R-rated Spawn film is in active development at Blumhouse Productions. McFarlane had been touting a new production based on his Image Comics mascot for years, re-iterating over and over that there was a screenplay in the works and that it was going to happen, one way or the other. Now, it finally is, with McFarlane stepping up as director as well as writer, and Jason Blum as executive producer.
The last time Spawn hit the big screen was in 1997, in a CGI-heavy production that was derided at the time, and is very much a relic of ’90s comic culture. Spawn himself is synonymous with the era; a muscular, boldly colored demonic anti-hero who brought torturous justice to rapists and other criminals while battling the armies of satan in a gritty world starving for heroism. He’s the embodiment of the post-Dark Knight Returns, post-Watchmen, anti-Marvel-and-DC, adult-oriented attitude of the comics industry at the time, and his getting both a film and a subsequent (highly lauded) animated series on HBO is emblematic of his relevance.
Though the first Spawn film was at the height of he and McFarlane’s powers, it wasn’t the healthiest time for the project to be committed to screen. The special effects required were in their infancy, and dark, character-driven, R-rated comic book movies didn’t have much leverage in Hollywood – 1994’s The Crow and 1998’s Blade were and would be rare exceptions. Spawn‘s satanic horror ended up closer to send-up than succubus and the effects, though ambitious, just couldn’t bring the hitman-from-hell to life convincingly enough. It was a respectable failure, but a failure nonetheless.
After Deadpool and Logan, the scope of what can be achieved outside of a family-friendly audience has been blown wide open, and it’s now common practice to honor the characters as they appear on the page as much as possible. Now, making a horror-themed superhero film is something that would make many major studios giddy, and no production house is better suited to make one than Blumhouse Productions.
Since the runaway success of Paranormal Activity and Insidious, Blumhouse have become the de facto label for horror, releasing hit after hit with remarkable consistency. Jason Blum has one of the keenest eyes in Hollywood right now, introducing so many great filmmakers to a wider audience and helping them gain the success they deserve. He’s been behind several major recent horror franchises, and some of the most highly-regarded flicks besides like Whiplash and Get Out. Blumhouse know horror and they know how to let good filmmakers get the best out of their productions.
All of these qualities suggest that Blumhouse is the best possible studio to allow Todd McFarlane make the Spawn movie he so desires. There’s nothing to say Spawn couldn’t draw in huge amounts at the box office, but it wouldn’t work in the character’s favor to make an expensive blockbuster that aimed for 100 million or more. Spawn is best suited to constraint. He’s a phantom, a malevolence that seems to come out of the walls to attack his victims, like a green-eyed, crimson-caped version of Batman in the Bat’s first scene from Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. That’s what made Spawn so cool back in the day – he’s a hero that’s built out of the horrifying stuff that composes most villains.
The visual language surrounding him should play into that, making the times when the audience and his victims see him in full really matter. It’s a reversal of the standard horror trope of revealing the big bad at the end – treat Spawn like the ghoul we see finally stepping out of the shadows. Sure it’s a gimmick, but it’s a gimmick that’d establish the walking hellspawn as something unique among the other comic book franchises doing the rounds. More to the point, if there’s one thing Blumhouse are good at, it’s making sure a gimmick lands with its audience – love or hate Paranormal Activity or Insidious or The Purge, everyone and their mother saw them.
There’s a necessity for some re-evaluation on the part of McFarlane for the scope of how he’s going to bring his creation to life here that Blumhouse are also ideal for. The hive of scum and villainy Spawn prowls is a cartoonish interpretation of Detroit, Michigan. Borrowing more than a little from the neo-noir of Batman: The Animated Series, the mob-ruled city is a cesspool of crime mixed with various demonic entities running around, a massive class divide forming the centre. It’s a decadent and perpetually glum realization and trying to recreate it could easily get expensive. Keeping the hellscape stuff to a minimum, a Spawn picture could be a powerful rendering of what economic squalor really looks like, Borrowing from Blumhouse alum like Sinister and Oculus and placing the unreal elements on top of a simpler real-world setting, letting one accentuate the other.
Spawn getting another movie is a sign of the comic book movie trend coming full-circle. He’s a big deal to comics history, having been the main selling point of creator-owned publisher Image comics back in their formative years whose first issue remains one of the industry’s biggest selling. He warrants highlighting, and is rightly the first port of call for inspiration in the caped-crusading side of things outside of Marvel and DC. Todd McFarlane taking the reigns could prove an interesting development too, further opening the door for comics creators to try further try their hand in the production of these films. The potential was there in 1997 and it’s still there now, and if there’s one place that can help make sure it’s realized, it’s Blumhouse Productions.
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