Spontaneous Combustion Blu-ray Review

Brad Dourif Firestarter

From the horror filmmaker behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist comes a fun little genre exercise in pyrokinetic terror. Director Tobe Hooper’s 1990 movie Spontaneous Combustion is filled with hokey plot contrivances and cameos from names such as Dick Butkus and John Landis. But leading man Brad Dourif and leading lady Cynthia Bain (Pumpkinhead) help turn this well-crafted genre thriller into a satisfying tale of dangerous power gone amok. The many deaths-by-exploding-fire scenes in gory detail don’t hurt, either.

Genre actor and veritable b-movie legend Brad Dourif (Child’s Play) stars as Sam. Growing up an orphan, he’s unaware his parents were involved with nuclear test experiments back in the 1950s. Sam learns as an adult he’s been gifted a terrible legacy, a terrifying ability to generate fire from his body. Carefully watched by a scientist from afar since birth, Sam increasingly loses control of his power when angered or upset. A shadowy benefactor has been keeping a close eye on Sam and his abilities.

It’s clear Hooper wanted as many deaths by spontaneous combustion on screen as possible

Sam’s only ally in this struggle is his new girlfriend, Lisa (Cynthia Bain). Lisa has secrets of her own that may tie into Sam’s condition. Can Sam learn control of his dangerous pyrokinesis before its effects consume everyone around him? Spontaneous Combustion’s wild climax will leave viewers wishing a sequel had been made.

No stranger to explosive thrillers or special effects, Tobe Hooper crafts the story around an increasingly gruesome series of fiery deaths as Sam’s world spins out of control. Watch for director John Landis’s death by fire in a short cameo. It’s clear Hooper wanted as many deaths by spontaneous combustion on screen as possible, expanding Sam’s power even when it doesn’t make sense. Sam accidentally kills people merely talking to them over the phone.

Decent pyrokinetic effects, a solid cast and Hooper’s experienced direction make Spontaneous Combustion an entertaining b-movie that clearly had bigger ambitions. It’s the type of horror movie that I would have loved finding as I browsed the VHS rental store back in the 1990s.

Video

Spontaneous Combustion has seen two prior Blu-ray releases. Code Red put out a limited edition Blu-ray back in 2015 from a new film transfer. That release wasn’t without its issues, including compression problems in the AVC encode. A region-free German Blu-ray with a slightly darker color timing and contrast is also out there for comparison.

I have no prior direct experience with Cheezy Flicks as a label, though I’ve heard the name as a horror enthusiast and long-time collector. They are mostly known for budget releases of what I will charitably call b-movies. If you can look past some of the issues detailed here, they provide a serviceable Blu-ray presentation for Spontaneous Combustion that doesn’t improve upon Code Red’s BD. Their color timing is nearly identical to Code Red’s release and brighter than the German transfer.

The 96-minute main feature is encoded in MPEG-2 on a BD-25 with proper 1080P resolution. Many will wonder why the ancient MPEG-2 codec was used when AVC has now been the Blu-ray standard almost this entire decade. The 1.78:1 presentation has a slightly different cropping than Code Red’s transfer, which had a little more information primarily on the left edge of the framing. The framing differences are subtle and not really worth worrying about.

Cheezy Flicks displays their watermark for a few seconds during the title credits. It’s not a deal-breaker for the presentation since it disappears quickly. However, a professional label shouldn’t be slapping watermarks on film presentations.

It’s possible that Cheesy Flicks is using the same basic film transfer first used by Code Red. The film transfer has been completed from elements in fantastic condition. The raw film scan has capable definition and brings out HD detail not possible on DVD.

What’s strange is the seemingly random filtering used off and on during the movie. This transfer has been filtered on some level, leaving a mildly waxy sheen to facial detail and most flesh-tones. That being said, there are high levels of clarity in any shot that doesn’t take place in the opening act. For whatever reason, the darker-set opening scenes have problems. The MPEG-2 encode swims in macroblocking and other artifacts during the rougher moments. For that reason alone, it can’t be called a film-like presentation.

The picture quality itself improves a great deal once we are introduced to Sam as an adult. The cinematography noticeably improves and Spontaneous Combustion becomes crisper with high-impact clarity. Shadow delineation and black levels improve, with better contrast and a richer color palette. The movie was first released in 1990. Film stocks had greatly improved by the end of the 1980s and Spontaneous Combustion’s video benefits on Blu-ray. There is probably a better film transfer out there waiting to happen for the genre movie. But this presentation is quite serviceable, all things considered.

Audio

The audio is a step back from the limited edition Code Red Blu-ray. That release had 2.0 DTS-HD MA audio in full lossless quality. This edition has Dolby Digital 2.0 in stereo. The lossy audio doesn’t sound bad, nicely incorporating composer Graeme Revell’s menacing score. The mix has wide imaging and decent dynamic range. Dialogue is cleanly reproduced in clear fidelity.

No subtitles are offered.

Extras

Cheezy Flicks doesn’t provide any real special features, though to be fair Spontaneous Combustion has never received much of any extras in prior home video releases across the globe. Missing here is the original theatrical trailer found on the Anchor Bay DVD.

Trailers (03:06 in SD) – Two unrelated movie trailers are included for Stripperland! and Penance.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray release was provided to us for review by the label. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit our about us page to learn more about DoBlu’s editorial policies.

Spontaneous Combustion
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

Director Tobe Hooper and star Brad Dourif pair for the entertaining ’90s schlocker Spontaneous Combustion that brings plenty of fire.

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The 15 unaltered images below have been taken directly from the actual Blu-ray. For an additional 18 screenshots taken from Spontaneous Combustion, early access to all screens (plus the 17,000+ already in our library) in full resolution, dozens of exclusive 4K UHD reviews and other perks, support us on Patreon.