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Spontaneous Combustion (1990)

A young man finds out that his parents had been used in an atomic-weapons experiment shortly before he was born, and that the results have had some unexpected effects on him.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Cynthia Bain ...
Michael Keys Hall ...
Dr. Cagney
Lt. General
Dr. Persons
Peggy Bell
Brian Bremer ...
Brian Bell
Frank Whiteman ...
Student Director


A young man finds out that his parents had been used in an atomic-weapons experiment shortly before he was born, and that the results have had some unexpected effects on him.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

23 February 1990 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Combustión espontánea  »

Filming Locations:

Box Office


$5,500,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


| (cut)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The car that Sam drives throughout the film is a 1951 Studebaker Champion Starlight Coupe. See more »


The position of the syringe stuck in Lisa, changes. See more »


Featured in Cinemassacre's Monster Madness: The Terror (2010) See more »


Written and Performed by The Word
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User Reviews

Poor film, but Brad Dourif is always worth a watch
21 May 2011 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Nevada desert, 1955. Peggy and Brian Bell, are being experimented on by the US Army to test the effects of exposure to atomic energy whilst testing a nuclear bomb. The test seems to go well, and the Bells are located in a picturesque suburbia. However, after giving birth to their son, the couple suddenly spontaneously combusted, a clear effect of the nuclear fallout. The baby boy survives them, and grows up to be Sam (Brad Dourif).

So we flash forward to the present day, where Sam's freakish ability to combust becomes increasingly dangerous to both himself and others around him. In one scene (with a cameo from John Landis), Sam has called into a radio psychic DJ - who has now gone off the air - and gets through to the Landis' radio technician who refuses to pass him onto the DJ (Dr Persons - played by Joe Mays). This increases Sam's anger (which as we have seen previously, makes Sam burnier), and he projects fire through the phone (in a pseudo-telekinetic flash), which results in fire streaming from the knee-caps of poor Landis. Sam's main goal is to find out about his parents and to determine why these phenomena keep occurring.

Tobe Hooper has not had it easy since the release of exceptionally brilliant debut The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre (1974). All of his subsequent films have either fallen foul of studio intervention (Death Trap (1977), The Funhouse (1981)), executive producer Steven Spielberg's ultimate overbearing on-set presence (Poltergeist (1982), or just poorly conceived ideas (Lifeforce (1985), Invaders from Mars (1986) and Texas Chain-Saw Massacre 2 (1986). He seems only in the latter part of the '80's produce Stephen King-like projects, either directly adapting a King novel (Salem's Lot (1979 -TV mini-series), or lifting pseudo-King story devices, much like Spontaneous Combustion. The use of fire as a telekinetic ability had been previously 'explored' in Kings Firestarter.

This is not a great film. The production values are akin to the TV movies/series' that were being broadcast at the time. this was seen throughout the genre in the early years of the decade. This period is almost a vacuum of popular visual culture, with the exception of one horror, the TV series Twin Peaks (1990-1991). The camera movements and compositions are standard television production. Aside from the lack of visual flare, there is one element that never really fails to please. That is of course Brad Dourif. I find everything that Dourif is in to be thoroughly fun to watch. Even, as in this performance, when he is wildly over-the-top. His eyes intense, and his vociferousness projected directly into you brain, sharp and direct. No one does sweaty anger like Dourif does. So, in conclusion. S**t film, but it is totally be forgiven cause Brad Dourif is in it.


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