Next month, in our annual Hubrisween marathon, I’ll be revisiting the very first movie I ever reviewed. In my usual demented brain-damaged crab fashion, I will now re-visit the second movie I ever reviewed, which is Slugs, a 1988 horror movie directed by Spanish director Juan Piquer Simón, whose biggest hit stateside was probably 1982’s Pieces (“It’s Exactly What You Think It Is”).
I didn’t care for Slugs back in ’88 or ’89, whenever it was. My entire review consisted of a list of each and every horror movie cliche which you will encounter during its runtime, up to and including, “Hey (Hero), if anything happens to me, take care of my wife.” The only one I couldn’t complain about was the alcoholic hermit saying, “Whut’s thet dawg a-barkin’ at?” and that’s only because the dog doesn’t bark, it just refuses to go into the abandoned house infested with killer slugs.
And that’s not one of the reasons I hated the movie (it is right there in the title, after all); I have watched movies about giant mollusks, murderous tires, bloodthirsty pianos and meteorological events made of man-eating fish; I am not going to balk at a movie about killer slugs, even if as a predator, they only slightly more mobile than the monster in Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. It was the rote nature of the thriller that grated on me.
So here I am, 27 years later, and Arrow Video has put Slugs out on blu-ray. A number of my friends are very excited about this. I’m talking about being as excited as me hearing a pristine 35mm print of Chimes at Midnight had been found. So here is another chance for an older, wiser version of myself to give a movie another chance.
As you know (or could have surmised by my above rambling), this movie is about a small town being invaded by a horde of large, carnivorous black slugs (in the most famous shot, we find that the slugs have a toothy maw) traveling through the sewer system, having been spawned by some toxic waste dump in the town’s past. Their mucus is toxic, and can paralyze their victims. Also, as we find out in a particularly Cronenbergian sequence, if your alcoholic wife cuts one up in a salad and you eat it, blood flukes will proliferate in your body and make your head explode. Oops!
So it’s up to a heroic Health Inspector (Michael Garfield) a doesn’t-want-to-be-a-hero sanitation engineer (Philip MacHale) and a dubbed high school biology teacher (Santiago Alvarez) to combat the menace. There is a lot of time spent trying to get the local bureaucrats to do something about the bloody bodies piling up, but they
can’t close the beaches on the 4th of July jeopardize a sweet business deal already in trouble because the guy negotiating it had his head explode at a ritzy restaurant. So our heroes come up with a formula that makes the slugs explode instead (I guess they were immune to salt), and dump it in the slugs’ breeding ground, which also blows up half the damn town, and serves them right.
The problems with the movie are largely structural: it never really allows itself to build any momentum to its final scene. Two men in hazmat suits blundering around a sewer system with outdated maps, trying not to get eaten should be claustrophobic and terrifying. Instead we’re told to be afraid of motionless rubber slugs and flowing water and I’m constantly checking to see how much time is left. There are times I admit I’m distracted by wondering how slugs can pull people off boats or drag dead bodies along the ground…
As to the much-reviled cliches: They’re there, but I’ve mellowed about them. These are what Simón thought would make for a commercially successful movie (along with some unrepentant 1980s gore), and apparently, he was right. The special effects are quite good; the exteriors were all shot in New York, while the interiors and almost all the effects were filmed in Madrid, Simón’s home turf. This means there is an awful lot of dubbing in evidence, some of it lamentable, but really that’s part of the charm for its fans.
Those fans are going to be ecstatic about this blu-ray, too. Arrow Video are the guys who brought us a flawless Blood and Black Lace and the quality on Slugs is equally breathtaking. A 1080p presentation from the original film elements, and those elements must have been blessed by the Pope because they are amazing and show not the slightest wear.
Arrow also has their usual bonanza of supplements, but the best for my money is an audio commentary track with Shaun Hutson, who wrote the original novel. Hutson is refreshingly level-headed and entertaining about what became of this, his first book; he speaks disarmingly about his first viewing at a film festival, and the differences between the two (mainly, his book takes place in London, not small town America). The conversation, having 92 minutes to breathe, ranges over horror movies in general and Hutson’s hatred for Stephanie Meyers in specific: “You ruined vampires!”
I like Shaun Hutson.
This is an amazing time to be a genre fan with an HDTV. Are there movies I wished Arrow Video had concentrated on other than Slugs? Of course I do. But I still have to admit this is a wonderful package, beautifully presented, and I commend Arrow for taking such care with a long-neglected stepchild of the horror movie world.
Keep it up, folks. Please.
“DON’T make out when your parents aren’t home!”