Give it up for Juan Piquer Simon. Not only did the Spanish director bestow upon the horror world one of the craziest and memorable slashers of all time, Pieces (1983), he also found it within himself to give us Slugs (1988). Not quite as crazy as Pieces (but almost as good), Slugs trades heavily in the J.P. Simon business: a whole lot of weird, a nuclear ton of energy, and gore galore. If you only see one badly dubbed mollusk monster movie, filled with heavy pettin’ and (literally) explosive action, you would be wise to choose Slugs.
Released Stateside by New World Pictures (post Roger Corman years) in February, this Spanish/American coproduction has never been as beloved as J.P.’s killer-on-campus opus, but that’s only because it seems to play out in a more straightforward manner. Trust me; this film brings all the B level goods, with no expiration date in sight.
Our film opens with a quick prologue of a couple fishing on a lake in a row boat. Well, the young male is fishing; his female companion is about to do some topless sunbathing right before he complains something bit him and falls (re: pushes himself) into the water, where he disappears and a pool of blood bubbles to the surface. Swimming slugs, you say? Sure, why not! Then the titles come up, announcing “Slugs: The Movie”, in case you were unsure what type of media content you were ingesting. Off and running, we see a vagrant get his from the slugs in a run-down home (maybe don’t leave pizza lying around?), which brings in the surliest sheriff (John Battaglia – um, Slugs) and our hero, County Health Inspector Mike Brady (Michael Garfield – The Warriors). Turns out the home owning bum’s flesh was stripped by ravenous gastropods; they don’t get around too fast, but if you happen to fall on a pile of them? Well, that’s on you, buster.
Before long, the slugs are taking out all of Mike’s friends (in a fit of rage: “they were nice people, and I liked them a LOT!”); a greenhouse mishap here, a vegetarian’s nightmare there. Mike enlists the help of local “British” scientist Foley (Santiago Alvarez – Siesta) and Guy In Charge Of the Town’s Water Supply, Don Palmer (Philip MacHale – One Life to Live). Together they concoct a scheme to blow up the slugs in the sewers below. (That’s where they hang. The slugs, not the guys.) Will Mike, Foley, and Don rid the town of the oozing, super slow menace, and eradicate half of the local businesses in the process? (The answer you’re looking for is probably. Probably.)
Slugs was released around the same time as cockroach creepfest The Nest (I wrote about it here), which was produced by Corman’s company at the time, Concorde. Similarities abound; small towns, innocuous crawlers that aren’t much of a nuisance unless they’re in massive quantities (although the ick factor for some folk is inherent in just the existence of said critters) and altered in some way to raise their threat level. The Nest deals in scientific horror while Slugs trots out the reliable toxic mutations in vogue (or out of, depending on your level of cynicism) since Drive-Ins were erected. And while The Nest is very much of its time (aesthetically at least; its tale is as old as the outdoor screen as well), the simpler, brawny feel of Slugs gives it a charming throwback hue that’s impossible to resist. No one here is anything but a stereotype.
Credit (if you will) should go to screenwriter Ron Gantman who worked previously with Simon on Mystery on Monster Island (1981), based on the novel by Jules Verne. Slugs is an adaptation as well; Shaun Hutson’s novel was a huge success upon release in 1982. By all accounts the film follows the book quite faithfully (except for the faux Jaws prologue), but that’s neither here nor there; I’m just glad someone came up with these scenarios: green thumbery gone awry, severe restaurant health code violations (I won’t have what he’s having, thanks), and a very messy bedroom rendezvous make a lasting impression in the age of practical effects, courtesy of Basilio Cortijo (Pieces) and other skilled splatsmen. INSERT OBLIGATORY PRACTICAL RANT HERE: good or bad, in camera hand crafted effects work will always win out over CG; there is dimension and weight to the former that cannot be replicated by a computer. And the effects here are glorious; J.P. revels in the red, gleefully adding an extra bucket or two for his loyal consumer base. When you shop at J.P.’s, you always wear a slicker.
Slugs should be as revered as Pieces, but it isn’t. It’s seen as a more conventional horror film; perhaps a bit too straightforward compared to the dizzying narrative of Simon’s chainsaw cut ‘em up. And it is, in the sense that Simon isn’t provided with the same outrageous set pieces; there are no waterbed knifings, bathroom bisections, or crotch grabs. But he certainly directs the material with the same untamed gusto, crafting gross outs and hilarious verbal exchanges that mirror his earlier masterwork. (I always feel like his scripts are a long game of telephone, starting with the screenwriter and ending with garbled reception on J.P.’s end.) And much like Pieces, Mr. Simon carves all the ham off the bone, and serves it up for his cast to devour before they stumble before the lights and thesp. This is the career highlight for many of them, and I say if you’re okay with going lowbrow, there are worse ways to earn some bank than emoting with mollusks.
Forget about relegating Slugs to the back of the store; between the eye popping goo, fragrant performances, and fascinatingly idiosyncratic score, it earns a spot at the checkout with the candy bars and gossip rags. Sure it’s not good for you, but it’s hard to miss, and even harder to resist.
Slugs is available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.