Sunday, June 20, 2010

Slithis aka Spawn of the Slithis

First appeared on

“Slithis” is finally on DVD! I’ve been waiting for this day since I was in junior high and stumbled across the already well-worn VHS copy at my local video store. Stephen Traxler’s 1978 film has everything a child of my era could want. Growing up I fully expected to be annihilated by a nuclear holocaust at any given moment, murdered in my sleep by Freddy Krueger, or wiped out by some massive environmental catastrophe, so any movie with a guy dressed in a rubber monster suit, loosely disguised as a cautionary tale about nuclear power and pollution, was right up my alley.

To be honest, I remember it not being very good, and decades down the line it doesn’t even hold up to my already under-inflated expectations. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it.

Something is killing household pets along the canals of Venice (that’s Venice, California), leaving a trail of mutilated corpses along the banks. Before long, whatever it is isn’t satisfied with small game, and starts invading homes and devouring people. The police are convinced that these seemingly ritualistic killings are the work of a death cult. Personally, I miss the days when cults were widely viewed as frightening. High school journalism teacher/freelance reporter looking to make a name for himself, Wayne Connors (Alan Blanchard), doesn’t share the cop’s theory, and investigates the killings on his own.

Along with his trusty, hippy-dippy science teacher sidekick, Dr. John (J.C. Claire), and his wife, Jeff (Judy Motulsky, and yes, her name is Jeff), Connors tracks the real killer, an irradiated mutant, piecing together clues as he goes. He finds a strange slime left at one crime scene. Because Dr. John is a high school science teacher, he is up on his nuclear physics news, and identifies the substance as slithis, which is some sort of radioactive dirt caused by a nuclear reactor leak, that takes on the characteristics of whatever it touches. The radiation does something to the bacteria in the soil, altering it on a cellular level, and Connors makes the immediate leap that this particular instance of Slithis has evolved further than ever before, creating some kind of giant mutant beast thing. We know he’s right, but the cops don’t buy his hair-brained theory for a second, so he has to find some sort of actual proof. Imagine that.

“Slithis”, aka “Spawn of the Slithis”, is one of those movies that where most of the cast has only this lone film on their acting resumes, so don’t expect any virtuoso performances, but you weren’t, were you? The only name you might recognize in the credits is Mimi Leder, who served as a script supervisor, but went on to direct some big budget action movies of her own, most notably, “The Peacemaker” and “Deep Impact”.

The story starts off in standard monster movie form, with some monster’s-eye-view shots, and the end is pretty kickass, in a pseudo-“Jaws” kind of way. But the middle wanders around aimlessly while Connors interviews homeless guys and takes soil samples looking for any shred of evidence that will prove his wing-nut theory. At one point we spend fifteen minutes getting to know a sleazy mustachioed gentleman and the young girl he picked up at the turtle races (if the reality of “Slithis” is to be believed, turtle racing was a big deal in late ‘70s Southern California youth culture), only to watch them get eaten, or “Slithised” as I like to call it. No one cares about the names and back-stories of the Slithis fodder; we just want to see them get eaten. There are a lot of moments like this that are unnecessarily long. It feels like writer/director Traxler had the beginning and the end when he started shooting, but the body of the film was eluding him.

However, in the midst of all this shiftless drifting, there are little gems, like a grizzled homeless man being interviewed on TV saying, “I sleep sometimes in the john down there by the beach. Them stalls ain’t got no locks on ‘em, you know.” Pure gold.

“Slithis” isn’t a great movie. No one will make that argument. Hell, I won’t even try to tell you it’s a well-made movie. And while it isn’t quite as awesome as I remembered, it has moments where it is a whole lot of fun. If you can slog through the middle, the end is well worth the wait. And in my book, it’s hard to go wrong when you have some jackass running around in a latex costume that looks like a Ninja Turtle’s ugly cousin.

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