Sunday, 6 September 2009

Slugs (1988)

Holy shiiiit!

I do love an animals-run-amok movie, but by the late 80s all the scary animals were taken. Bears, boars, bees, snakes, ants, spiders and especially sharks, they had all played their part in the eternal struggle between nature experts and unscrupulous capitalists. So where to go from here? Well, Slugs: The Movie takes the killer animal genre to it's logical and not-at-all-scary conclusion. Obviously the idea of killer man-eating slugs is pretty hilarious. These are creatures that are frequently squashed accidentally and can be outrun by a man with no legs. They aren't even giant 40 foot monster slugs, just slightly-larger-than-average garden slugs. Scary is out of the question, so the best you can hope for is a sublime ridiculousness. In that respect, Slugs delivers like FedEx.

It's clear from the pre-credits opening scene, two "teens" in a fishing boat on a lake, that this film is going to leave no cliche un-plundered. In the first line of dialog the girl complains "So, you weren't kidding about going fishing, huh?" which makes me laugh because not only is it a clumsy and unnecessary line of exposition, it implies she watched him load up the fishing rods, reels, bait etc and thought it was all an elaborate ruse. It kind of makes sense then, that when the guy is pulled under the water she would stand there in her bikini briefs like a moron and say stuff like "Come on! It's not funny!" over and over until blood starts to bubble up to the surface.

With those two out of the way it becomes the story of a man named Brady, head of the local health department. He is asked to respond to an eviction call, along with the local sheriff, but when they get there they discover a half eaten corpse lying on the couch and the floor covered in slime trails. The sheriff's conclusion: "Wild dogs?" Of course it was. Naturally the slugs always manage to sneak away from the scene of the crime. In the most ridiculous example a couple of 30 year old teenagers are so busy sexing it up that they fail to notice the thousands of slugs that have covered the bedroom floor. When the sheriff finds their bodies the next day the slugs have completely vanished. Slugs are truly the ninjas of the gastropod world.

The good thing about having such a nonthreatening killer animal is that you have to get pretty creative with the kills. For instance, in one scene an old man is attacked when he puts on a gardening glove that is inhabited by killer slugs. When he has difficulty removing the glove (are we to believe that the slugs are holding it on?) he takes the hilariously drastic measure of lopping off his hand. In the struggle some chemicals are jostled and a fire starts. When the flames hit a tiny jerry can of fuel the greenhouse goes up like an atomic bomb.

One of the most hilarious and gruesome deaths is when a drunken housewife cuts up a lettuce with a killer slug inside and feeds it to her husband. He falls ill and the next day he has to attend a big meeting with some clients at a fancy restaurant, so you know there will be some Larry David style social faux pas. Sure enough, before the entrees even arrive his face explodes with virulent parasitic bloodworms. How embarrassing. I bet that never happened on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

While all of this is going on Brady is running around trying to convince people of the killer slugs. He discovers that the town was built on a toxic waste dump (it was either that or secret government experiment I guess) which the mayor really doesn't want to hear since he's busy trying to clinch a big real estate deal. Nobody seems overly concerned about all these bodies piling up, so it's up to Brady and Don the Sanitation Supervisor to take down the slugs. As you can tell, they've got all their cliches covered, the only omission is that the film wasn't set against the backdrop of the tri-county lettuce growing competition.

In a film like this you've got to have a scene where a local expert wows us with some fun animal facts about slugs. In this film it's a British-accented egghead who tells us that because of the slugs' mucus trail they can crawl along the edge of a razor blade without harm. It's not exactly Dreyfuss' "swim, eat and make little sharks" speech but it's pretty hard to make slugs sound deadly. He develops a substance to destroy the slug, a highly volatile chemical that explodes on contact with water. Together they formulate a plan to go down into the sewer, herd all the slugs into one area and spray a drum full of the highly explosive chemical down a manhole. Doesn't sound like the best idea to me, but as Brady says "they have no other choice." Uh, how about fucking salt!

Don says goodbye to his ugly wife, telling her "When I get back how about we get naked and get crazy?" (gross) which all but guarantees he will die by the end the film. Once in the sewer they discover that herding slugs is a fucking stupid idea, although they do manage to electrocute some of them. Naturally Don falls into a slug pit and dies but Brady manages to climb out just before the scientist dumps the chemical into the sewer. This causes several buildings to explode and a fiery blast to erupt from every manhole in town, no doubt killing more people than the slugs would have, but at least the town's supply of crisp, green lettuce is safe from slug molestation.

The film was shot in Spain and the USA by Juan Piquer Simón, best known for his ridiculous 1982 horror film Pieces. Like that film Slugs has terrible acting, worse dialog and abysmal post-production dubbing. Direction is really inept, with strangely edited scenes, a poorly chosen soundtrack and actors frequently pausing mid-sentence and stepping on each other's lines. Gore scenes are cheap-looking but plentiful and surprisingly explicit. Really, there's just an all-encompassing corniness and stupidity. It worked for me though. You get the impression that Simón really bought in to the concept of killer slugs, which makes the parade of nonsense all that much more enjoyable.


Kelly said...

That is perhaps the greatest screenshot ever.

Dave said...

Slug mouths do not work that way! And the funny thing is it's never mentioned again, not even when they take the slug to the scientist. I'm not sure the director had even seen a slug before.