Mar 10, 2020

SLUGS (1988)

Never was a horror movie more deliciously cheesy than it was in the ’80s. To this day, I remain unfulfilled that I didn't come of age during this magical decade of high hair and synthpop, and that I couldn't make trips to the box office every weekend to plunk down my $2 (probably) on a movie ticket for delicious cheese like Slumber Party Massacre, Sleepaway Camp, and Pieces. The lucky film-goers of this era, flying blind on cocaine and Simon Le Bon mini-posters, wouldn’t know how good they had it until it was all over.

The ’80s were a time in which horror movies were allowed to be fun. They were filled with inconsequential characters whose first name you would be hard-pressed to remember as they ran from a killer with a drill, or from an animal/insect gone amok, or from what would turn out to be a twelve-year-old hermaphrodite with a freaky face and a tiny dingle thing. Plots were allowed to be wildly ludicrous and it was OK to ask the audience that they suspend their disbelief, if only for a couple hours. 

Sadly, this period of horror has come to an end, but it’s left in its wake numerous treasures, one of these being the greatest movie of all time to feature an army of slugs destroying the human race asshole by asshole. 

That movie? 



Yes, Slugs! Look at them! Watch them make merry in your body holes!

The slugs crawl iiinnn, the slugs crawl ooout♫, the slugs get in your body, shoot maggots out your eye, and make your face explode, and all of them are brought to you by Spanish director J.P. Simon, he of Pieces fame and all-around king of "whoops, it sucked!" '80s horror. The fact that a movie exists about killer slugs would be enough, and the fact that it's simply called Slugs is even better, but that its release title in Spain during its run was Muerte Viscosa, which translates to “Viscous Death” (haha), shows that this movie is magical regardless of what part of the universe you're from. The genesis of this production certainly informs the final product — not environmentally so much as aesthetically. The “United Nations” of killer animal movies, Slugs features a very diverse cast of different nationalities, most of whom who were dubbed into English, including one very not-British actor suddenly becoming very British.

The plot is quite simple: a small town becomes overrun with slugs. Not the sticky, slow, undeadly kind, but the sticky, slow, DEADLY kind  — and they eat meat!

These slugs first make their presence known by invading the filth-douched basement of Old Man Trash, which is filled with empty pizza boxes and other rubbish he couldn’t be bothered to, ya know, put in a garbage can. It’s this event which puts these slugs on the radar of the film’s main character and hero, hilariously named Mike Brady. Yes, the city health inspector and 1/9th of a Bunch of Brady’s will be the one in the Roy Scheider role as he tears across town trying to get officials to believe that they have a major shark slug problem on their hands.

There’s so much to love and appreciate about Slugs, and some of it’s not even ironic. Sure, it’s easy to laugh at Don for being married to someone who looks much older than him (that'd be Maria, his motherwife), and it’s especially easy to guffaw when seeing an old man put his hand into a slug-infested glove, shriek, and decide the only way to remove it is to chop off the goddamn with a hatchet. But in the midst of all this madness, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Slugs is actually kind of well made. With this being a product of the late ’80s, practical effects were the name of the game and handily brought the slugs to life, and their victims to death. The gore gags throughout Slugs are hilarious but undeniably effective. Eyeballs hang out of sockets, faces explode, limbs are hacked off — sounds fun, doesn’t it? IT IS.

Adding to Slugs’ enjoyment is the baffling musical score, the themes of which beg comparison to the music often found in instructional videos on how to use the card catalogue, or rejected cues from The A-Team. Some even end in a triumphant crescendo that would normally complement Indiana Jones jumping off a rocky cliff for the just-out-of-reach vine (or something equally exciting), but instead is used to complement a person running hurriedly into a municipal building. Another theme actually utilizes the sad trombone/wahh-wahhhh-waahhhhhh stinger a la bad jokes from ’50s sitcoms and I love it so, so much more than I love you.

Like other films not just in Simon’s career, but general Italian/Spanish/American joint productions from the ’80s and ’90s, there’s a certain hamfistedness to their plots and a definite, tangible awkwardness to their productions. Like many other Spanish and Italian productions from this era, Slugs' cast looped their dialogue during post-production (for the uninitiated reader, it was considered economical to not worry about capturing clean audio while filming; actors rerecorded all their scripted lines during post-production in a sound booth), which offers every movie that employs this tactic a subtle offkilterness that can add either to its dreamy atmosphere (see: Suspiria) or its already cheesy execution (see: everything Lucio Fulci). And this isn’t a case of Spanish actors’ dialogue being replaced by English-speaking voice-over artists. No, English-speaking actors spoke English during their scenes, but then came back to loop their dialogue again anyway — still in English. But really, the why doesn’t matter: it’s the effect that does. And the effect is total joy.

There are different schools of thought as to what makes a bad horror film “so bad it’s good.” Some people claim to watch Uwe Boll films over and over and laugh with glee, which makes zero sense to me, considering his stuff is bottled pain. And that Sharknado nonsense, forget it. That’s not fun. Slugs is fun. Do you know why Slugs is fun? Because Slugs is trying. It’s the ones that try, but fail spectacularly, that bring about the most joy. That’s really the takeaway: you can’t manufacture bad horror without purposely descending into parody, in the same way you can’t set out to produce a film you know will achieve cult status. You — that's the royal you, attentive filmmakers — don’t decide how audiences will react to your film, ironically or otherwise, and you don’t get to decide if audiences — even a small portion of them (read: cult following) — will love and remember your film for decades after you’ve made it. That's up to us, and believe me, we'll let you know.

This is why tripe like Sharknado isn’t just unfun, but poisonous to the genre. Because Sharknado isn’t trying. Sharknado mugs for the camera and demands Twitter ask, “How crazy will this get?” It's the Sci-Fi-Channel-Original-Movie equivalent of reality TV pretending not to make fun of a cast of washed up celebrities (plus John Heard). Sharknado adds Scott Baio, throws a shark up in the air, and calls it clever. But it’s not, because Sharknado isn’t trying. Sharknado is phoning it in.

Slugs is trying. Slugs just wants to be loved. And it will crawl right down your goddamn mouth to prove it.

Real Facts about Slugs:

  • Slugs can stretch to 20 times their normal length and launch themselves into your soup.
  • Slugs can follow their own slime trails from the night before, just like James Franco.
  • Slugs can follow other slug slime trails in order to find a slug sock hop, your butthole, or another social event.
  • Slugs are hermaphrodites and we won't make a joke about that just in case I ever become famous.
  • Slug eggs are in the soil just about everywhere, and also in that brownie you’re crunching.
  • Banana slugs are bright yellow, can grow from 8 to 18 inches, and are absolutely fabulous.
  • There are at least 40 species of slugs in the U.S. and they are all right behind you. 

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