In the world of the gore film, all you need is blood (with many apologies to the Fab Four). If you give good grue, you can get away with just about anything. Misguided plotting? Just lay on the clotting. Shoddy characterization? Make with the evisceration. Production values less than stellar? Just drain a vein and get over it, feller. Horror fans are incredibly forgiving of even the most noticeable of errors if you simply bathe the screen in buckets of bile. Heck, a crimson decapitation or a good disemboweling will pardon hours of hackneyed dialogue, boundless bottom feeder acting and rank retardation of the cinematic style. But pus and puke can't solve every filmic crisis. Indeed, some movies are so maladjusted, so drenched in the talentless tenets of their creators that you could show an entire autopsy on screen, complete with snuff film close-ups, and the audience would still lash out in overt feeling of unpardonable anger.
It would be easy to classify Slime City as a classic case of offal overcoming the awful. This homemade horror film from the late 80s, fashioned by individuals intimately familiar with the Troma style of cinema (many of them worked on projects like The Toxic Avenger and The Class of Nuke 'Em High) is indeed an F/X laden boil bursting with all manner of inner ickiness. It swims in glop and wades in gunk. The final fight scene between our heroine and the bad guy is a gut stabbing, snot spewing, head splitting and brain broaching near masterwork. It does single handedly save the film. But as for the rest of this Slime-y locale, there are less than stellar sentiments. While it does provide its blood and body parts, it is missing one crucial element important to even the most mind-bending of gore films - humor. There are not many laughs (but there are quite a few groans) in this oddly moody mess.
Desperate for an apartment and a little privacy, Alex finally finds a decent looking place in a rundown building operated by a couple of old coots. The neighbors are an eccentric bunch, with creepy Goth poet Roman and creepy Goth prostitute Nicole living close by. Alex is just happy that he can spend time with his girlfriend, a frigid little flit named Lori. After eating dinner at Roman's, our hero starts to get some manner of slick sickness. Indeed, his body breaks out in slime, and only the blood of humans will return him back to normal. Alex soon learns that his mucus-like malady is the result of demonic possession - a warlock named Zachary, who used to live in the building, wants Alex's body for his very own. As the corpses start piling up like cordwood, Alex must try and trick the evil spirit into giving up its internal soul squatting. But the lust for blood is overwhelming, and Lori just might be next on the paranormal splatter platter.
When viewed one way, Slime City is a great deal of fun. Anyone who remembers those late night flights of cable fancy on Cinemax or The Movie Channel - or better yet, those trips to the local Mom and Pop vide store for some weekend watchables - will recognize the direct to video dementia of this movie. Writer/director Greg Lamberson, itching to make his own movie after working on the projects of others, decided to pay homage to the horror films he loved by creating a combination of Street Trash (an inspiration) and the entire Troma catalog. With special effects help from some of the people who worked on James Muro's disintegrating wino masterpiece, and a collection of friends willing to bust their hump for free, Lamberson pounded out a script, retrofitted his own apartment, and began production. A month later, his movie was made. Several scandal-filled years later, we finally get to see his efforts.
The story of Slime City's eventual reemergence as a kind of cult favorite is nothing new. It's a tale of bad deals, sleazy distributors and changing audience ideals. Lamberson and his pals went on to make a couple more films (one of which is provided here as part of the extras) but Slime City appears to be the most significant step in their oeuvre. Frankly, it's hard to fathom why. This is a minor splatter fest at best, the kind of gory goof that populated the VHS rental region during the format's heyday. This was Saturday Night bong hit fodder, a beer and a buddy geek show entertainment that drifted by on goodwill and good grue. If we go back through the canon of claret and corpses cinema, there are dozens of examples of this kind of creepshow. So again, why is this film so well remembered, and honestly, does it live up to its hysterical hyperbole? The answers are difficult and complicated - unlike the film being discussed.
One guess as to why Slime City is so endearing to its fanatical aficionados is lack of availability. Call it forbidden fruit, or a clear case of mudlark moviemaking, but when something that people have only the vaguest memories of is no longer available to refresh those recollections, the obvious result is romanticizing and reverence. Details are dim and only the highlights announce themselves with any kind of clarity. Thus, you can see how Slime City's setpieces - the bum murder, the gang member's death, the full out corpse carving climax - blot out the rest of the movie's lesser elements. Also, some of the characters who today seem downright dreary can be reconfigured in the eye of an unfamiliar mind into individuals of classic, camp craziness. Certainly the movie has a few more redeeming features - the older actresses playing the loopy landlords are a sinister stitch, and the ancillary actors are reasonably effective. But that's really all there is.
Well, the gore IS pretty groovy. It's not at the level of a Troma title, or something as sensational as Evil Dead or The Thing, but what we get here is still handled well, with a nice combination of nastiness and invention. Indeed, there is nothing that splatter fans hate more than redundant repugnancy. If you've seen one throat slit, you've seen them all. So elements like the stomach mouth and the meat cleaver neck-ectomy are very memorable indeed. Even when Alex is not belting out the blood, he is covered with a layer of pond scum so potent and unpleasant that you can almost smell it through the screen. It drips off him in yellow matter custard droplets and pools around his neck and waist like a fat person's personal gravy. Without a doubt, the visual effect of seeing a man mired in oily, slimy sludge is very successful, and is one of the movie's best attributes.
But broaching the layers beyond the brackish leaves us with less than successful results. The entire narrative here revolves around sex - or instead, the lack thereof. Alex wants Lori in the worst possible way, by she's obviously majoring in cocktease at the local college. This girl just won't give up the goodies, and it's hard to figure out who gets more frustrated - Alex or the audience. Indeed, we're not all that interested in seeing actress Mary Huner sans clothing. She's a nice enough gal, in an 80s mercy date kind of dimension. But what really burns our britches is the constant nagging about nookie. Alex is like a walking hormone, persistently complaining about his lack of a lovelife. Yet we see no real alternative to the bellyaching. The sole prostitute introduced to the plot is just another lewd lady to the slaughter, and when Lori and Alex finally get down to body bid-ness, it's as erotic as a postcard from Grandma. Certainly Lamberson aims to have the carnal aspect of the story symbolize Alex's change into a slime beast (maybe it's a subtle AIDS analogy ala The Fly?). But we get bored waiting for the boot knocking, and its arrival offers little relief.
Then there is the suspense/scares. Slime City suffers from the same problem that most effects-laden films fall into - the failure to create a believable atmosphere of dread. Craven kinfolk like Basket Case (with its nods to 42nd Street sleaze) and Re-animator (comedy as corpse grinding - and visa versa) played up the evil inherent in their story, and tried to fashion sequences that both shocked and sent shivers up and down your spine. Here, Lamberson is laid back, almost casual about his creepiness. We never sense menace, danger or any other concept of peril or threat. We know Alex is going to go all gooey at random times, and actor Robert C. Sabin never gives him any manner of miscreant subtext. Indeed, his entire performance seems cobbled together out of friendship, availability, and desire to spend time in the make-up chair. Our otherworldly influence - the demonic presence, the various victims of previous possessions - are merely a backdrop for this story of love, latex and loose ends.
Still,Slime City makes enough of an impression to warrant a viewing. For anyone who spent a drunken, dateless night watching the last thing they could locate at the local video shack, this will be like a big, brazen bite of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Pudding Pie (the PERFECT munchie snack food, after frozen cake). It will fire off long silent synapses of recognition, instilling a sense of an era when blood and gore meant more to an evening's entertainment that plot and performance. It harkens back to a timeframe overflowing with such similarly minded splatter jobs, each one trying to outdo the other in vileness and viscosity. While not as outrageous as the true masters of body fluid mayhem - the Italians - movies like Slime City show a great deal of imagination in their visual violence. They can be enjoyed as exercises in excess or examples of cinema gone all gunky. Whatever the case may be, this is not quite a masterful work of timeless terror. Indeed, Slime City is locked in the era of its creation - for better or worse.
Looking like a fairly pristine VHS transfer of a faded and grainy original, Slime City looks awfully average for a DVD presentation. We are treated to a 16x9 enhanced anamorphic widescreen image however (mimicking a 1.78:1 aspect ratio), and a fairly clean print, but Lamberson was obviously not privy to a lot of pricey production values, like lighting and clean lenses. The movie looks perfectly presentable - in fact, it looks a lot better than some of the recent pictures coming out of its fraternal twin Troma. But those expecting some manner of mind-warping remaster will be in for a surprise. While it looks pretty good, Slime City is no digital diamond.
Suffering from amateurish recording and echoing elements, the aural aspect of Slime City is equally uninspired. Dialogue gets lost in dimensions of drop out, and foley can force itself up and over every other auditory aspect of the mix. This means footsteps sound like sonic booms while conversations are less than clear. The Dolby Digital Stereo also suffers from some noticeable hiss and a couple of garbled sequences. Still, for a movie that is mostly visual, you aren't missing much with this sloppy sonic showcase.
Where Retro Shock-O-Rama Cinema really stands out here is in the bonus packaging department. As part of the added features, we are treated to a whole other film (Lamberson's 1999 thriller Naked Fear), full length commentary for both movies, a nice 8 minute making-of featurette and a collection of trailers, marketing materials and linear notes. First, the main extra:
Naked Fear (1999): In this made on video psychological chiller, returning Lamberson regular Robert C. Sabin is Camden, a mentally messed up agoraphobic who hasn't left his apartment in 10 years (not since he saw his parents brutally murdered). Wanting to try and make some interpersonal connections, he calls random sex lines looking for companionship. Over his guardian's wishes (Camden is independently wealthy thanks to a mega-trust fund) he advertises for a roommate. He ends up with Randy, a shady character who claims a kind of instant friendship. What Camden doesn't know is that his new roomy has a homicidal side, and he is looking to protect his pal from any and all intrusions - including a new girlfriend named Julie.
Lifeless, apathetic and stylistically stunted, Naked Fear still has some interesting ideas buried in its boredom. Part of the problem with this camcorder calamity is the unlikable characters. Camden seems about as personable as a sugar wart, and his roommate, Randy, looks like a guy who can't believe that Ted Nugent is no longer headlining concerts. Together, they are the Mutt and Mutt of this meandering misery, attempting to intrigue us with their psychobabble backstories and bland bull shooting. As another frail, fractured player in this passionless play, Julie (played by the decent Peggy Crow) is the only individual who we're remotely interested in. While her story of rape is rather routine, there is a nice uneasy aspect to the character and the performance. The pacing here is problematic, the death scenes derivative, and the entire production seems like an excuse to burn some DAT tape. Nowhere near as enjoyable as Slime City, this added feature will only be valuable to you Lamberson completists out there.
As for the commentaries, both are excellent. Lamberson doesn't profess to be the best filmmaker in the world, and he is very self-deprecating about his mistakes and missteps. He loves to discuss artistic elements like shot selection, story ideas and casting concepts. But when viewed in light of the less-than-stellar films that were created, the pride seems inappropriate. Still, both narratives are a lot of fun. Robert C. Sabin is along and loves to whine about his hair (or lack thereof) and rapid aging. Other members of the cast and crew pop in to offer their insights, and the entire atmosphere ends up being joyous and genial. In some ways, the commentaries are better than the films they compliment. Even the making-of featurette - imagine the alternate narrative boiled down to less than 10 minutes with some behind the scenes footage - is a lot of fun. All the extras on this DVD, arcane chiller excepted, do a nice job of filling out our understanding of Lamberson and his moviemaking mindset.
Since gore has gone the way of the minstrel show and the TV variety hour as a means of popular entertainment, seeing something like Slime City is a great deal of culpable fun. It is not 100% enjoyable - indeed, the fraction may be a lot lower than one imagines. But to see people using blood and body parts, guts and grue to freak out the audience's fear factors is enough of a romp to require a recommendation. The terrific packaging from Retro Shock-O-Rama Cinema also earns high marks, pushing us even closer to a greater level of approval. If you can manage the parts that simple flop around, waiting for the next killing, if you can tolerate the talky, trying attempt at suspense known as Naked Fear (what a title - there is neither of each offered in the film) and if you don't mind movies that revisit, not reinvent, the horror tenets of the Greed decade, you'll find a lot to like about Slime City and this DVD. Now that it's out for the whole world to see, maybe the beloved bloom will finally fall off this revered rose. What should take its place is a nice level of amiable admiration. While far from perfect, the buckets of blood mentality really works well here. Too bad the rest of the film couldn't compliment, instead of constrict, the splatter.
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