"Ha! That don't sound crazy, Brady; that is crazy! Killer slugs, for Christ's sakes! What'll it be next? Demented crickets? Rampaging mosquitos, maybe?"
I don't know how most people are gonna look back on 2016, but for me, it'll go down as the year of the Juan Piquer Simón-aissance. Back in March, Grindhouse Releasing unleashed one of the year's most outstanding special editions with Simón's gonzo slasher Pieces. Six months later, Scorpion Releasing lavished The Rift with its first home video release on these shores since the VHS era. ...and now? Well, if the title in big, bold letters at the top of the page weren't enough of a hint, we're talking about Arrow Video's anxiously anticipated Blu-ray release of Slugs.
Here's the story of a man named Brady: Mike Brady (Michael Garfield), health inspector. The sleepy little village of Ashton has been rocked in recent days by a rash of bizarre deaths, and while the authorities are on the right track in blaming the partially devoured corpses on an animal attack, Brady points to something smaller and without quite so many legs. You see, a sizeable chunk of Ashton used to sit atop a toxic waste dump. Slugs nest in dark, moist areas, toxic waste leaks into the water, and...yeah. Mutant, carnivorous slugs. These suckers attack like piranha: swarming in with no warning, gobbling up their victims until there's nothing left but bone, and leaving only a trail of slime behind to offer any hint as to the source of the nightmare that just transpired. Damned near everyone laughs off Mike's gastropodal guesswork: the sheriff, the mayor, and even Water Board Inspector Frank Phillips (played by Frank Braña because of course he is). Maybe Frank's right and Mike doesn't have the authority to declare happy birthday, but that doesn't mean he's in it alone. Standing by Mike's side are Ashton's answer to Mr. Wizard (Santiago Álvarez) and his pal Don (Philip MacHale) who knows the town's sewers like the back of his hand.
As far as the whole plot synopsis thing goes, I guess I could've just said "Jaws, but with army of carnivorous slugs instead". Jaws was set in a tiny, ill-prepared New York hamlet; much of Slugs, meanwhile, was shot in the NY village of Lyons, although it's never really made clear what state Ashton is supposed to be in, exactly. Both films open with swimmers getting gobbled up by an unseen predator, with the gruesome stuff taking place off-screen. An inconceivable force of nature is consuming everyone and everything it comes into contact with, and the authorities and townsfolk alike ignore a well-meaning official's pleas that prove to be right on the money. Slugs isn't even subtle about it: Chief Brody vs. Health Inspector Brady. High school science teacher John Foley is this flick's version of Hooper, lobbing out all the expository nuggets you need to know about slugs. Don the Sanitation Manager is a little bit Hooper and a whole lot more Quint, being both a treasured friend and ally, guiding our gallant hero through treacherous terrain he knows all too well, and...yeah, then there's the very similar way things shake out for 'em in the end.
It's a familiar formula for a reason, giving Slugs all the structure it needs to scream forward for an hour and a half straight. It kind of caught me off-guard when I listened to the first commentary on the disc where it seemed to just be generally accepted that Slugs is a terrible, terrible movie. It's been a favorite of mine since I first discovered it on USA Up All Night a lifetime ago, and I mean that in a completely sincere way, not as any sort of schlocky guilty pleasure. The production values are outstanding, from the clever miniature work to to the staggering scale of the slugpocalypse. There's also plenty of those Mo Fuzz-style production values, with no shortage of unbelievably gorgeous women and ample T&A. Even though this Spanish production was shot on a meager budget by American standards, every dollar and then some made it onto the screen. The grisly, practical makeup effects still look terrific right at three decades later. The creatures are surprisingly convincing too, weaving together actual, living slug-like molluscs with the rubber variety. These carnivorous cephalopods move at a breakneck pace you'd never expect, and the same goes for the film itself too. I'm so used to horror flicks with a few standout setpieces strung together with excruciatingly tedious filler, but there's not a wasted moment anywhere throughout Slugs. By necessity, it's kind of vignette-y, cutting away to yet another oddball character who's moments away from becoming slug chow, but that means the next victim is rarely more than a few minutes off on the horizon. Say what you will about Slugs, but it's never boring.
Slugs is an unapologetically strange movie, although it never careens off to the point of campy delirium the way Pieces so often does. The film's exteriors were shot stateside while the interiors were lensed in Spain, and the cast is a similar cross-continental mishmash. The American cast seems to have had their dialogue recorded live on the set, while some of the international actors were clumsily looped in post-production. That makes some of the already off-kilter performances that much more bizarre. The dialogue is generally what you'd expect from a flick with Slugs: The Movie on the title card. The slugs can generally do whatever the screenplay wants 'em to, whether it's grabbing hold of a manhole cover hook or hundreds of thousands of the little buggers blanketing every square inch of a room in about six seconds flat. Characterization, continuity, and...y'know, common sense rank awfully low on the list of priorities. One minute, Mike is snarling at the sheriff about the terror of mutant slugs, and in the next breath, he's rolling his eyes at Don for suggesting that there must be something sinister lurking in the sewers...which is exactly where Mike had already theorized the slugs were breeding in the first place! There's a sequence where a gardener slips on a pair of gloves with a slug hiding inside, and while I totally understand that he's in unimaginable pain, the guy resorts to chopping off his hand waaaaaaay faster than any reasonable person probably would. With as enormous as the slugs are anyway, wouldn't he have noticed after trying to put on the glove in the first place? Damned near every last one of these characters are as repulsive as the titular, carnivorous slugs. Director Juan Piquer Simón goes a little overboard blowing up anything and everything in twenty megaton explosions, and...wait, why is there an attempted rape by some frat boy in a skull mask leading up to the climax again? When you've captured a slug with a row of razor-sharp teeth, why don't you show it to the people who insist you're making this whole thing up? The more I watch Slugs, though, the more I'm fascinated by some of the bizarre bit players, like this dude in the restaurant with the moustache or the seventysomething-year-old EMT with a coffee filter on his head:
Geysers of blood. A head exploding after a dinner of romaine salad-a-la-slug. A hamster versus slug cage match. Barrel drums of splatter that still look phenomenal all these decades later. Slugs ranks up there as one of my all-time favorite Nature Gone Amok flicks. It's genuinely effective at what it sets out to achieve, and even though Slugs can be kinda ridiculous, that somehow heightens the film's strengths rather than overwhelm them. I shudder to guess how many times I've torn through Slugs since the early '90s, and it's only gotten better over time. It sure does look like I'm in a tiny, tiny minority for sincerely appreciating Slugs as a straightahead genre flick, but whether you feel the same way I do or if you're just in it to snicker at how absurd the whole thing is, this first-rate Blu-ray release from Arrow Video still comes Highly Recommended.
Who could've guessed that a movie called Slugs could be this achingly gorgeous? Largely shot in nicely lit interiors or under the light of day, the film's colors are beautifully saturated. Definition and detail are nearly always striking as well. As if you'd expect anything less from an Arrow Video release, this skillfully authored presentation boasts a very fine, filmic texture, with no trace of undue digital manipulation. Once the New World logo is out the way, the image is immaculate, with nary a nick nor a stray fleck of dust to be found for an hour and a half straight. Only two flaws leapt out at me. One of the first shots of everyone meeting up with John Foley looks a bit out of focus, not that there's anything this Blu-ray release can do about that. There's also an excessive shimmer and breaking up during a pan of the subterranean slugs around the 1:18:39 mark. My Anchor Bay DVD of Slugs from way back in 2000 is in storage, so I haven't had a chance to do a direct comparison and see if the story's the same in that older release. Regardless, it's such a thrill to see a lifelong favorite like Slugs look this phenomenal in high-def. As high as my expectations were going in, Arrow Video easily trumped 'em.
Slugs is lightly letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The film and its ample extras are spread across a dual-layer disc.
This uncompressed, 16-bit, monaural soundtrack presents Slugs exclusively in its original-ish English, and I just cannot get over how spectacularly clean and clear the audio is. As marvelously as the film's dialogue and sound effects are rendered -- even something as seemingly mundane as the footsteps of high schoolers darting out of class -- it's the wildly eclectic soundtrack that shines the most. I don't know how much of it was actually contributed by "The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra" or simply raided from a stock music library, but the cues are all over the place: the percussive opening salvo, the synth-drenched opening titles, game show horns, bouncy '80s-by-way-of-rockabilly girl-pop, jazzy big band, Italian-inflected accordions, '70s AM lite rock, something out of a Hawaiian luau, and syndicated cop shows from back in the day. All of that really only shares two things in common: whatever you're hearing hardly ever gels with the action on-screen, and the instrumentation is startlingly clear and distinct. For my money, Slugs is one of the absolute best sounding '80s genre flicks on Blu-ray.
Commentaries aside, the only other audio option is a set of English (SDH) subtitles.
Wes Benscoter's newly-commissioned cover art for Slugs looks so incredible that I can't imagine wanting to revert to the original artwork on the flipside, but the option's there if you want it. I do have a soft spot for the cover art on the old Anchor Bay DVD, wherever that originated, and that still's also used as the cover for the collectors' booklet. The liner notes by Michael Gingold are phenomenal, thanks in large part to comments from some of the other folks behind the scenes who aren't featured in the disc's extras. Special effects artist Roy Knyrim got his start on Slugs, and his description of Juan Piquer Simón's taste in clothing while directing is laugh-out-loud hysterical. We learn that some of the film's standout setpieces were pitched by the effects team, and there are also details on some of what didn't make it into the final cut -- including a colossal queen slug! There's a lot of territory here that isn't tread in any of the on-disc extras, so be sure to give this booklet a read.
The Final Word
You tell 'em, Officer Dobbs!
Slugs rocks. Highly Recommended.