Slugs (1988)

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The toxic history of a small, rural town comes back to literally bite the current inhabitants when a swarm of large, black slugs mutate due to an improperly secured toxic waste site and develope a ravenous craving for human flesh. Several people die before anyone realizes what’s going on, but all of the city officials in any position to stop it don’t believe the deaths could be related to slugs (and in all honesty, who could blame them?)

With little help from city officials, it falls to the local health inspector, the head of the sanitation department and a high-school science teacher to stop the eminent (though slowly moving) threat.

Slugs_2Why ‘The Movie’ subhead? Did they think people were going to get confused and think this was the book?

Slugs is an American/Spanish produced horror movie based on a 1982 novel of the same name by British novelist Shaun Hutson. I feel a little bad for Shaun Hutson. It’s clear from the way the plot plays out that the story was trying to capitalize on the success of Jaws, but by the time it came out all the more menacing creatures of nature had already been used. Birds? Done. Sharks? Done. Bears? Done poorly, but done. Pigs and dogs? Also been done. Bats, spiders, snakes and other large reptiles? Yup, already done. Hell, even The Nest beat him to the creepy critter punch. I suppose he could have beaten out Critton in the dino game, but he must not have been a paleontology fan, because the most terrifying thing he could come up with was slugs, literally one of the slowest creatures on the whole planet. 

I gotta give the film credit, though. It tried it’s darndest to make the slimy little buggers scary. But even after going to the trouble of adding larger teeth and a paralyzing agent, I just don’t think most people are going to find them scary unless they were already squigged out by them beforehand.

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Nope. Sorry. Even with those teeth I’m still not buying you as ‘scary.’ One boot stomp and you’re over.

Besides the unterifying terrors, the film has a couple other very noticeable drawbacks. For starters, it has several very strange music cues. And I’m not talking about cues that just don’t feel right. I mean, some of these choices were just head scratching. For instance, at one point the health inspector and sheriff are headed to a house to evict the owner and all of a sudden a triumphant little diddy started playing as they pulled up to the house. Like, okay, what is that supposed to tell me, movie? Are they that happy about this eviction? What the hell? And that particular odd musical accompaniment isn’t an isolated incident. Several strange music cues pop up over random scenes throughout the film. It’s quite bizarre and winds up being very jarring in some cases.

Slugs_4It’s like it’s the highlight of his day.

The other noticeable ding against the film is the acting. The film was made as a joint American and Spanish production. Thusly, it utilizes both American and Spanish actors. However the film is set in America, in an area that looks to be the Midwest and not the South. So I guess that meant they didn’t want anyone to have a Spanish accent (there is one French speaker, however.) To combat this, half the cast is dubbed… poorly. Oh, they’re still obviously speaking English, or at least mouthing the words, but whoever was in charge of dubbing clearly didn’t care about staying ‘in tone’ with the characters or scene. They seemed to be concerned primarily about matching the lip movements and little else. Most of the performances are serviceable, but some of them are noticeably flat or, in the case of the water inspector, they’re actually giving off too much emotion while the actors face is almost impassive.

Slugs_5I know he just looks confused, but he’s actually yelling in this scene.

This isn’t to say that the American actors are really any better. Granted, the dialogue everyone had to work with feels horribly stiff and unpolished, and I’m sure it would have felt that way no matter what language they were speaking, but the performance of Michael Garfield, who plays the film’s hero Mike Brady, is almost as flat as the slugs themselves. After being told that parasites effectively made his friend’s head explode he barely registers any emotion. He looks about as upset as if you’d told him his dinner was going to be 5 minutes late, and he carries that same affect through the entire film. Some actors were clearly having more fun (the sheriff, the geeky science teacher…), but it’s hard to stay too engaged when most everyone else comes across as disinterested. 

Slugs_6Come on Garfield, your friend just died. Give us something a little more than ‘bummer.’ 

But those setbacks don’t mean that Slugs has no entertainment value. Yeah, the plot, dialogue and lack of character engagement make the whole thing feel campier than I’m sure they intended. But what it lacks in story it makes up for in the effects department. This is the type of movie that gore hounds will really appreciate. Animals are devoured, limbs are severed, people are eaten alive, heads explode….it’s a veritable smorgasbord of death, and most of it is surrounded by countless real-life, honest to god, black slugs that slowly crawl around the set. There’s also several very effective miniature models used during the final moments. It’s all quite impressive, and one wishes they’d spent just a fraction of the same time on the story that they did with all the blood and senue.

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And hey, even though the plot isn’t great, some of the more outlandish elements end up being so ridiculously ludicrous that they’re just hysterical. A pair of teens were so busy having (boring) sex that they didn’t notice the thousand+ slugs swarm into the bedroom. When they do notice they panic, fall into the slimy pile and…just sort of lay there and get devoured. A guy working in his greenhouse has a slug crawl into his glove and bite him and because he can’t get the glove off quick enough he decides the best course of action is to cut his hand off. Also in his haste to get the slug out he causes a fire. And said fire spreads to an open can of gasoline (why was it there? Who knows?) Boom. The final solution the health inspector and science teacher come up with to rid the town of the slug scurge is to drop a chemical down into the sewer that’s highly combustible when it interacts with water. Oh wait, did I say final solution? I mean that was the first solution they came up with and they just decided to go with it. Considering the massive explosion they caused, an alternate title to the film could have been “How a Health Inspector and Science Teacher Decemated a Town.”

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Slugs_12Yes, congrats, gentleman. You saved the town from the slugs. Excellent work.

So is Slugs any good? While I wouldn’t necessarily call it good, I do think it ends up being a fun time. The terrible dialogue and dub-job is pretty hard to ignore, and the plot is little more than Jaws, but with an antagonist that could have probably been more easily dealt with by dumping a generous helping of table salt into the sewers. The whole thing feels campy and much of it feels patched together, but the addition of real-life slugs and the excellent use of practical effects elevate it to more than just ‘bad b-movie.’ I don’t know if it quite makes it into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category, but horror fans will likely find it entertaining either way.

Slugs is available for streaming on Amazon Prime. 

It is also available on DVD and Bluray.

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Michi

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