Regardless of one’s feelings for slugs (personally, I find them squicky), the joint Spanish/American production of Slugs (the movie) (1988) is highly entertaining and disgusting (in a good way). Writer/director Juan Piquer SimÃ³n (director of the 1982 gore classic Pieces), along with his co-writers JosÃ© A. EscrivÃ¡ and Ron Gantman, adapt Shaun Hutson’s 1982 novel of the same name to produce a near-classic gross-out B-movie. Mutant, carnivorous slugs start killing the residents of a small town. Since the sheriff and the city officials refuse to believe that slugs are responsible, it is up to a heroic health inspector, his buddy in the sanitation department, and the local high school science teacher to come up with a way to combat these mucus covered terrors. With a mixed language cast and crew, the dialogue and its delivery can be stilted, but that gives it an unintentional fun and campy feel. The plot itself can also be a bit illogical at times (it is a film about killer, carnivorous snails, after all), but, in the end, what really matters is the grue and the special effects, which are suitably revolting. If you are looking for a campy and goopy (or I guess I should say “slimey”) fun time, Slugs should fit the bill.
When small town health inspector Mike Brady (Michael Garfield) (yes, the character is named “Mike Brady“), accompanies Sheriff Reese (John Battaglia) to the home of town drunk Ron Bell (Stan Schwartz) to serve eviction papers, they find his slime-covered and mostly devoured corpse instead. Further mysterious deaths start occurring around town, often with tell-tale slime trails covering the scene. When Mike is bitten by a large black slug in his garden, he and his wife Kim (Kim Terry), a high school English teacher, take a couple of the slugs to the school’s science teacher John Foley (Santiago Alvarez) for study. While John is examining one slug, the other escapes and eats a guinea pig in the lab, confirming their unusually carnivorous nature. When Mike’s friend David Watson (Emilio Linder) unknowingly ingests some slugs in a salad, he gets infected with slug blood fluke and dies when they explode out his eyes at dinner. In spite of all of the deaths, Sheriff Reese and the other city leaders do not believe Mike when he tells them that slugs are responsible. Aside from his wife and John Foley, the only other person to believe Mike is the head of the sanitation department Don Palmer (soap opera star and Hardee’s spokesman Philip MacHale). Can they discover a way to stop this mucusy menace before more innocent townsfolk die horrible deaths?
The dialogue in Slugs is far from stellar. On the whole, it has a very clunky quality, feeling as if the script was only given a quick translation from Spanish to English with no attempt to polish the lines. The English dubbing of the Spanish actors is serviceable, but the voice actors are more concerned with matching the actors’ lip movements than with delivering the lines effectively. It is not simply an issue with ineffective dubbing, though, as some of the American actors have stilted deliveries, as well. Michael Garfield gives a particularly stiff performance as the presumed hero Mike Brady. When he is informed that his close friend just died by having blood flukes explode out of his eyeballs, Mike barely registers any emotion at all. It is hard for the audience to feel any connection to him, as he presents such a flat affect. That said, there are some fun lines scattered throughout. John Battaglia is given some choice bits in his role as Sheriff Reese, and he seems to revel in them. When Mike informs him of the slug attacks, Reese responses, “What’ll it be next, demented crickets? Rampaging mosquitos, maybe?” The rough translations, odd dubbing, and stiff line deliveries add to the overall camp feel of the film.
Slugs, like all gastropods, have fairly simple brains, consisting primarily of just three pairs of ganglia. This may explain why “logic” is a foreign concept to Slugs (the movie). Sure, there are plenty of horror movies where a slow antagonist somehow manages to ensnare more fleet footed victims, but at least it takes a bit more than a salt shaker or a pie plate full of beer to kill Jason. How the slimy gastropods in this film manage to take out as many people as they do is a bit of a mystery. Granted, even though these are normal sized slugs, they are quite strong, tearing a shovel out of a grown man’s hand and able to drag bodies away at a good clip. These issue can be explained away by simply saying, “Hey, they are mutant slugs,” but, no amount of cinematic hand-waving can cover other logical inconsistencies (or at least wild improbabilities) in the plot. For example, the high school science teacher appears to always be at work, no matter the time, and his classroom is a fully stocked lab that allows him to mix up a 50 gallon drum full of an explosive lithium compound in just one afternoon. The group’s plan to eradicate the slugs is equally ludicrous, depending, as it does, on using a small garbage bag of meat to lure every slug in the area to a central location in the sewers before blowing them up.
Now let us be honest: One does not watch a movie called Slugs for its witty dialogue, fine acting, and intricate-but-logical plot. No, one comes to a film such as this to see lots of slimy, flesh eating slugs do what they do best – devour unsuspecting townspeople in as spectacular a fashion as possible. Director Juan Piquer SimÃ³n and his special effects team, headed by Basilio Cortijo and Carlo De Marchis, deliver in spades. Not content to just use rubber slugs, the team fills the screen with thousands of real, live, and quite large black slugs. If the shear volume of slugs is not enough to churn one’s stomach, the damage that they do to their victims is sure to satisfy gorehounds. Not only do the filmmakers show already devoured corpses, but often they show their victims being eaten alive as eyeballs dangle from sockets and flesh peels away. In one particularly effective scene, “blood flukes” (in reality, live elvers, aka juvenile eels) burst forth from the head of an unfortunate victim. While the level of grue does dip a little bit during the third act, even the non-gore effects are exceedingly well-done. The scene where a snail bites Mike’s finger is accomplished using a snail puppet and an oversized fake finger and is quite effective (though still somewhat silly). The miniature work used for some the explosions is top notch; it is hard to get fire to look real on miniatures, but the effects team pulls it off here. It is no wonder that the film won a Goya Award (the Spanish equivalent of the Oscar) for Special Effects.
Slugs is a fun and grue-filled good time. The awkward dialogue and oddly dubbed voice work give the film an unintentionally campy feel, and the plot is there primarily as a slug and gore delivery device. The special makeup effects are suitably gruesome, though they do drop off a little in the third act, when focus shifts to explosions over gore. While it will never be mistaken for a “good” film, gorehounds and B-movie buffs will enjoy the goopy, slimy, disgusting treat that is Slugs.
Slugs (3.5 / 5)