Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Alan Blanchard, Dennis Lee Fault, Judy Motulsky, J.C. Claire, Mello Alexandria, Hy Pyke, Win Condict
Written and directed by Stephen Traxler
Distributed by Code Red
My first encounter with Slithis came as a wee lad in the mid-Eighties when CBS briefly spent a few late weeknights running leftover Seventies horror programming such as The Bermuda Depths, reruns of “Kolchak the Night Stalker”, and a little 1978 creature feature called Spawn of the Slithis (that alternate title also appears on this newly restored print). Slithis creeped me out as a little kid. Why exactly, I can’t say – it just did.
Stephen Traxler may have made Slithis in the late Seventies, but it’s obvious his heart belonged to the Fifties. In very much the same vein of Creature from the Black Lagoon and Monster of Piedras Blancas, Slithis is all about giving us old fashioned man-in-a-rubber-monster-suit gillman mayhem, and that monster suit is a pretty good one, too. Traxler wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel; his creature feature is a cliche-o-rama of atomic age monster movies updated with late 1970’s sensibilities. That’s probably one of the main reasons I’ve always had a soft spot for Slithis.
Spawned from the radioactive mud from which it earns its distinctive moniker, the Slithis stalks the canals along the coast of Venice, California. At first mutilating animals, it soon moves up the food chain, feasting on old folks, winos, gigolos that look like Burt Reynolds, and anyone else unfortunate enough to encounter it near the waterways. A dedicated high school journalism teacher senses there is more to the story than mere cult murders as the cops are claiming. He dons his finest “Carl Kolchak” hat and pounds the pavement to begin his own personal investigation that unearths the awful truth about the monstrous Slithis. With the assistance of a scientist friend and a Jamaican fisherman, the stage is set for the Jaws-inspired climactic confrontation with the sea monster aboard a rickety old fishing boat in the harbor.
It has been a good long time since I last took in a showing of Slithis. Code Red has done a commendable job painstakingly remastering the film from the long thought to have been lost negatives to give us this brand new 16×9 print for its DVD debut. Probably the cleanest copy of the film there’s been since it played in theaters back in ’78. A few artifacts turn up in the print here and there, and the audio sounds a tad tinny at times; still, it’s an enormous improvement over the murky VHS copy released in the Eighties.
To view Slithis again is to remember that night I stayed up late to first watch it and now laugh to myself that this monster movie ever creeped me out. Though that soft spot still remains, unfortunately, reality sometimes interferes with such soft spots, and the reality that I had forgotten in this instance is how damn boring most of the movie’s first hour is. Incredibly long stretches of tedious dialogue delivered woodenly comprise the first two thirds. It’s not until the third act that Slithis fully springs to life. I had forgotten just how dull it was to watch the lead walk around and look at things and interview random hobos or talk scientific mumbo jumbo while we all wait for the monster to emerge from the muck to again make that hilarious slurping noise it does when eating people.
If there is one reason and one reason only why every living person should watch Slithis at least once in their life, it has to be to witness the scene with the chief of police that takes overacting to dizzying new heights. An actor named Hy Pyke (best known as the Mayor from Dolemite) who already physically looked more appropriate to the role of mad scientist’s assistant, to hear him over enunciate every line of dialogue while making wildly exaggerated facials, you’d think he believed he were playing a cartoon pirate and not a police chief. The cutaway reaction shots to star Alan Blanchard convey a sense of “Are you freaking kidding me?” that even he could barely hide while acting opposite Pyke. In terms of hammy acting, this guy in this scene was Hogzilla.
As much as I commend Code Red for releasing a restored print of Slithis, I also can’t help but feel a bit disappointed with the lack of extras. A scratchy theatrical trailer is the only Slithis related extra on the disc. A half-dozen Code Red trailers for films like Horror High and The Black Klansman round out the disc. No commentary track or interviews with anyone involved to add some behind-the-scenes perspective. Not even anything about the “Slithis Survival Kit” given out to filmgoers by the theaters that ran the movie upon initial release. Just the fact that the survival kits are mentioned at the end of the included trailer should have warranted some sort of follow-up.
2 out of 5
1/2 out of 5
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