‘Slugs’ (1988) Review

“You mean to tell me you want to take a substance that explodes on contact with water into the sewer?”

“It’s our only chance.”

Rounding out my informal creature feature month with one of those films that I’ve struggled with. While I love a ton of bad films – I tend to offer up Shock Waves, but C.H.U.D. is also right there  – there are just some that I’ve bounced off of, for some reason. Slugs happens to be one of those movies. I’ve seen it twice before and, to be honest, I didn’t enjoy it either time. Not to say there weren’t some fun moments, and some decent gore, but it grated on me. So I approached watching it again with trepidation. That I did it at all is almost entirely because of regular commentator, KaijuHunter89, who insisted that Slugs was way more fun than Squirm, which is another terrible movie, but one I enjoy immensely.

I often think of that concept from Stephen King’s Danse Macabre – that we each have filters in our minds and that what catches in one person’s doesn’t in another. He talks about viewing a pond and how he’d think of a monster slouching out of the weeds to menace the local town, but that Louis L’Amour might think of water rights in the dry season. So I try not to judge folks for liking films I don’t, and vice versa. Our filters are unique to us.

Still judging you if you liked Battlefield Earth, though.

One other minor note: I read the novel (by prolific British horror/crime writer Shaun Hutson) that Slugs is based on when I was a teen. Yeah, there was a novel. I remember enjoying it quite a bit, and honestly that too may have informed my experience with the movie. I’m sure it was ridiculous 80’s horror novel stuff – the kind of book that would show up (and may have) in Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell – but I liked it, and I think the movie really didn’t live up to what I hoped for.

The Medium
Slugs is currently streaming free (with ads) on both Hoopla and Tubi. It’s also available for rent or purchase at the usual online vendors. It looked fairly good, certainly a lot better than the last time I saw it, which was probably on VHS.

There is an Arrow Films Blu-ray release from 2016, which includes a couple of commentary tracks and interviews.

The Movie
Slugs follows your typical ‘nature’s revenge’ monster movie formula, with a menace created by mankind’s shortsightedness (a toxic waste dump in this case), one man who figures out the danger but can’t get the authorities to listen to him, various deaths by the creature, a scientist ally who figures out the monsters weakness, and it all culminates in an explosive ending. This could be describing Alligator, Piranha or even Jaws, but whereas those films have some talent behind them, Slugs does not.

Now I’m going to bad-mouth the shit out of this movie, but I’m going to get this out of the way early – I kinda liked it this time around. And the thing that flipped me? Discovering that the movie was a co-Spanish production, and that part of what I always found excruciating – the acting and dubbing – was a result of a mingled cast and crew. I don’t know WHY it made a difference, but it did.

That doesn’t mean that Slugs is a good movie.

For one thing, the monster is slugs – slugs for crying out loud. The worms in Squirm at least have teeth. Even the bunnies of Night of the Lepus were more menacing. Well, okay, maybe not menacing. And I guess slugs are gross, especially big ones – but these are only slightly larger than normal. Most of the time they’re shown squirming all over each other, not really menacing anyone. There’s one scene where a muppet slug tries to take a bite out of a guy, but there’s a reason it’s only shown once – it’s laugh-out-loud funny. It’s SO over the top funny that I wish they’d embraced that muppet as the default, and just had toothed slugs attacking everyone. The rest of the time it looks like they glued pieces of black rubber to people and doused them in fake blood and Vaseline.

Some of the gore effects are decent though, with slime-and-worm filled eye sockets and half-eaten corpses. There are even a couple of burst abdomens, if you’re into that sort of thing. The really good gore, as in a scene at a restaurant where a man’s head bursts with worms, is counterbalanced by scenes like an older man trying to hack his hand off (there’s a slug stuck in his glove and he can’t get it off because… reasons). It looks like he’s chopping at a bag full of red cheese.

I’ve always derided the acting in Slugs, and to be clear it’s still bad. There’s one actor who puts the weirdest. Pauses into. His. Lines. The guy who plays the Sheriff (John Battaglia) knows he’s supposed to be angry, so he’s angry at everything all the time, whether it’s appropriate or not. The main character Mike Brady (played by Michael Garfield, and yes, the characters name is really Mike Brady) gets angry at the weirdest things as well. Maybe he thinks he’s being intense, but it made me sympathetic to all the characters that told him to go to hell. The dubbing is probably responsible for most of the problems – though not all – because it’s atrocious. Not quite as bad a Bob in House by the Cemetery, but it’s up there.

I wish I’d first seen this film with a bunch of friends, because – despite my earlier dislike – this film is solidly in so-bad-its-good territory. I mean it’s got a slug glued to a hamster. It’s got a house that explodes because someone knocked over a tiny container of gas in the greenhouse. The good girl escapes her would-be-rapist only to fall into a container filled with slugs. A slug is chopped up into a salad (a gross-out that is better than the egg cream in Squirm, but not as gross as the spider-in-a-blender scene in The Giant Spider Invasion). A sex scene is followed by a slug attack sequence (wow, that’s a thing to write) that’s mostly a naked actress writhing in ketchup on a bunch of black trashbags. It’s so bad (despite, again, some decent gore) that the male half of the couple can’t even be bothered to escape – he makes a half-assed attempt to get out a window only to give up and fall out of screen. Like he was just too tired to save himself.

And the music! My god. The credits say the soundtrack was performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, but I can’t even imagine that. There’s no consistency or themes or sense in the music for each scene. It might be appropriate to the events, it might be wildly inappropriate. It all sounds vaguely familiar as well, like it was appropriated from other, better movies or TV shows. I swear I thought I heard Hill Street Blues and Psycho in there, somewhere.

The Bottom Line
Okay, I’ve changed my mind. I liked Slugs this time around. It’s still bad, I mean incredibly bad, but it’s also a weirdly enjoyable mess, with lots of gore and so much random stupid stuff happening that even if something doesn’t strike you at the moment, just wait – soon someone will be dragged beneath the surface of the water by slugs, or there will be burst of blood and gore or the main character will apologize for once again shouting at his secretary.

Author: Bob Cram

Would like to be mysterious but is instead, at best, slightly ambiguous.