Popcorn Fall

Popcorn Pictures

Reviewing the best (and worst) of horror, sci-fi and fantasy since 2000

  • Andrew Smith

Slithis (1978)

"Hell hath no fury like..."

Plot

When a series of gruesome murders take place in Venice, California, the police are convinced that it is the work of a death cult but local science teacher/freelance journalist Wayne Connors doesn’t share that theory and decides to investigate for himself. He discovers that slithis, some sort of radioactive mud caused by a nuclear reactor leak, has created a mutant sea monster.

 

Slithis seems to be about twenty years too late or a couple of years too early, finding neither a home in the late 50s sci-fi horror monster movies such as The Creature from the Black Lagoon or the 80s latex creature features such as Humanoids from the Deep (which this shares a lot of similarities with). A quick monster movie that was shot within two weeks, Slithis became something of a modest indie hit back in its day and had some innovative promotional work, reminiscent of William Castle’s work from the 50s with hits like House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler. Cinemas gave out free ‘Slithis Survival Kits’ to audiences and you could sign up to join a fan club set up purely for the film’s release. It’s little things like this that I love and appreciate which makes a film stand out more than it should. Sadly, Slithis doesn’t deserve any of this level of promotion as despite plenty of heart and good nature on display, it lacks one key ingredient – excitement.



Slithis is not an exciting or engaging film in any shape as there seems to be a real lack of energy and enthusiasm from both the actors and the script – everyone is just treading water, not acting like their careers depend on it. Slithis moves at a snail’s pace, without any tension, atmosphere or sense of direction, almost as if it is buying time between the opening credits and the finale because the writers didn’t know what to do with the monster having created it from the mud. Narratives are meant to become more engaging as a film progresses, building up to the climax which should be the high point but Slithis rarely gets off the ground for more than a few moments before it falls back down again. The problem is that the non-monster scenes are terrible and do a horrendous job of trying to keep the pace tight – it’s not a very interesting story seeing the teacher wander around aimlessly trying to piece together what is going on, almost as if there are two films running parallel until about two-thirds of the way through. Thankfully, the final third is decent enough with the main characters and the monster finally interacting with each other a lot more, heading towards a decent Jaws-style finale on board a fishing boat as a group of characters band together to try and catch and kill the slithis.


A lot of the problems with Slithis can be laid squarely at the door of the cast. The leading actor, Alan Blanchard, is about the least compelling star I’ve seen and its no surprise to see he only made two films, this being his last one. In a twist of fate no one who has seen Slithis would ever find shocking, most of the cast failed to find solid work both before and after this. Hy Pike, as the chief of police, is the film’s most bizarre inclusion – Pike chews the scenery up like I’ve never seen anyone do before, a cartoony performance of overacting which is difficult to put into words and totally out of context with the lifeless acting from everyone else. Surprisingly, Pike did find work after Slithis, managing to bag a small part in Blade Runner as well as lots of other low budget junk. It is difficult to root for any characters or even to wish one of them gets killed off (at least characters like that are getting audiences to emote for them in some way). As a result, the audience feels distance from the characters, never really caring if they’re in harm’s way or not.



You do really need to sit through a lot of rubbish in order to get to the good bits, of which Slithis does deliver. The monster is a man-in-a-suit and looks good/bad depending on your feelings towards that type of special effect. I think the suit looks great, but it is seen way too often (particularly during the second half of the film) and is far too illuminated whenever it does appear on screen. Whoever thought pointing the camera through the end of a clear bottle would make for an effective monster POV clearly never worked again. The film is surprisingly gory with the monster ripping at throats and stomachs to kill its victims, and there is a decent body count spread out. It’s just a shame you’ve got to sit through some dreary storytelling in between. As I’ve said, the finale on board the fishing boat harks back a bit to Jaws, as the crew and monster duel it out to the death. The unnecessarily frequent use of slow motion throughout the film is ramped up to crazy levels during the final battle.

 

Final Verdict

Slithis is tough going, even for die-hard monster movie veterans despite there being some decent stuff here if you have the patience to get to it and haven’t stared at your navel for too long in between. It’s not in the category of ‘so bad, it’s good’ though and there are far better examples of ‘killer humanoid monsters’ out there if you care to look.



 

Slithis


Also Known As: Spawn of the Slithis


Director(s): Stephen Traxler


Writer(s): Stephen Traxler


Actor(s): Alan Blanchard, Judy Motulsky, J.C. Claire, Dennis Falt, Mello Alexandria, Win Condict


Duration: 86 mins