Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Film Review: SLUGS THE MOVIE (1988, Juan Piquer Simón)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 92 minutes.
Tag-line: "No-one is safe!"
Notable Cast or Crew: Michael Garfield (a random 'Rogue' in THE WARRIORS, LAW & ORDER), Kim Terry (DYNASTY, RUSHMORE), Philip MacHale (THE GIRL, THE GOLD WATCH, & DYNAMITE), Alicia Moro (EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000), Santiago Álvarez (STAR KNIGHT with Harvey Keitel and Klaus Kinski), Concha Cuetos (OPEN SEASON, Simón's THE POD PEOPLE), John Battaglia (MUTANT MAN). Special effects by Carlo De Marchis (MONSTER DOG, TUAREG: THE DESERT WARRIOR, and several Cannon Movie Tales).
Best one-liner: [in response to the idea of killing all the slugs] "I'll tell you what, if I do, whaddya say we get naked and get crazy!"

I'm going to choose to believe that Juan Piquer Simón is a misunderstood genius, and not merely the Ed Wood of 1980's Spain. I mean he observed Leone on set of THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY- he must have learned something- and I think he did. I'll defend these statements in more detail shortly. Now, a few months ago, I did a writeup on one of Simón's trashterpieces, aptly named PIECES and tagged as "exactly what you think it is!- you don't have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!" I thought I'd already seen every maneuver in the bad movie playbook, but PIECES really took it to a new level. And sometimes that level had a great deal of artistry to it: the union of sound and image, with swirling piano and ludicrous, puzzle-piece visuals was truly something to behold- a bizarre mash-up of Spanish, Italian, and American sensibilities. Sure, it involved a chainsaw wielding madman in a Joe D'Amato-penned mess which was kind of an embarrassment to slasher and giallo traditions alike, but you could tell there was a real passion behind it. A passión, if you will. And there's a great passión to SLUGS THE MOVIE, too.
SLUGS is one of the most misanthropic films of all time. Lars Trier has nothing on SLUGS. It's not even mean-spirited. It just happens to show humanity at its most unappealing. It's populated with selfish drunks, puppy-kicking vagrants, snotty teen girls, underaged n' thick-necked rapists, stick-up-the-ass bureaucrats, sinister law enforcement, whiny n' concerned tax-payers, opportunistic politicians, corporate interests, nagging wives, and brain-dead husbands.
Some would say that the slugs who attack them are a faceless smudges of slime and viscera, but I think that the slugs may actually be the heroes of the piece. I mean, they were kinda content to eat garbage on some dude's basement floor until the endless squawking and henpecking from above revealed that there was viable prey to be had on the streets . Say what you will about the slugs- sure, they'll get into your salad and make your head explode with blood and maggots (?), but they will never nag you to do more chores or kick a puppy or complain that you're not refilling their wine glass with enough Heineken (!!).

They don't respond well to 80's lightning, either.

But let's begin at the beginning. The opening sequence of SLUGS really says it all. It's the horror film reduced to the least common denominator– the history of horror films in one minute and forty seconds. It's stilted, minimalist, and nearly avant-garde. It's something slimy down there and you don't like it.

The set-up. The girl disrobing. The teenaged banter. The backstory ("we passed a sewer outlet back there"). The scare. The kill. The main title. It's all there. It's almost like Simón is parodying the genre, but in a way that's so deliciously incompetent (but sincere) that it results in a truly singular experience.

The plot revolves around the eponymous slugs laying siege to a small town via their sewer system. It's an ensemble cast, dealing with the slugs simultaneously, and sometimes the different plot lines intertwine. It's like a Robert Altman film- like SHORT CUTS. Yeah, it's like SHORT CUTS. Our main thread revolves around Mike Brady, a local health inspector who's kinda the poor man's Steve Guttenberg, and his single-minded quest to reveal the true threat that the slugs pose. By the way, what a great name for a character. Mike Brady.
It's almost like Simón lives in a universe where THE BRADY BUNCH doesn't exist (which is a very real possibility). Anyway, everyone's saying things like "Snails? Slugs? What the hell's the difference?!" but the bodies- and the accompanying slime trails- are piling up. Even in the midst of sightings like these:
it's still getting blamed on "raccoons driven out of the hills by the cold." The word "goddamit" is getting a lot of play, too, usually from the harshly dubbed lips of local law enforcement.

An old man sticks his hand inside his work glove, which happens to be full of slugs.
Without knowing anything about the slug epidemic, his first reaction is to immediately chop off his hand with an axe, because that's what any one of us would do if we felt something sharp and slimy inside our work glove. His writhing ultimately causes a spectacular explosion which wipes him, his home, his greenhouse, and his nagging, jazz-loving wife off the face of the planet, as seen below. Then Mike Brady receives word of the terrible accident from his wife.

"Ohhh, Jesus! They were nice people! I mean, I liked them a LOT! ... ... –So what are you doing out here, anyway?"

Now is probably a good time to get into the writing and the acting. It's not bad. It's far from bad. In fact, there's a certain perfection to it. Filmmakers couldn't duplicate this magic if they tried, and oh yes, they have tried. The lines are ridiculous, sure, and they either reveal an ignorance of basic human interaction that borders on the sociopathic, or they're satire of the highest order. I'm still not sure which.
And doesn't this kind of look like the evil Slimey?

"JEEEESUS CHRIST, THOSE THINGS ARE BIG!!!" As I said, I'm starting to think that this is carefully considered satire, dancing on the razor's edge of our incredulity. "I'll shove my boot so far up your butt, you'll need a tow truck to get it out!"

A salad makes a man's head explode (with maggots).
"Maybe it was the anchovies I put in the salad."

Mike Brady firmly strides past bureaucrat's secretary. "Yeah, watch me!," he exclaims. "You can't go in there!," she retorts. Their lines have been reversed and no one noticed? Nobody could have missed that in the cutting room... right??? Once past the secretary, he demands- "Declare a health emergency! I'll take full responsibility!" To which the dunderheaded office jockey snarls–

It's all coming together. Simón's master plan. Not only a treatise on whether or not humanity is fundamentally callous, but whether or not we the audience can be persuaded to view a series of gruesome killings while feeling the same empathy we'd feel for, say, the felling of a row of dominoes. Let's do a case study on empathy in SLUGS THE MOVIE for a moment, shall we? Let's look at this guy:

It's no great stretch to say that this man is something of a toolbar. He's that twenty-something townie who openly schlerps his rich n' bitchy high school girlfriend in the parking lot after school. But later, when an army of slugs catch them in flagrante delicto, and she's rolling around in buckets of blood and flailing on the floor in the midst of a scene that'd make your hair crawl and your skin stand on end,

our chowder-headed boy-friend remains safe, atop the bed. He cries out in vain, knowing there is nothing he can do to save her from a fate worse than death (because here the maggots spew out of you while you're still alive!). He makes a mad leap for the windowsill. We should be with him 100%. Who cares what kind of a douchebomb he is, we have to identify with him at a moment like this, right? ....Right? So he jumps for the window with both hands....

...and, junk hangin' out and everything, does a naked belly flop into the jaws of a thousand mutant slugs. This could be the realization of Heinz Kohut's worst nightmare: the death of empathy, and the final victory of narcissism. Because, at best, we're crossing our legs here and feeling pretty good that our junk is not being devoured by said slugs; and at worst, we're laughing our asses off. It's not the slugs that have brought out the worst in us, we have brought out the worst in the slugs. Print that in the paper. I mean look at this clip- during a shadowy, corporate backroom deal, a woman comes to grips with the horrible slug-head-maggots explosion she saw earlier. And the 'principled' mayor shuts her right the fuck down.

"Uhhhh...can I freshen your drinks?"

But Simón continues to taunt us, continues to force us to reveal our own jaundiced hand. Let's look at the character of Don- Mike Brady's best friend, and possibly the only decent human being in the film. We meet Don along with his wife.

Now, maybe your first thought wasn't wow, she's a little old, right?....but yes, it was. And I don't even mean to say that. The thought just sort of popped into my head- not in a judgmental way, merely as an observation. But later, when they make out (not pictured) and Don says, if we get out of this alive and I destroy the slugs, "...Whaddya say we get naked and get crazy!" You have no choice but to wince a little bit. And as you do it, you realize what a deplorable human being you are. SLUGS THE MOVIE invades your subconscious, conjures up unscrupulous, judgmental thoughts, and then leaves you there to stew in them. To simmer and writhe in your own bullshit. Now THAT is truly a misanthropic motion picture achievement, and it is one that I applaud. Four and a half stars.

-Sean Gill


Anonymous said...

the naked woman the slugs devour alive in the bedroom had a tight body, and nice buns

Nate said...

Oh man, this review is in fact the best review I've read of this movie. As far as I can tell from the internet, you are the only one to get it right. (This should not go on a business card/calling card.)

Sean Gill said...


Glad you enjoyed my take on SLUGS, and thanks for stopping by!

But I must disagree with your final point– I think this is entirely the kind of commendation which should be proudly be emblazoned upon one's business cards. I shall update mine immediately.