The Slithis is a strange creature, indeed; borne of unchecked seepage from a Venice Beach nuclear power plant and the inbred hillbilly cousin of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, he emerges from a drainage canal early in the A.M. to feast on local denizens. But the charming humanoid monstrosity, who is the most sympathetic character in sight, never fully comes into focus until the third act of Spawn of the Slithis. The masticated dog corpse, discovered by a pair of tykes playing a hilarious game ultra-slow-motion frisbee catch, is but an appetizer for the beast’s man course of derilict homo sapiens. This is a film that is perfectly content to plant its tranquilized ass on the couch and sloooooowly tell the tale of Wayne Connors, a high school journalism teacher, and his profound disillusionment with the current generation of students, who produce the “worst high school newspaper in the nation” under his ever more jaded aegis. Yes, it’s a sad state of affairs for the Baby Boomers reared during the ultra-conservative Eisenhower Era, who have their optimism dashed against the rocks time and time again by the hippie generation. “Teaching’s beginning to be a big turn-off,” he laments to his wife, who is a woman named Jeff, as they leave his sorry campus for their humble Love Shack and a night full of red wine and Quaaludes.
Sporadic Slithis attacks give Wayne a grim new lease on life, giving him the opportunity to use his Los Angeles press card and finagle his way into a string of murder investigations(!?). Since the LA County Coroner must have been stoned on elephant tranquilizers, the Overacting Police Chief declares that the Slithis meals are merely the work of a Mansonian “Satanic Death Cult”. If you’re willing to accept that plot contrivance, you may be functionally retarded. For those who aren’t suffering from severe cognitive impairment, there happens to be a bottled solution that comes in many flavors to suit your particular pleasure. All the actors seem to be drunk or stoned or flying eight miles high, and what’s more, director Steven Traxler’s skewed vision of LA is populated mostly by drunken transients who specifically drink economy-priced red wine. You should probably do the same.
There is an “investigation” carried out by Wayne the high school newspaper editor, wherein he illegally lifts evidence from multiple crime scenes, conveniently left open and unguarded for anyone to walk in, and sends them to his pal “Doctor John” for analysis. Since none of the characters seem to have any sort of background or history, it’s unclear whether the hippie-bearded Doc is a high school science teacher, or just some rogue biologist who spends his free time getting stoned and poring over conspiracy theories.
After a brief period of befuddlement, mandated by the script, the good doctor shows up at Wayne and Jeff’s house one night, unannounced and most likely blitzed out of his hairy gourd, and begins an incredibly insane tale of nuclear waste, stagnant marshes, and radioactive dirt. The Man is trying to play God with his unstable nuclear power plants, nature is becoming polluted, Mother Earth is bleeding, blah blah blah… but then John builds to a kicker:
“It’s one of the most important discoveries in scientific history, and they called this radioactive silt…”
How and why Doctor John decided to bombard us with this info overload is a question best left unanswered. What’s more important is the actor’s hilarious, intoxicated delivery of the exposition, and the fact that said info-dump serves no purpose in Wayne’s investigation whatsoever. Sure, it sets up an unexplained scene where Wayne and Jeff go to the igloo-shaped house of a former nuclear scientist, but what comes out of that is just more crap about how Man Shouldn’t Play God. Oh, and a hilarious close-up of the scientist’s “radiation-scarred” visage.
Put as simply as possible, Spawn of the Slithis is about a monster mutated by radioactive silt that comes out at night to feast on society’s undesirables. When it finally decides to become a poor ripoff of Jaws, complete with a hardscrabble crew scraped together and placed on a lonely wooden boat, the narrative is already lying dead in the water and stinking like carp left out in the sun. The film would barely qualify for feature-length if the editing was tighter, and Traxler’s infatuation with his high-speed slow motion camera slows things down even more. There’s one fact that makes it stand out in the overcrowded pool of horrible monster movies, and that’s the basic level of competence behind the scenes, coupled with an earnest desire to make a significant work of art. While there’s no doubt that it fails to achieve any sort of depth, the attempt at subtext is as fascinating as a slow motion train derailment.
Feasting on drunken hobos by night, swimming in irradiated ocean water by day, the Slithis leads a lonesome yet unpretentious lifestyle. His choice of victims leaves plenty up to interpretation: from slum inhabitants to transients to the sexually uninhibited swingers of the Me Generation. The attack scenes are surprisingly gruesome and drawn out, complete with a subjective Slithis-Cam for terrifying split-diopter POV shots. Yet there is a gaping hole in the middle of the story: the monster drops out of sight for a half-hour lacuna while Wayne wanders the city interrogating homeless drunks and charters a boat from a black man named Christopher Columbus, who uses the word “mother” as an all-purpose noun and is obsessed with handshake etiquette. His hobo interrogations lead to a dead end, but Columbus is all too happy to aid Wayne in his thrilling quest to gather specimens from the ocean floor for thorough radiation analysis. There is little to do but bide our time by drinking or otherwise putting yourself in the same mindset as the cast and crew, waiting for the real protagonist to crawl out of the ocean once more.
Once our hero makes his triumphant return, it’s a real doozy. First, a disorienting jump cut puts us in the middle of a bizarre nightclub where patrons make drunken bets on turtle races as an MC provides moronic running commentary. It is in this hideous milieu where libidinous swinger Doug sets sights on virginal vacationer Jennifer, who is 18 but “could pass for 20″. Spirited away by this mustachioed Lothario in his blue Volkswagen Beetle, she all too easily surrenders her humble life story: a lifelong resident of backwoods Suska, North Dakota, Jennifer was just waiting for the day when she would be old enough to jump ship and immerse herself in the bright lights, spinning disco balls, Free Love and free-flowing cocaine of the Big City. And along came her knight in bell-bottoms and leisure suit and dress shirt unbuttoned down to his navel.
Once aboard Doug’s houseboat, the Casanova of Venice Beach lights a couple of candles flanking a B&W framed picture of himself and doles out the obligatory red wine. For the sake of your sanity, please follow suit. As Doug reaches behind the love seat for a switch, our minds are left racing. What hideous contraption could he possibly have hidden in this den of horrors? Lamely, it’s just a power switch for some red lights to provide the “romantic ambience” of a nuclear meltdown. Poor, poor naive little Jennifer thinks she’s reeled in a catch. The awkward, PG rated foreplay commences.
But what’s that? A knocking on the door? Surely it’s just Rex, the friendly neighborhood peeping tom, doing his daily run on Doug’s well-stocked liquor cabinet? Surely nothing could be more important than stealing third base before diving headfirst into the home plate? And yet, and yet… there always remains the possibility of a former hook-up coming to call, and after all, what could be sweeter than parlaying this successful pickup into a threesome? Hoping against hope, Doug ascends the stairs, with Traxler fetishizing his every move with Hitchcockian intensity, then crosses the cabin while bathed in sanguine light, then slicks back his hair, then sloooowly moving for the doorknob, and then
A familiar scaly hand pulls Doug from his haven of moral iniquity and into the harsh realities of life. There is much rejoicing, much spilling of stage blood, and much red-tinted Slithis action. The beast is back, and hungrier than ever! Would it be redundant to highlight, again, how satisfying this sequence becomes?
What ho? The sounds of a lass crying for her dear departed beau, in spite of all the inhuman groaning, bone snapping and flesh rending! What could be sweeter than a virginal North Dakotan for dessert? And yet… we have come to know this couple better than some of us know ourselves, shared their hopes and dreams and lusts and perversions. Paradoxically, we share the beast’s bloodlust and we want to see Jennifer obey Doug’s softly cooed command to “get naked”, which prove to be his last words uttered as a sentient being. Were it not for Jennifer’s promiscuity, she would not even be in this debacle, and were it not for her naivete in crying for a dead lover, the Slithis would not mosey on board Doug’s Love Boat for his second helping.
This is easily the most drawn out monster attack in the film, a tour de force of conflicting moralities, tragically wasted youth, nature’s inhumanity to man, and copious red lighting. As we’re immersed in the color of sin, Traxler further implicates the audience with multiple cuts to the split-diopter Slithis-Cam, lingering on Jennifer’s mortal terror and fragile, writhing form. Then the attack, inevitably, turns into a molestation, recalling the poster depicting our lovely monster with a scantily clad bride cradled in his loving arms: another paradoxical image that recalls the inner torment of the eponymous 40 foot ape of King Kong. The agonizingly drawn out attack is like some first-year film student’s tribute to Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom filtered through The Horror of Party Beach. Was the monster once human, or did humans unknowingly create the monster with their unchecked nuclear power plants? Is this sequence brilliant or idiotic? Have I really gone through an entire 12 pack of Schlitz?
We end with a shot that practically oozes depth and meaning and subtext, etc.
The hilarity doesn’t let up at all, when in the next scene Wayne makes a visit to the police station to check in on the mentally unbalanced Stupid Chief, whose acting style recalls Vincent Price on bath salts. Even when he’s serving as the meat in the middle of a Bad Actor Sandwich, doing his business in the background, this nutcase chews scenery with all the gusto of a failed classically trained Shakespearean actor. The hilarity remains on a constant high pretty much throughout the rest of the film.
Now we’re on board the humble S.S. Creation piloted by the one and only Christopher Columbus, as Traxler shamelessly rips off Jaws with all the weird fever-dream logic of Jaws the Revenge. It’s kind of refreshing that nobody discovers some simple household chemical that reduces the Slithis back to his radioactive silt stage, so instead Wayne and Chris must engage the creature in a mano a mano streetfight involving a shotgun and numerous improvised weapons. For those of us rooting for the monster, the ultimate outcome is kind of refreshing; the heroes snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by abiding in the Order of Mother Nature. In other words, Christopher Columbus babbles some jibba-jabba about the infinite possibilities of the ocean, the order of chaos, and the Dismal Tide. And then… well, it’s insane. And the screen goes negative. If you have any theories as to what the last shot signifies, please let us know. If you can make it through without dousing your brain with alcohol, you are either very brave or very stupid.