Saturday, June 11, 2011

In short: Spawn Of The Slithis (1978)

Venice Beach is mildly disturbed by what begins as a series of pet mutilations, but soon enough turns into a series of murders of homeless and other people of little public interest. The police is hard on the case, though, and has decided the deeds are being committed by cult in sacrificial rites - the fact that there's nothing ritual about the killings at all notwithstanding.

Frustrated high school teacher and would-be journalist Wayne Connors (Alan Blanchard) has other ideas, and starts an investigation of his own. Eventually, Wayne finds evidence that points at quite a different cause for the killings: a leak in the local nuclear power plant has turned mud into a mutation-inducing substance called slithis, which in turn - or so Wayne and his scientist buddy Dr. John (alas, not Mac Rebennack, but a certain J.C. Claire) speculate - has mutated some animal or other into a big fat rubber suit monster that now goes around slaughtering whoever it meets.

After more running around and investigating, and a failed attempt at convincing the hysterical chief of police (Hy Pyke) of the monster's existence, Wayne, his more sceptical wife Jeff (Judy Motulsky), black boat owner Chris (Mello Alexandria) and Dr. John decide they must take care of the creature themselves.

Director/producer/writer Stephen Traxler's plan when making Spawn of the Slithis was obviously to make a movie just like a classic 50s rubber suit monster film, just with a bit of nudity and a bit more blood on screen. Some people might doubt the part of the plan that made Traxler copy only the worst aspects of the worst of the 50s monster movies and cross them with a lot of anti-tourism of Venice Beach, but what do these people of little faith know?

When Traxler's film is not actively trying to bore its audience to death with many and various scenes of Wayne (a protagonist more wooden and boring, yet also much less square-jawed and gruffly-voiced than his 50s colleagues) wandering around Venice Beach, poking around, trying to get information out of homeless people and alcoholics without paying them for it, or its utter inability to let scenes end, it delights the open-minded with various aspects of excellence.

I found myself especially enamoured with the following things of beauty: Hy Pyke's packing of an hour's worth of overacting into one single short scene of superhuman scenery-shredding of the most gob-smacking kind! A monster suit that makes the poor monster look fat! Bursts of dialogue that nearly reach the illogical heights of dialogue written by Ed Wood himself (and I'm not just saying that like one of those guys who knows no other "bad" films than Plan 9)! The film's tendency to drift off into peculiar and improbable directions at a moments notice, leading the unsuspecting viewer to witness unheard of wonders like a turtle race! A monster that seems to have something of a breast fixation!

All these wonderful things don't change the simple fact that much of Spawn of the Slithis can be painfully slow and boring and somewhat dull for people not interested in seeing the most horrible parts of Venice Beach, but these small matters have never interfered with my enjoyment of movies that mostly seem to exist to publicize their creators' quirks and interests and show us the place they lived as seen through the lens of a cheap and bad monster movie.


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