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dog days

dog days

Friday, December 30, 2011

Spawn of the Slithis

Spawn of the Slithis
1978
Stephen Traxler

‘Spawn of the Slithis’ looks like it’s going to be a bog standard monster on the loose movie. It has all the required pieces; a concerned intellectual, a radiation spawned horror that eats random people, and turtle racing. Since it’s the seventies, throw in a little environmental message, some macramé plant hangers, and you have yourself a movie.  What makes ‘Spawn of the Slithis’ work (kind of) is some interesting location work and a lot of quirky secondary characters.

The film opens with a couple of kids playing Frisbee, after a missed throw the boys find a mangled dog and let me tell you, nothing evokes the need for slow motion like a fat kid running over to see a dog corpse. Later that night a couple spend what seems like twenty minutes arguing about a noise in the living room before being promptly killed by a hulking monster. This attracts the attention of an intrepid high school journalism teacher, Wayne Connors (Alan Blanchard) along with his wife… Jeff (Judy Motulsky). Wayne somehow doesn’t get savagely beaten by a cop for contaminating a crime scene, when goes to the last monster attack and brings back some strange mud. He brings it to high school biologist/obvious pervert, Dr. John (J.C. Clare) who informs  him that not only is it mud, it’s radioactive mud and not only is it radioactive mud, it’s radioactive mud that contains organic and inorganic compounds and it can take the shape of an organism to find food. Later Wayne hires a fake Jamaican and his boat and goes hunting for the organism; all the while the monster is chowing down on various drunks, and creeps near the beach.

‘Spawn of the Slithis’ is the epitome of the movie where you need to slog through a lot of tedium to get to the golden moments.  Wayne isn’t the most compelling of guys, he actually seems like kind of a jerk, he hates his students and is terribly self important.  The supporting characters are where things get interesting. Dr. John feels less like a teacher and more like a guy whose home if full of questionable porn and D&D manuals. There’s a skeezy boat owner (Steven Hoag) who thinks a red light bulb and a framed self portrait in a chest baring shirt are the perfect seduction ingredients (to his credit it looked like it was going to work, if it wasn’t for monster interruptus). Far and away the greatest find is, Hy Pike as the police chief; saying he chews the scenery is an understatement. There really isn’t a word for his performance here, it’s beyond overacting, it’s cartoony, marvelous and bizarre all at the same time. The monster is suit is surprisingly great; it’s big and menacing and has a lot of personality. It’s hard not to root for the poor guy when everyone is trying to kill him.

Another nice aspect of the film is it works a document of Venice Beach in the late seventies, the various weirdoes and beach bums feel authentic. Everyone’s houses seemed crammed with books and handmade crafts, a little remembered fad like turtle racing gets more screen time than it probably deserves.

Code Red has put a beautiful print of this little remembered film; it’s almost worth hunting down just for that. I can’t say this movie is for everyone but if you don’t mind some dull detective work, there are a number of delightful moments that catch you off guard.

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