SLITHIS (1978)
Director: Stephen Traxler
Code Red DVD

As the nation is currently dealing with and desperately scrambling to overcome a tragically immense oil spill, here is a 30+ year old movie that spins a fictional yarn concerning the dangers of deep sea contamination. Made in 1977, SLITHIS (known in some circles as SPAWN OF THE SLITHIS) was even considered retro in its day, as it featured a publicity campaign that harkened back to the glory days of William Castle-brand ballyhoo: theaters supposedly gave out free “Slithis” survival kits and patrons could sign up to join a fan club set up for the film (and even receive a complimentary photo).

In Venice, California, two ball-playing tykes discover a couple of mutilated canines washed up along the shore, and a bickering married couple soon suffers the same fate during a home invasion in the middle of the night. Wayne Connors (Alan Blanchard) a young high school journalism teacher, bored with his job and his dimwitted students, sets about his own investigation with the support of wife (Judy Motulsky) despite her reservations. Finding a strange muddy substance at the scene of the couple’s murder, he takes it to his friend Dr. John (J.C. Claire), who’s more than well informed. Dr. John identifies the substance as “Slithis” a form of radioactive waste originating from an accidental leak some 20 years ago. This organic muck apparently can take on the characteristics of whatever it ingests.

With the police ineffective, blaming the rash of murders on some sort of devil cult, Wayne takes his probe to the shores of Venice, interviewing the various homeless male winos who crash their at night. One such individual, named Bunky (John Hatfield), witnessed the perpetrator of these mutilations, a bulky, man-sized fish creature described as “something that crawled out of the sewer.” Reckoning that this is not just the delusion of a drunkard and convinced that there really is something out there, Wayne gets no help from the police as the brutal murders continue. He hires a fisherman and his boat to set up a night-time search party: a perilous encounter with the “Spawn of the Slithis” is inevitable and he’s certain to be the deadliest catch!

With its social commentary about the ecology in check and a rubber-suited sea monster that looks like the third cousin of the Black Lagoon Creature, or perhaps the Monster From the Surf or the Slime People, SLITHIS harkens back to the days of 1950s creature features, and that’s obviously what writer/director Stephen Traxler had in mind. Extremely low budget, and with some talky stretches, SLITHIS does manage to amusingly merge the 1950s style monster genre with a more free 1970s outlook, with a surprising extent of violence and bloodshed for a film which passed the MPAA with a PG. There is also a bit of nudity, as the monster attacks a pretty pick-up on a houseboat (about to make it with a mustached gigolo), taking swipes at her (in slow motion photography) until a bare breast is revealed (this is still a few years before similar horny monster goings-on in HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP).

The fleshy, scaly monster (played by Win Conduct) at times looks like an overgrown asparagus, but the face is actually pretty scary and although he’s only shown in the dark, he manages to be convincing enough (his point of view scenes are shot through a Vaselined, Coke bottle-like lense). Most of the cast is made up of California actors who did little else or nothing else at all, but at least they seem game to give passable performances. Anyone who follows exploitation movies will immediately recognize the late Hy Pyke. Pyke (who appeared in DOLEMITE, NIGHTMARE IN BLOOD, HOLLYWOOD HIGH and was unforgettable in LEMORA) is seen briefly as a police detective behind an office desk, but you’ve never seen an actor do so much eyebrow-raising grimacing and vocal inflection changing just to deliver a few simple lines of insignificant dialog. Priceless!

Long a favorite of Bad Cinema aficionados, SLITHIS makes its DVD debut courtesy of Code Red. Looking far better than the rather murky VHS release from Media (back in the 1980s), the film is presented here in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Considering that this cost about $100,000, the transfer looks quite decent, with colors holding up well and the expected intermittent speckle and grain never too distracting. Overall, the picture is clean and the mono English audio is also satisfactory. Extras include the original theatrical trailer (presented full frame), as well as trailers for other Code Red DVD releases past, present and future. (George R. Reis)