SLUGS (1988) Blu-ray
Director: Juan Piquer Simon
Arrow Video USA

"They slime. They ooze. They kill" for the first time in high definition with Arrow Video USA's Blu-ray special edition of the gory 1980s classic SLUGS from the director of PIECES.

Nothing much happens in the small town of Ashton until Health Department supervisor Mike Brady (Michael Garfield, THE WARRIORS) and Sheriff Reese (John Battaglia) go to evict Ron Bell (Stan Schwartz, LEGACY OF BLOOD) only to discover that his vital organs have been eaten by some sort of carnivorous predator that may have also been responsible for the dead animals discovered in the same area by Sanitation Department colleague Don Palmer (Philip MacHale). When Mike and his wife Kim (Kim Terry, RUSHMORE) discover a mutant species of slug in their garden that takes a bite out of his finger, he begins to suspect that they may be responsible when horny teens Bobby (Kris Mann) and Donna (Kari Rose, KILLER INSTINCT) meet a sticky end and realtor Dave Watson (Emilio Linder, MONSTER DOG) disgorges patristic worms from what was once his head after eating a slug-infested salad. With a shopping mall deal on the line, the sheriff, the mayor (Manuel de Blas, HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE), and the sewage treatment center executive (Frank Brana, PIECES) are unwilling to listen to Mike's warnings. When the slugs start dropping out of faucets and coming up from the drains, Mike teams up with Don and high school science teacher John (Santiago Álvarez, SIESTA) to destroy the menace.

Based on the extremely graphic novel by British author Shaun Hutson, Juan Piquer Simon's SLUGS: THE MOVIE (onscreen title) remains fairly close to its source while relocating the setting to upstate New York and pruning the novel's sexual violence. As expected with a Simon film, there are plenty of inanities stemming from both poor dubbing as well as risible dialogue spoken by the American actors ("What kind of slug bites people?" "I don't know, but he's living in your garden"), along with the director's cockeyed representation of the American setting and its slutty teenagers, miserable suburbanites, and JAWS-esque publicity-minded officials. The climax is set on Halloween night for some reason, but the only victim among the partying teenagers is the most sensible of them. The exploitation elements are of course what matters most, and showman Simon pushes the visceral aspects of the gore with gusto and puts every dollar on the screen with some impressive for the budget effects set-pieces involving miniatures (courtesy of DUNE's Emilio Ruiz del Río) and pyrotechnics. Carlo Rambaldi-trained Carlo de Marchis (ALIEN) provides some animatronic slugs and splashy prosthetic effects including Linder's head-bursting highlight (THE ABYSS' Ron Knyrim assisted on the effects lensed stateside). The photography of Julio Bragado (PANIC BEATS) lends the film some needed slickness, but the score of Tim Souster (CTHULHU MANSION) is often wildly inappropriate with a big, bright feel that goes against the grain as if Souster took advantage of the opportunity to conduct the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra without regard to the fit of the film. American actress Patty Shepard, who made her career in Spain with such favorites as WEREWOLF SHADOW, CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and THE WITCHES MOUNTAIN, makes a brief appearance here as a representative of the shopping mall deal.

Given a limited theatrical release by New World, SLUGS (or SLUGS: THE MOVIE) got its widest exposure on home video and television (where it was cut for violence and nudity but still pretty icky). Anchor Bay released the film in a nice barebones anamorphic widescreen DVD in 2000 and Image would port over the same master for their 2011 edition. While the effects hold up nicely on Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray, the clarity and resolution do call attention to the occasional rough edges like the tarp covered floor meant to be hidden by teaming masses of fake slugs as Donna writhes around in her death throws, the giant finger for the insert shot of in which the slug bites Mike, and some peekaboo nudity bouncing up above the bottom matte. Colors are vibrant and the image relatively sharp when taking into account 1980s film stock and the tendency of European cinematographers to diffuse daytime exteriors. The English LPCM 1.0 mono audio track cleanly delivers the dialogue (dubbed and otherwise), Souster's brash score, and every exaggerated icky sound effect. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

The film is accompanied by two audio commentaries. The first features source novel author Hutson, and is a raucous track moderated by Red Shirt Pictures' Michael Felsher. Initially stupefied by the finished film, the prolific author has come to terms with his only brush with cinema. He highlights the things he likes about the film, from its effects to the places where the script does more closely follow his novel. More interesting than his comments on the film itself is the discussion of his literary oeuvre, including the sequel novel BREEDING GROUND, his move towards more supernatural horror, his early assignment novelizing THE TERMINATOR and later a number of Hammer Films when the studio started producing theatrical features again with THE WOMAN IN BLACK and had intended to novelize all of their classic features. He also discusses the "ghettoization" of the horror novel, tracing it to the blurring of lines between horror and thriller with the novel and film of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, the most popular genre author Stephen King's own movement away from overt horror like SALEM'S LOT and CARRIE to horror-tinged dramas and thrillers like MISERY, and most lately the damage TWILIGHT has done to popular conception of vampires. The second track is a rather snarky one with Chris Alexander – once editor of Fangoria and now Delirium as well as Shock Till You Drop – couching the film within the context of 1980s horror, latter day New World Pictures releases, and the VHS boom.

"Here’s SLUGS in Your Eye" (7:39) is a short interview with actor Linder describing how he came to Spain from Argentina in the 1970s in a band and got his first acting job through actor Julian Mateos (DEMON WITCH CHILD) as well as his working relationship with Simon and SLUGS' one-take-only effects scene. He also points out the cameo by Silvana Mangano (DEATH IN VENICE) who was the mother of producer Francesca de Laurentiis. "They Slime, They Ooze, They Kill: The Effects of SLUGS" (10:46) finds de Marchis recalling first traveling to Spain to work on CONAN THE BARBARIAN and noting the need for effects technician in Spain. He describes some of the effects he created for SLUGS, including techniques he had picked up working with Rambaldi, as well as the difficulty of directing slugs and elvers (glass eels). In "Invasion USA" (11:52), art director Gonzalo Gonzalo (THE RIFT) recalls working in television commercials with Simon, and the few sets required for SLUGS since most of it was shot stateside with many of the Spanish interiors utilizing Simon's own home and studio. He discusses the fake slugs, the use of piglet skin for the shots of them burrowing under a victim's flesh, and the miniature sewer sets for the explosive climax.

The most impressive of the featurettes is "The Lyons Den" (21:00), an interview and locations tour with production manager Larry Ann Evans who went to high school in Lyons, New York and thought of it as an ideal location for the film. She recalls reading Hutson's novel and pitching it to producer friend Francesca de Laurentiis and Jose Escriva who was also reading the novel at the time. She recalls acting as interpreter between Simon and the American screenwriter and provides some warm memories of her tenure with Simon as assistant director, script supervisor, and dialogue coach. She also takes the viewer on a tour of the still-standing locations as well as the Wayne County Museum where she works now and its display of local history including the filming of SLUGS and LADY IN WHITE which was also shooting in Lyons at the same time. It is a pity that she did not record a commentary track given her thorough knowledge and participation in the film (she also doubled for inserts of the actors for effects shots lensed in Spain) and her friendship with the late Simon. The film's theatrical trailer (1:37) is included in standard definition, and its content is pretty graphic for general audiences. Not included for review are the reversible sleeve, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Wes Benscoter, and fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Michael Gingold. (Eric Cotenas)