Monday, January 7, 2008


Slugs [1982]
Written by Shaun Hutson

Slugs [1988]
Written by Ron Gantman
Directed by Juan Piquer Simón

Well, I'm back, and I'm ringing in the new year with Slugs. Yup, Slugs, "a novel of mind-shattering horror" (at least according to the paperback cover). Apparently, through the magically abhorrent wonder of evolution (alternately, through the sadistic machinations of delayed intelligent design), some of the black slugs of Merton, England have grown to eight inch lengths...and they're hungry for flesh! Using the town's sewers as a spawning ground, the slugs begin making raids on the human population. Town Health Inspector Mike Brady is the lucky schmuck who pieces the whole nightmare together and who must somehow combat the slithering menace before either the black beasties eat everyone or their mucoid secretions saturate the town's water supply, poisoning everyone. Luckily, he is aided by Merton's young museum curator (and Iron Maiden fan) John Foley, who comes up with an "it's so crazy it just might work" plan just as things look to be at their worst. I won't ruin it, but suffice it is to say that said plan involves a highly explosive chemical compound and a descent into the slugs' lair.

I wouldn't go so far as to call any of it mind shattering, but Slugs is actually a pretty good little chiller. The descriptions of death by slug ingestion are plentiful and convincingly gruesome. You would be surprised how easy it is for hundreds of eight-inch black slugs to sneak up and surround a person. The final slug hunt through the sewers is a tense bit of writing. In this naturally slimy environment, the slugs are able to amass enough speed to actually chase our heroes! The image of thousands of slugs hurtling through the shit-smeared pipes like a massive, throbbing carnivorous embolus is bloody fantastic.

The same cannot be said for the film version, which is something of a disappointment for two major reasons. First, the film was directed by Juan Piquer Simón, who is also responsible for the splatterific slasher Pieces (watch for a special edition DVD from Grindhouse sometime in the next decade...hopefully). The man knows gore and has no qualms about applying it nice and thick. Sadly, Slugs (subtitled "The Movie" during the opening credits, which makes me think of Spaceballs) isn't nearly gross enough. Sure, you get a couple of decent slug attacks, particularly the scene at the dinner table, but not enough to push us into Street Trash/Re-Animator/Bad Taste territory. Oh, and I can tell the difference between a living carpet of flesh-eating black slugs and a garbage bag. I mean, I love watching naked women scream and writhe in fake blood (don't get me wrong here), but, dude, seriously, you're not fooling anyone---that's a garbage bag she's screaming and writhing on. I mean, on which she is screaming and writhing.

Also of note is the score. Some of it sounded like the music from Airplane. Nothing kills the intensity of a thrilling moment like thoughts of the oeuvre of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker.

The second disappointment comes from the sheer badness of the script. For reasons beyond my comprehension, scriptwriter Gantman decided to make every character both stupid and a jerk. In the original novel, Mike Brady was a pretty likable guy. Even at his most stressed out and pissed off, he kept his cool (very British of him I guess, stiff upper lip and all that rot). In the movie, which takes place in the US and A, Brady's kind of a dick. After awhile, I started rooting for the garbage, I mean the slugs. Anthropophagus as they may be, at least they weren't rude....

All told, I might have given the film a pass had I not read the book. It's not terrible; it just suffers from severe wasted potential. If you get the chance to read the book or see the movie (or do both), I would recommend it, previous caveats notwithstanding. Iron Maiden fans in particular will get a kick out of the novel. Author Shaun Hutson obviously loves the band; according to his website, he's been onstage with them thirteen times. In Slugs, an old woman lives on 22 Acacia Avenue (alas, she's not Charlotte the Harlot). Later, a doomed couple listens to The Number of the Beast album (yes, they listen to the LP) before being devoured by the killer garbage bag.

Actually, if you haven't listened to Maiden's Number of the Beast, you need to do that now. Set down whatever you're doing and fucking listen to that album. It's one of the greatest records ever. EVER! Listen now and let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human's number is six hundred and sixty-six....

The Number of the Beast!
The one for you and me!