Spawn of the Slithis (1977)

Howdy folkses! Today I bring you the first in an occasional series of limp, soggy reviews featuring lame and unconvincing beasts from the oceans, lakes, ponds, bogs, swamps, rivers and streams of this big old blue ball of liquid horror we call Planet Earth. Yes, these angry, damp and smelly water critters have been a staple of the silver screen from the earliest days of cinema and thankfully—for our purposes—the vast majority of them have fallen far short of the fear and wonder they were intended to produce and have instead entered the rarified depths of unintentional craptastic hilarity. They may be stop motion, hand puppets, men in suits or CGI, they may be mythical or magical, moldy, mutated or just plain mean, but by explicit request of MMT President and CEO Nate none of the creatures covered in this series will be those well-known, sleek, grey, toothy predators that rhyme with “park." He hates those fuckers and we’ve got to keep the boss happy.

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Spawn of the Slithis is a low budget independent horror film made by people who should never have made a movie starring people who should never have been in a movie resulting in a movie people who like movies should never ever watch. Except for me, of course, because I’m willing to endure any amount of pain and indignity to provide you with your vicarious entertainment. I hope you’re all very pleased with yourselves.

We open with a hazy aerial shot of lovely Venice, California with its extensive marinas and grid-like network of canals.

“It’s so beautiful I could shit heavenly gumdrops" as my dear old sainted grandmother used to say.

Like many a terrible film before it Slithis shows all of its credits at the very beginning because the producers knew they had a stinker on their hands and figured there wouldn’t be anyone left in the theater to read them at the end. Our first scene features a Thin Kid and a Fat Kid playing Frisbee next to one of the canals. This is filmed in slow-motion to accentuate their astonishing poise, talent and athleticism and to pad out the run time sufficiently for the film to be sold for TV syndication. The music here is oddly cartoonish, with a muted-trumpet “wunk, wunk, wunk Wunk WUNK!" for each toss of the Frisbee and a dopey “DUM-py, DUM-py, DUM-pi-ty DUM-py" whenever the kids run after it. It’s the kind of music that makes you think of Don Knotts. Which is fine. It’s just that I kept waiting for him to show up and he never did. It’s a shame, really because he was still two years away from his big comeback on Three’s Company and I’m sure he could have used the work.

After a bit of back and forth Fat Kid throws wide over the bank of the canal and Thin Kid has to go down to the water to fetch it.

Nice throw, Fat Kid.

The music turns ominous as Thin Kid yells that he’s found something and Fat Kid runs over in that excruciating slow-mo to see what it is. It turns out to be two badly mutilated, very dead dogs. These are real dog carcasses by the way (and I’m not showing ‘em), which makes me wonder where the filmmakers got them and who in the crew had to do the mutilating. Thin Kid casually muses “Looks kinda like Patches and Dakota, don’t it?" like a grizzled old prospector examining a couple of dead mules. He’s got some thick skin for such a thin kid. I’ll bet he has a .22 rifle at home and shoots squirrels for fun…then he probably buries them just so he can dig them up a week or two later.

Anyway these stone-cold tykes ride off to report their grim discovery and we cut to a very 70’s apartment where a very 70’s white guy with a very 70’s man-perm reads from an article about the dead dogs in a sluggish monotone. This is Wayne Conners, our dull-eyed, mildly unlikable hero.

“The Poor Man’s Bert Convy."

Wayne is played by Alan Blanchard who appeared in one other low-budget film then retired from acting to become an insurance salesman in Massachusetts. I know a few insurance salesmen and this piece of information surprises me not at all. So Wayne is reading this article while his wife drinks orange juice from a merlot glass and urges him to hurry up with his breakfast so they won’t be late to the high school where they both work. Wayne is a journalism teacher but like Paparazzi Pinocchio he wants someday to be a real live newspaper reporter. He thinks there might be more to the dog mutilations than the police theory of a sacrificial cult and is thinking about pursuing it as a story. Wayne’s wife doesn’t seem to care as long as they get to work on time. His wife’s name is Jeff, by the way. Writer/director Stephen Traxler ostensibly believed this to be a humorous touch but I respectfully disagree.

Jeff. She talks and stuff.

Jeff is played by Judy Motulsky, who also appeared in Idaho Transfer and in a couple of other projects where she had one-line bit parts. She’s pretty but undistinguished and it’s difficult to get a sense of her acting skills because she doesn’t really serve much of a function in the plot. She mostly just ignores how much Wayne hates his job and tries to shoot down all of his hopes and dreams—but in a cute way ya know? There’s a certain degree of cognitive dissonance in seeing their relationship play out. It seems we are meant to view them as a happy, loving couple with an easy, comfortable rapport, but their lack of chemistry and the subtext of the poorly written dialog reveal a marriage with serious problems the filmmakers lack the skill to explore. It’s like they stumbled across some accidental drama and depth of character but were too inept to recognize or capitalize on it.

That night the water begins to churn in the canal next to a small house…a dog barks as something rises from the water and lumbers towards it. We see the dog from the monster’s eye point of view, which looks remarkably like a glass tube with water poured over it.

“I shall call it SlithisCam!"

A hulking creature breaks through the screen door and enters the house. In the bedroom a woman wakes her husband to have him investigate the noise. This is the highly dysfunctional couple Jack and Ellen Dunn, whose names we will only learn later from a radio broadcast after they’ve been brutally slaughtered and partially eaten. Sorry, was that a spoiler? Anyway that’s what they get for being dumb fucks and going to bed with the front door wide open. Jack doesn’t really care about the ruckus, he just wants to ignore it and go back to sleep, but Ellen angrily pokes at him until he finally agrees to go look. Jack cautions “if that damn dog has broken through the screen again…that’s it! It’s the pound!" Maybe they think a dog is better than a deadbolt but I’ve got a hunk of hamburger with some Sominex in it that says otherwise.

Jack and Ellen. Only slightly less charming than lard on toast.

There’s a very peculiar exchange as Jack gets dressed. Ellen wants him to wear the nice gingham bathrobe she bought him rather than taking the time to put on his shirt and trousers but Jack says he despises bathrobes and doesn’t understand why she bought him one in the first place. He further insists that he has always put on his shirt and trousers after getting out of bed and that he always will put on his shirt and trousers when he gets out of bed. This is technically true, considering he’s doing it now and will never have another opportunity to get out of bed, but this isn’t what I would be concerned about if I was investigating a potential intruder in my home. They certainly have their own priorities, although Ellen is at least taking the precaution of loading a pistol as they argue over Jack’s bathrobe. Meanwhile the creature lumbers about the house and admires the incongruous décor.

Is it me or is that an unusually dense arrangement of crosses and crucifixes?

Jack walks by some bookshelves (efficiently constructed of wood planks and cinderblocks) and complains loudly about the mess he thinks the dog made. I hate to tell you, buddy but that dog is the least of your problems. Jack walks around to the end of the shelving and screams!

Wait a minute…Jack and Ellen read?

Back in the bedroom a terrified Ellen calls after Jack and decides to go after him. She steps into the living room, turns on a light and screams, firing her pistol again and again…but in shadow we see the beast lumbering towards her, impervious to her attack.

The painting is “A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte," by Georges Seurat, the father of pointillism, a technique by which a complete, detailed image is painstakingly formed using tiny dots of color and light. The Dunns don’t really strike me as “artsy" and I’m beginning to suspect they’re actually squatting here while the real homeowners are traveling abroad.

As Ellen’s screams we see the exterior of the house and then hear the ravenous masticating of the hungry beast which is obviously just some guy making chomping and slurping noises into the crook of his arm. Then we get the money shot which lasts all of two seconds: barely-touched Jack and pretty-much-stripped-clean Ellen lying dead and bloodied on the floor. Seems like the Slithis is one picky eater.

They blew half the budget on the prop skeleton and curler kit.

We now cut to a high school athletics field where the band and cheerleading squad are practicing their formations.

Due to recent budget cuts we will no longer be watering the grass.

Over at the main building Wayne complains to Jeff about his dumb students and how he’s gonna fail them all and how his job sucks and the school newspaper is just the worst thing ever. Seems to me since he’s a teacher of journalism he might be able to do something about all that beyond whining about it, but maybe that’s just me.

While Wayne complains and Jeff ignores him a couple of students run up with a radio and tell him he should listen to a report about the mysterious murder of the Dunns. The students remembered he was interested in the dog mutilations and thought he’d want to hear about this since it seemed to be connected. You’d think he’d be grateful that they’re thoughtful and diligent kids who care enough to bring this to his attention, but he listens with a smug, condescending look on his face, reaches over and shuts off their radio then basically pats them on the heads like they’re a couple of toddlers and tells them to move along. Maybe the problem isn’t your students, Wayne. Maybe the problem is that you’re a self-absorbed prick.

Look at that face. I want to slap him.

After he shoos the students away he starts talking about the report and how he might really be able to get a scoop on this story with a little investigation. He decides to look up the Dunns’ address and have a look around. Jeff of course is against it and after Wayne’s childish rant about how crappy teaching is (she is, after all, a teacher herself) and his dismissive attitude towards his students I can’t really say I blame her. Poor Man’s Bert Convy needs to get the fuck over himself.

Sweet conversion van, though.

So Wayne, after assuring Jeff that he’ll just drive past and not get involved, walks up to the door of the Dunns’ house and waltzes right inside despite that it’s a crime scene. The first thing he does is casually lay his sunglasses down on a bureau inside the door of this crime scene then snoops around this crime scene and discovers some strange looking mud on the floor. He stoops to examine it when suddenly a policeman bursts in and pins him against the fireplace.

Did I mention it’s a fucking crime scene? Wayne is a dumbass.

Naturally the officer is a little leery and wants to know why some random dude is poking around the scene of a recent double murder that’s so fresh the blood hasn’t even been cleaned out of it yet, but Wayne manages to find his various ID cards and convince him that he’s not a threat. The officer begins a lecture about breaking and entering and how Wayne was lucky the spooked neighbor with the loaded shotgun didn’t get there first. He’s coughing on and off throughout this speech and complains of a “damn cold" he can’t seem to get rid of so Wayne offers him a eucalyptus drop.

Pro tip: if a random stranger who is not Bert Convy is illegally poking around the scene of an unsolved double murder and offers you a throat lozenge it is always perfectly safe to eat it.

Wayne asks the officer a few more questions and somehow manages to get off with just a warning. He also manages to get a small sample of the strange mud, which he takes to the high school science lab and gives to Dr. John.

Unfortunately not this Dr. John.

Dr. John is puzzled by the sample and spews some lame, unconvincing technobabble about it being “protoplasmic," and possibly some kind of “exoskeleton." He claims it is both “organic" and “inorganic." He sings of the bayou, hot gumbo and Mardi Gras parades and promises to run some more tests over the next few days. I have a suspicion at this point that Dr. John may be full of shit, but true to his word he shows up at Wayne and Jeff’s apartment two days later to drink a light beer and offer a boatload of exposition. Apparently a nuclear reactor in Wisconsin once leaked a small amount of radioactivity into a lagoon and caused the silt to become “absorbative" of the bacteria and small creatures living in and around it. Scientists there experimented with it and found that it had evolved into a distinct organism with aspects of whatever other organisms it had absorbed. Their findings were hushed up by the government and buried by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but Dr. John, a nerdy Venice, California high school science teacher who has clearly not had a date for at least a full decade was somehow able to find out all about it in just two days by making a few phone calls. The new form of life was dubbed Slithis by the three scientists who discovered it. One of them died from a lethal dose of the radiation they were using in their research, one was eventually transferred to a nuclear plant only two miles up the coast from Venice and the third left to work for a local oil company and now lives just a few miles away.

“Despite these scientists having previously lived and worked 2000 miles from here they’re now both located within a thirty minute drive of this very apartment. What are the odds?" Also this actor has the charisma of scuffed linoleum and never appeared in another movie.

Dr. John splits to go to open mic night at the local zydeco club and the Conners have a little argument about whether or not Wayne should dig further into this Slithis story. Jeff is firmly against it and can’t understand why Wayne can’t be satisfied with his job at the high school, but Wayne is determined to make a name for himself as a freelance journalist and sees this as his opportunity to make a splash. It’s an impasse that ends with Wayne sulking on the sofa and Jeff storming off to bed. Clearly there will be no nookie this night. This is supposed to be a moment of internal conflict for Wayne where he must question whether his interest is becoming an obsession and how to proceed, but Blanchard plays it more like he’s choosing what kind of socks to wear. I must admit that can be a difficult decision.

“Cotton gym socks tend to slip down and bunch up at the ankles. Nylon dress socks stay up but don’t keep your feet as warm. It’s such a conundrum."

It’s a relief when we finally cut away from Wayne to a couple of filthy winos slumped against the rotting hulk of a beached boat. These are Preston and Bunky, the first wave in a minor parade of drunks and vagrants who will populate much of the interminable second act of our little drama. I have nothing against drunks and vagrants. I work in the mental health field and frequently deal with people battling homelessness and addiction issues. They’re living, breathing, vulnerable human beings who deserve compassion and understanding. What I take umbrage with are broad, cartoonish, badly acted caricatures of drunks and vagrants.

As we first make Preston’s acquaintance he is lounging fully prostrate, earnestly yet somniferously pontificating on his need for “some bread." Bunky on the other hand is sitting proudly erect and after careful consideration he helpfully indicates that his primary and pressing need at this particular moment is “a piss." There is a brief contretemps between them regarding whether Preston has “shit his pants" or merely “farted." This question remains unresolved as Preston, having achieved an elegant sufficiency, passes into a sustained torpor. Bunky now performs an eloquent soliloquy in which he wistfully opines that “Australia was nothing after ‘Nam. All the whores were the same. Why shouldn’t they be? They’re just whores."

Words of wisdom, Bunky. Words of wisdom.

I was too young in the 70’s to have noticed at the time but I would think there was more than one type of inexpensive alcohol available. In Slithis, however, every single vagrant exclusively drinks cheap, rotgut Thunderbird wine. Thunderbird, for those of you blessedly unfamiliar with it, is a highly toxic industrial solvent that’s been fortified with artificial flavoring, ocelot urine and the tears of dying nuns.

James Mason used to hawk it on TV by repeatedly mentioning its “unusual flavor all its own…not quite like anything I’ve ever tasted." Yes, James, that’s because chemicals used in strip mining aren’t meant to be served as aperitifs.

At any rate Preston passes out and Bunky, upon discovering there’s no wine left at the old boat decides to go retrieve a secret stash he keeps hidden at a nearby construction site. We get another bit of “comedy" music as Bunky stumbles off to find his hidden cache because a chronic alcoholic slowly drinking himself to death is always good for a couple of cheap laughs. The site is right next to one of the canals and he sees the water churning. Thinking someone is swimming in the cold water at night he walks over to offer the stranger some wine. Bunky’s is a generous spirit. By the time he reaches the edge of the road the Slithis is out of the water.

The inevitable result of excessive Thunderbird consumption.

Bunky trips and breaks his bottle and the Slithis wanders off towards a house up the street apparently attracted by the sound of a barking dog. There’s a crash in the distance. A woman’s scream trails off into the sound of a siren as we cut to the same street the next day where a small crowd is being corralled by a couple of policemen.

"There’s nothing to see here, people…we couldn’t afford to film it."

We get a montage of seedy-looking drifter types while an overdubbed news report speaks of fear and paranoia and how the “area transients" are sticking together for protection. We also get this guy who says he sometimes sleeps “in the john down by the beach."

“Them stalls ain’t got no locks on ‘em ya know."

We see the police rounding up Hare Krishnas while the reporter claims they’re attempting to prove their hippie death cult theory. A stilted police spokesman tells us how the cops are following up some important leads and everything is fine and there’s totally no need to worry about people being murdered and mutilated all over the city. As the report concludes we rejoin our nominal hero as he investigates the waterfront.

“The smell of fear hangs like a stench above the canals." That’s not even a metaphor, it’s just a redundancy. It’s also not fear, it’s Thunderbird piss.

Wayne’s “investigation" begins in earnest now and we will follow it in all its brain-bludgeoning, tedious detail. He finds and questions Preston who doesn’t remember much but tells him that Bunky might have seen something. Wayne asks what Bunky looks like and accepts the worthless description “about five-six, five seven…about my age" without further comment or inquiry. This isn’t Pulitzer level investigative work, people.

He wanders around Venice looking for Bunky for what seems an eternity. He speaks with various random people who point him in various directions and towards various other random people who point him in various directions and towards various other random people. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Then there’s this gentleman whose mellow I strongly suspect to be un-harshable.

Just when you begin to think that nothing else is ever going to happen and that the entire rest of the movie is going to be Wayne aimlessly walking around Venice…Wayne continues to aimlessly walk around Venice.

I’ve no idea why but I had an uncontrollable urge at this point to pause the movie and go eat a falafel sandwich. It was very tasty. I like it on a pita with salt, pepper, lettuce, tomato and tzatziki.

Finally Wayne finds some winos who actually know where Bunky is. They give him the name and location of a rooming house and extort $5 from him for some more Thunderbird. For those who remember let’s sing it together:

What’s the word?
How’s it sold?
Good and cold!
What’s the jive?
Bird’s alive!
What’s the price?
Thirty twice!

Such beautiful memories. Anyway as the jingle helpfully informed us Thunderbird was only sixty cents per bottle back in the day, so if these three could just scrape up forty more cents between them they could score three bottles each! That’s enough T-Bird, by the way to embalm an elephant.

“Yay! If we start drinking it now we’ll be dead by midnight!"

Wayne finds Bunky sitting in a weird little alcove under a disco ball, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sporting a bandage on his left hand. He doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know, but this is the first time Wayne has gotten confirmation that the murders really are being committed by a monster and not some mythical hippie cult. Bunky is badly shaken and perfectly clear about what he saw but he refuses to go with Wayne to speak to the authorities.

Seems he has warrants out against him. Who’d have guessed?

We cut to later that evening, with Wayne just finishing up a phone call to nuclear research scientist Doctor Erin Burdick, formerly of Wisconsin but now conveniently employed by a local oil company and living in Malibu. Jeff seems to have had a complete change of heart overnight as she now agrees to accompany Wayne to Burdick’s home, which is one of those mail order prefab geodesic domes with nifty skylights and funky triangular windows.

The home of!

Burdick is played by Dennis Lee Falt whose resume consists primarily of video game voice work. He does have exquisite, if somewhat effete diction but like Alan Blanchard he speaks very softly as if he is afraid he’s going to wake the audience members who fell asleep during Wayne’s rambles through Venice. Wayne and Jeff listen from a sofa at the bottom of a conversation pit as Burdick orates from a shadowy balcony and staircase above them.

That cat is the best actor in the film.

Burdick delivers some gobbledegook about the experiments he and his colleagues conducted on the Slithis material and how they were never able to reproduce it under laboratory conditions. Wayne asks if the stuff could have evolved from the simple organism Burdick’s team observed into the creature he suspects is committing the Venice Canals murders and Burdick says he wouldn’t rule it out. Jeff asks what could cause such a drastic change.

Burdick has descended the stairs at this point and rounds some potted plants as he replies “Why the radioactivity, my dear. It has the most astounding effect on all living organisms."

It can create new life and turn a bad actor’s doughy gob into half-melted silly putty. It’s powerful shit.

Eagle-eyed viewers might notice a little easter-egg tribute in this scene to one of the most beloved and recognizable figures in popular science fiction. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, briefly-visible-in-the-background-of-a-tracking-shot photo of the undisputed master of extreme emoting and sweet space lovin’ Mr. William Shatner!

Remember that time Kirk had to impersonate a Romulan? Yeah, Stephen Traxler does, too.

Anyway Wayne asks how he might go about proving his Slithis monster theory and Burdick tells him to look for the source of the radiation in the silt offshore of the local nuclear power station. Wayne needs a boat and a diver so he hires local guy Christopher Columbus Alexander. Chris is played by Mello Alexandria who’s trying hard to channel Jamaican boat captain Quarrel from Dr. No. Alexandria played a dancing hologram in George Lucas’ THX1138 and had bit parts in a couple of other films through the early 90’s. He isn’t terrible, but he’s playing a condescending stereotype that immediately sets off my casual racism detector. He functions largely as the “wise negro," an outdated stock character traceable to the abolitionist movement which sadly still appears in various entertainment media today.

“Good! Let’s shake like white folks. None of that tricky ni**er shit…it takes too long." Actual dialog. There aren’t enough facepalms on the entire internet.

Out on the open ocean we see Chris’ boat “The Creation" bobbing on the waves and headed towards the power plant. They anchor a mile or so offshore and Chris dives in to get the samples. In a competent film with an actual budget we would have a tense, scary monster attack right here in the water, or at least some security people from the plant would motor out to interrogate Wayne and Chris, creating a subplot of corporate greed and corruption. Alas, this is not a competent film with an actual budget. We don’t even get any underwater footage. What we get is some dull, forced chatter between our mismatched “heroes" that’s supposed to demonstrate them bonding and we get to watch Chris repeatedly pop in and out of the water with his scuba rig and sample jars. That’s it. It’s one of those paint-peeling, grass-growing kinds of things you see quite a lot in low-end productions where there’s 90 minutes to be filled but only 40 minutes of actual story. It’s maddening stuff. We were promised mutant sea beast mayhem but we got a languid, tedious press procedural with a fake Bert Convy on Quaaludes.

Jump cut to the Connors in bed with Wayne hanging up the phone again and the film gets a demerit for using the same transition technique twice. Dr. John, having returned from an epic Dixieland jam in the red light district, has analyzed Wayne’s samples and found a little bit of Slithis material but no current radiation, meaning there was a leak but it happened some time ago. Jeff opines that it’s going to be impossible to convince anyone that a slime-coated mutant monster is feasting on the residents of Venice, and for some reason this unconventional pillow talk seems to make them both a little wiggly. As they begin to moon and kiss there’s an aperture wipe like in a Busby Berklee musical from 1933 and we just know the Connors are about to enjoy some sweet naked married people sexy times.

And now, folks, it’s time for some good old-fashioned pre-code Hollywood cunnilingus!

The next day Wayne and Dr. John are discussing how the police didn’t believe their completely evidence-free theory about a monstrous aberration born of irradiated sea muck murdering and eating people. They decide to close off the water lock that feeds the canals when the tide is low so the Slithis can’t get in. When there’s no murder that night they’ll have their evidence that there was a monster, but they saved everybody and the monster went looking for a deep-sea lobster dinner instead of eating a dog or a resident or a hobo…or something. I don’t see how they can predict how the monster will behave or where it might go if it can’t get through the lock. It might just walk up out of the water and go around it for all they know. Dr. John may play a mean barrelhouse piano and look amazing in traditional New Orleans attire, but he sure isn’t much of a scientist if he unquestionably accepts Wayne’s patently ridiculous conclusions here.

At dusk they go to the inlet valve and find there’s a padlock on the gate. Wayne is flummoxed—who would have expected a padlocked fence? Literally everyone but Wayne, that’s who. Thankfully good old Dr. John produces a key because apparently he knows some guy at the water authority and it’s perfectly normal for a public official to hand out keys to protected municipal infrastructure to guy because he knows him and thinks he’s a real mensch. Dr. John is connected. They shut off the valve and we jump cut to:

I shit you not, people.

Turtle racing. At a bar. A crowded bar with a wise-cracking play-by-play announcer and everything. The 70’s were just…a really fucked up decade.

Here we meet Doug, a smarmy lothario who trawls the turtle racing circuit looking for much younger women to hook up with. His sex partner du-jour is Jennifer, a doe-eyed naïf from Souska, North Dakota who inexplicably quite willingly goes home with him. They leave the bar and get into Doug’s powder blue VW beetle. He inquires who she was with (it was her cousin whom she’s visiting) and whether she’s “old enough." Sweet Jesus this guy’s a pervy old creep. Jennifer giggles and asks “would it matter?" and says everyone in Souska has a fake ID. She also says she’s 18. He obviously has his doubts (frankly so do I), not that those doubts are gonna stop him from boinking her. I suspect Doug has made a careful legal study of California age-of-consent laws circa 1977.

The car says “fast food franchise management" but the moustache says “pornography."

They arrive at a marina outside of Venice and Doug informs his likely under-age lady friend that he’s “got to use the john." He’s so classy and so adult. I can see why the young chicks dig him. He points out his boat and tells her to go aboard and pour them some wine. She enters the gate as some spooky music plays, then pauses nervously, pulls her shawl tighter around her arms and slowly walks down the pier towards the camera.

That’s a little close…

Um, too close


She steps onto the boat and as she tries to open the cabin door we get a cheap attempt at a jump scare when a nerdy blonde dork jumps out at her thinking she’s Doug. Doug then shows up and explains it’s just Rex, some guy who lives on one of the other boats and sometimes comes over to watch his TV. Doug drops a pretty strong hint and Rex skedaddles. In the cabin of the boat there’s a table with two glasses and a bottle of red wine already laid out. Doug is what you’d call an optimist and likes to plan ahead. Jennifer should be planning ahead, too—perhaps by formulating an exit strategy.

Doug also keeps a framed photo of himself prominently displayed on his little wine table.

As they engage in some rather aggressive and distasteful making out Doug makes a snarky comment about Jennifer being out past her curfew. I am now 100% convinced that Jennifer is only 16 and that Doug totally knows it. He gives her a brief, creepy massage then suggests they go below deck to the bedroom. Jennifer quite sensibly says “I shouldn’t" but Doug insists and down they go. Once there Jennifer asks that he lock the door in case Rex shows up again and he says he will if she gets naked while he’s gone. This scene makes me feel fundamentally unclean…I think I’m gonna need to stop the movie and take a scalding bath. In battery acid.

Thankfully the Slithis arrives at this point and Doug is instantly slaughtered. Jennifer goes to investigate and gets the murderous monster treatment, too, but her attack is in slow motion and involves the beast violently tossing her all over the deck like a rag doll as she begs, kicks and screams. Doug went down with a single swipe but Jennifer gets manhandled in slow motion for what seems forever and even gets her blouse ripped off before the final death blow.

There’s a bright side to death. She didn’t have to fuck Doug.

The whole time Doug has been on the screen I’ve been thinking how familiar he looks and I think I’ve finally figured out where I’ve seen him before…

I was right! Doug is the flared trousers and comfy sweater guy from the old J.C. Penny’s catalogs! You know…the guy with the chicken!

There’s a phenomenon largely unique to especially bad, low-budget independent genre films where at least one minor character performance is so bizarre and over the top as to seem like it’s from not just another film but a whole different planet—one actor who looks at the juvenile, amateur screenplay and the bland, uninspired performances of the rest of the cast and says “You know what? Fuck this shit…," then downs a fifth of gin, licks a sheet of brown blotter acid, snorts a kilo of cocaine and gives a performance that’s absolute balls-to-the-pavement, bass guano crazy. Ladies and gentlemen I give you Hy Pyke as police lieutenant Prentiss.

He’s the hybrid mutant offspring of Harvey Fierstein and Wallace Shawn.

There are simply no words that can do this astonishing tour-de-force of gravel-voiced, scenery-munching insanity justice.

He’s a caricature of a parody of a farce, a stridently fey, intensely emotive twenty tire fire of twitching grimaces, theatrical groans, ill-timed gags and bugged-out fish-eyes.

This one performance makes this entire railway disaster of a movie absolutely worth every minute of every hour I spent repeatedly watching it to write this review—and that is a mighty bold statement, people because outside of the three-and-a-half minutes Hy Pyke is on-screen this movie sucks the absolute biggest of all the big padungas.

It doesn’t even matter that Wayne’s talk with Lieutenant Prentiss makes zero sense or impact on the plot and is basically just decorative filler because it’s the best decorative filler a bad film buff could ever ask for. As of this writing you can watch Hy Pyke’s scene all by itself on YouTube. Do yourselves a solid and go have a peep.

Hy Pyke was also in Blade Runner, arguably the most influential science fiction film of the past 40 years. Let’s all pause for a moment and let that sink in.

Since the authorities have been impotent to stem the tide of violence and our heroes have been unable to convince them there’s a radioactive mutant terror stalking the Venice community, Wayne, Jeff, Chris and Dr. John formulate their own plan of action to rid their fellow residents of this watery menace once and for all. It seems Jeff and Dr. John are going to close off the canals again while Wayne and Chris use some sonar equipment on Chris’ boat to track the Slithis and try to catch it, saving the town and proving once and for all to a skeptical public that their nuclear monster theory is correct.

They discuss their plans at Venice’s world-famous “Poopdeck Pappy" memorial.

Chris gets Mike and Nicholas, a couple of hired deck hands he knows to round out his crew. They might as well be wearing red Starfleet security uniforms because we all know they’re gonna be dead within ten minutes. Much of the rest of the movie is suspiciously reminiscent of a much more famous film that takes place largely on a boat and rhymes with “Paws." “The Creation" stands in for “The Orca" and Blanchard and Alexandria stand in for people who can act.

“Do you think we’ll be here all night?" “No, it’s just gonna seem that way to the audience."

Finally Chris gets a hit on the sonar and they radio in to the shore where Jeff and Dr. John are improvising creole jazz and eating spicy jambalaya in a parked station wagon at the canal inlet, waiting to see if the Slithis is going to show up. Well guess what? It does show up and of course the station wagon won’t start so the Slithis starts beating the shit out of it.

“Jesus…that thing really hates station wagons!"

The Slithis jumps on the station wagon. Dr. John panics, backs up and hits a moving car which falls down an embankment and rolls over onto its roof. Jeff manages to jump to safety as Dr. John drives off the jetty into the water with the Slithis still clinging to the hood.

“Don’t panic! Everything is going according to plaaaaaaan!"

Dr. John gets back to shore but the Slithis escapes and swims back out towards the harbor. He and Jeff don’t even bother to check on the people in the car they just hit, by the way. For all they know there may be an entire family in there bleeding to death as they hug and congratulate themselves for escaping without a scratch. Do they even care? Of course not. They’ve been hardened by bitter experience. I guess when you set out to hunt a monster you sometimes become a monster yourself…

Back on the boat Chris starts going all Captain Ahab on us, determined to catch and kill the beast which he now says “belongs to" them. Wayne initially wants to call in the coast guard and let them handle it, but Chris persuades him it would be futile to try to convince them and that their boats might well scare the Slithis away. As soon as they get a track on it with the sonar Wayne starts pouring chum into the water to attract it.

Chummy is yummy for a mutant monster’s tummy.

The boat’s engine overheats and stalls out, and that’s a double demerit for using the same tired trope in two consecutive scenes. As Wayne and Chris go below to try to restart it we get our first and only opportunity to meet Mike and Nicholas, who exchange exactly 37 words before the Slithis pops up and kills them both. It’s neither scary nor unexpected but there’s some theremin music on the soundtrack here and a theremin can make anything better.

Mike and Nicholas go out with an eerie wail of electronic feedback.

Chris and Wayne are now all alone on the boat with the dreadful Slithis monster who has just destroyed a station wagon and shredded their two crewmates into crab bait. Naturally they decide on a direct confrontation because that strategy has worked out perfectly for everyone in the entire movie.

Another questionable decision. Should have stuck with crew socks.

Wayne unloads the shotgun into the creature repeatedly to no effect. They beat it with chains, stab it with a knife and sink an axe into its back but all of that just seems to piss it off. Just when it seems that it’s all over and our heroes are destined to be torn up into fish kibble Chris plunges an anchor into the monster’s chest.

The Slithis’ mortal weakness was a lightweight, zinc-plated drag anchor all along.

So the Slithis drops like…well ,like an anchor and the two battered heroes debate whether they should take it back to shore as proof or dump it over the side as garbage. Strangely it’s Wayne who wants to keep the thing now and Chris who wants to consign it to the depths from whence it came. Never mind that Chris was completely obsessed with catching it just ten minutes ago—now he says it’s an abomination that should be cast into oblivion. What a fickle fuck he’s become. Wayne ultimately backs down and kicks the carcass over the side. As they rally themselves to fix the engine and go home, however, a claw pops out from the water, grabs Wayne’s ankle and begins to pull him down beneath the waves!

This would never have happened to the real Bert Convy.

The End!

Spawn of the Slithis has the stink of rotten grouper from the very first frame and that stench never really washes off. With the exception of the scene where Hy Pyke tests the endurance of the scenery against the action of his dentures there’s nothing here to recommend it to anyone.

Final observations: --Spawn of the Slithis was shot in only 12 days and cost less than $100,000.

--The fabulously named Win Condict, who played the monster, had to be sewn into the suit each day and had to stay in it without bathroom breaks because of the time and effort it took to get him in and out of it.

--Theater owners were instructed to hand out “Slithis Survival Kits" which were cheaply printed promotional flyers urging people to join a Slithis fan club.

--Writer/director Stephen Traxler planned a sequel in which Mello Alexandria would have reprised his role as Chris. Thankfully Slithis went down like a fishing weight at the box office and a second entry was never made.

--Traxler would, however return to the open ocean a decade and a half later as the second unit production supervisor on Kevin Costner’s mega-bomb Waterworld (1995).

As always, cheers and thanks for reading!

Written in December 2017 by Bradley Lyndon

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