Color, 1978, 86 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by Stephen Traxler
Starring Alan Blanchard, Judy Motulsky, J.C. Claire, Dennis Lee Falt
Code Red (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
A grungy quickie shot in less than two weeks with a decent monster suit as its primary reason for existence, Slithis (or as most of the prints call it, Spawn of the Slithis became one of the most unlikely indie horror hits of the 1970s. The Media VHS tape became a hot fan favorite, primarily thanks to fan goodwill already generated by fun theatrical gimmicks like a "Slithis Survival Kit" that recruited audiences into a fan club. The film marked the impassioned film debut of Stephen Traxler, whose labor of love even earned an entire chapter in Stephen Thrower's essential Nightmare USA. (Amazingly, he went on to become a big Hollywood production manager including the mammoth Waterworld). Seen today, this mildly tongue-in-cheek shaggy dog of a film doesn't deliver much on the horror front apart from a few surprising splashes of blood, but it's a priceless snapshot of hazy, bohemian Venice and Marina del Rey culture in California before the coke-addled '80s changed everything.
When milquetoast journalism teacher Wayne Connors (Blanchard) hears about a grisly attack on an elderly couple near the beach, he uncovers some suspicious mud that, according to his scientist friend, is tied in to a nasty chemical spill that alters the nature of organic matter to create a new life form called, yep, Slithis. Now there seems to be some sort of mutated lizard-like threat stomping around the area, attacking people on boats and making life really uncomfortable for the local population.
Kicking off like a '70s TV commercial gone haywire with two carefree kids playing Frisbee before discovering some nasty dog remains, Slithis grooves along to its own spacey rhythms and serves as a pleasant reminder of how modest a movie could be to win over a crowd before the necessities of CGI-created monsters. The titular beastie has a fairly limited amount of screen time, popping up mainly for a protracted attack scene halfway through the film and then a full-on rampage at the climax. Though intended as a kid-friendly throwback to '50-era nuclear monster movies, it ramps up the gore quotient a bit (along with an unexpected flash of nudity more appropriate for Humanoids from the Deep) to such an extent that the film was originally slapped with an R rating. Of course, the crafty filmmakers just cut it down to get a PG, then slipped the offending material back into release prints anyway. On the downside, the film moves about as slowly as one of those dead dogs, and Blanchard is one of the blandest leading men from a decade not exactly known for its charismatic male leads in horror films. Still, for nostalgia value, this one still holds up just fine if you're in a very undemanding mood, and some of the supporting cast members are truly astonishing-- especially the unsung Hy Pike, who steals the entire film in his brief screen time as a very memorable cop.
Code Red's DVD released in 2010 features an anamorphic transfer that obviously improves on the old VHS versions simply by virtue of the fact that you can tell what the hell's going on during the night scenes. That said, this is still a rough, cheap-looking presentation, so don't expect anything close to demo quality. Some speckles pop up here and there, but the element used is fine overall and gets the job done. The only extra is the full frame original theatrical trailer, a still-effective masterpiece of ballyhoo; while it would be nice to hear from Traxler, his extensive interview in Nightmare USA should still be enough to suffice for now. The irreverent menu screen, which features Slithie puffing on a cigarette, is truly perplexing.
In 2017, Code Red revisited the title for a Blu-ray release (sold via Ronin Flix and internationally by Diabolik) featuring a very colorful limited slipcase design. The new HD transfer from the original negative (bearing the Spawn of the Slithis title) looks much, much better, and presumably since it's from better elements with less damage, it also runs a bit longer (now 86m38s compared to the DVD which ran 86m21s). Colors are far richer and healthier, detail increases by a huge margin, and textures are far more tactile and easier to make out here even in the darkest scenes. The DTS-HD MA English track also sounds cleaner and more robust by comparison. A brief, goofy deleted scene (1m6s) with lost sound is also included, along with the theatrical trailer and bonus ones for The Being, Sole Survivor, and The Dark.
CODE RED BLU-RAY
CODE RED DVD
Updated review on December 5, 2017.