SLITHIS (1978) Blu-ray
Director: Stephen Traxler
Code Red

With tragically immense oil spills making headlines in more recent years, here is a 40-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-style 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 lads 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, FOES) a young high school journalism teacher who is bored with his job and his dimwitted students, sets about his own investigation with the support of wife Jeff (Judy Motulsky, IDAHO TRANSFER) 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 twenty years earlier. 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 there at night. One such individual named Bunky (John Hatfield, FIRE SALE) 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 authorities as the brutal murders continue. He hires a fisherman (Mello Alexandria, PSYCHIC KILLER) and his boat to set up a night-time search party: a perilous encounter with the “Spawn of the Slithis” is inevitable and it’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 1970s Californian vibe, and there’s 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 the late 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 was first released on DVD through Code Red in 2010 in an edition that quickly went out of print. For this Blu-ray overhaul, a new 2K scan of the original camera negatives was used for the transfer, and the results are more than a revelation for anyone who has seen or owned the film in the past. The 1080p HD transfer has SLITHIS in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio (bearing the full “Spawn of the Slithis” title), and considering that it cost about $100,000 to make, it looks quite striking. Colors have significant punch, the level of detail is impressive, and film grain is consistently natural-looking. The image is clean and free of any excessive blemishes, and black levels are strong. Shadow delineation, even in darker scenes, is also good (in fact, the nighttime scenes look much better here than they did in the previous VHS and DVD releases). English audio comes in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track, and despite some occasional scratchiness lingering in the original elements, dialogue is rendered very cleanly and it’s largely a problem free track. There are no subtitle options on the disc.

Although it’s not mentioned anywhere on the back cover, a deleted scene (1:12) is included which concerns an earlier station house visit to the detective played by Hy Pyke. The audio has been lost for the scene, so it’s presented silent, and you get to witness Pyke overact as if he was character actor Billy Gilbert reprimanding some mischievous kids in a “Little Rascals” short. Also included is the original theatrical trailer (presented full frame), as well as trailers for THE BEING, SOLE SURVIVOR, THE DARK and DEVIL’S EXPRESS. The cool new artwork found on the Blu-ray’s slipcover can also be found on the front of the insert cover, with the original poster art for the film on the opposite side. Code Red's Blu-ray of SLITHIS is available to purchase at Ronin Flix. (George R. Reis)