Attack of the Slime People (US-2008; dir. Martin King)
Buddy Flavenoid (Robert Tiffi) is a lot of things — a Ed-Woodesque writer and director of B-horror films in 1950s Hollywood, a delusional auteur, a dab hand with a baseball bat, a lecher and a maniac — but what he isn’t is a good director. His previous picture — The Attack of the Atomic Reptiles — was a critical and box-office flop — and until now, years later, no one has shown any inclination to finance his self-perceived comeback magnum opus, Attack of the Slime People. When his agent/producer receives an expression of interest from a mysterious backer and the project is finally kicked into motion, it starts a chain-reaction of frustrations for Flavenoid that inevitably lead him into a world of horror and despair.
Determined that no one will compromise his “vision”, Flavenoid does whatever he must to get the job done his way, including such drastic acts as recasting the lead role — usurped by an annoyingly persistent “fan” named Sydney Point (Kyle Ingleman) — through the adept wielding of a baseball bat. Increasingly blackmail, take-over attempts, scorn, random projectile-vomiting strangers, sexual predation and the suspicion of police investigating the murders and disappearances surrounding Attack of the Slime People‘s production force Flavenoid’s inherent mania over the edge. As he loses the plot completely, he becomes one of the very Slime People that his unmade film is about.
Despite its title, Attack of the Slime People is not an attempt to make a retro B-horror film. It’s a comedy about filmmaking set in 1950s Hollywood and given the difficulties of low-budget independent cinema a surprisingly effective one. Director King has created a convincing sense of the time and the milieu, with its power-plays, immoral undercurrents, and amateur shenanigans hidden behind a “professional” veneer. In doing so, he keeps an ultimately successful, if occasionally tenuous, hold over the film’s balance between broad comedy, its more satirical elements and the central narrative, so that what could so easily have become an awkward and alienating farce succeeds in drawing us into its world of gross eccentricities and colourful stereotypes.
Co-writer Tiffi leads a decent cast who manage to give life to the stereotypes — but it is Tiffi’s ubiquitous presence that drags us over some of the film’s rougher patches, when it slides momentarily into uncertain exaggeration or when our attention is broken by ragged transitions. Mind you, at first it seems rather uncomfortably apparent that Tiffi’s comedy style is not going to be marked by subtlety. He constantly grimaces and gestures, waving his arms around like a demented windmill and mugging at the camera. But as the film proceeds I found that the extremes of his characterisation became the norm and created their own “truth”. There is even subtlety to be found in his moments of manic despair and thwarted ambition.
That’s the way it is with the film itself. It walks the edge, sometimes tumbles over, but not irrevocably; it may be exaggerated and low budget, but it is often funny, has good production values, pays close attention to detail (some beautiful 1950s cars are involved) and avoids having its postmodern approach devolve into pretentiousness by enjoying its own farcical nature and reveling in a sort of fannish appreciation of what makes 1950s B-horror so fascinating. Its moments of broad comedy, the period details that create a genuine illusion of the time, and visual and auditory references to 1950s B-horror aesthetics are enjoyable in their own right. I particularly liked the use of the iconic music stab from Creature From the Black Lagoon to mark moments when the metaphorical monster in Flavenoid rears its ugly head.
In the end, director King’s film may not reach the heights of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, but what he has created is modestly successful: an industry-referential horror comedy that is both unusual and entertaining. Those who appreciate 1950s B-film horror in all its tawdry glory will not be disappointed. Others will enjoy the farcical comedy and its evocation of a period in Hollywood history.