Of all the low-budget trash horror flicks (and I’m talking low) of the 80s, the cheapo gore fests filmed in New York City seem to have the most life. When you watch a film shot in who-knows-where with a cast of eight and only two or three sets, it seems fake, the budget limitations obvious. Something about this same strategy works if the film is set in a big city however; it’s somehow believable that in a city so large and dense a gruesome scenario could play out behind closed doors without anybody noticing. We get that it’s a big city, so instead of wondering where everybody is, we are simply unsettled by the fact that a character in a place so packed could be so isolated. Yesterday I reviewed Frank Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker, a gory flick placed in NYC. His earlier picture Brain Damage benefits further from this quality. The director of Slime City, Greg Lamberson, is credited as first AD of Brain Damage, so these two films share more than just the same aesthetic, they share the same DNA.
Shameless sleaze-merchants Camp Video can actually count Slime City as one of their higher-budget releases, if you can believe that. Camp’s recent DVD releases (mostly of SOV obscurities) claim “The Awesome 80s are Back!” Well, back in the VHS days, their logo read “Your Ticket to the Future.” Whether Camp looks forward or backward depends on the market I guess. Whatever the case, Camp knew their target in ‘88: the box boasts “A horror film with guts!”
The guts in question belong to our man Alex (Robert C. Sabin, fresh off the no-budget I Was a Teenage Zombie), a starving artist who works at a video store (see also: Night Vision, Remote Control, Video Violence). Alex may be an underground painter, but he acts like a typical frat boy. This is the type of character you only find in horror and soft-core porn. Alex’s major dilemma in life is that his square girlfriend Nichole (Mary Huner) won’t have sex with him. T.J. Merrick plays his stock best friend Jerry, a creep who drools over Alex’s goth neighbor Lori (arbitrarily also played by Huner).
Alex has just moved into a new apartment, a decent room in a decaying building. Roman (Dennis Embry), an unhinged guy from the floor just below, initiates him into a black magick cult by feeding him green yogurt and putrid wine, which all the tenants consume. The confusing origin of the cult involves alchemy, suicide pacts, murder and reincarnation. Soon after, Alex becomes addicted to the slime, and unless he murders bums and prostitutes, his face will melt. Doesn’t make sense, but allows for some interesting sequences. Alex goes through the same sort of bodily ordeal seen in Henenlotter’s films, or Cronenberg’s, a clear influence on the entire gore crowd (there’s even a handful of obligatory bathroom mirror scenes). As Alex becomes more and more addicted to the slime and the subsequent killing, he feels alienated from his friends, even though he’s reluctant to commit fully to the cult living all around him.
In the final scene, it’s a face-off (can I say it? Literally) between Alex in full-on melt mode and Nichole, who causes all kinds of harm to Alex using various kitchen appliances. This effects-heavy scene is what has gained Slime City its minor notoriety. Yet, as with Henenlotter’s films, the gore here is not what interests me. This is a fun, trashy flick which confidently allows its aesthetics to be the substance. The riff-raff populating the film create an idealized NYC; this is a love letter to scum. The crumbling buildings, drug addicts and prostitutes here seem to represent an era that maybe shouldn’t have been idealized, but nevertheless was and is. In such a cinematic environment, a mobile brain escaping from a severed head seems slightly less weird.
Special attention must be paid to Slime City’s fantastic score. Robert Tomaro’s original songs sound like something from a Messthetics compilation, and remind me specifically of the L.A. synth-punk bands, especially Nervous Gender and the Screamers. Synth and piano dominate, but jagged edges of surf, dub, jazz and minimalism jut out as well. While New York’s rich underground history has been well-mined, the trash-synth soundtracks to many NY underground gore flicks have yet to be revisited.