It is still the quest of many a young naïve dreamer – take your talent (no matter how major or marginal), pack up a bag, leave your wholesome hometown in the dust, and head out to Hollywood. There, set yourself up in some fleabag rat trap, spend your days pounding the pavement and your nights waiting tables, resolute in your desire to “make it big”. Sure, there are pitfalls along the way – conmen and casting couches, phony film insiders and experts in exploitation (personal or otherwise) – but you believe you have the goods. You’re convinced you’ll make it. Of course, when you don’t, it’s the end of the world and a true sense of desperation takes over. And as the incredible new comedy Attack of the Slime People proves, when you’re needy, you’ll do anything – including a few things that aren’t quite legal.
Former filmmaking hotshot Buddy Flavinoid is having a bad day. Actually, it’s been a horrible couple of years. Believing himself to be the best director in Tinseltown (and he has the homemade shrine to prove it) his last production, The Attack of the Atomic Reptiles, tanked. The reason? Buddy hated the original actor hired to play the lead, so he bludgeoned him to death and recast the part. Though he got away with it, the crime has haunted him ever since. Now a mysterious backer wants to finance his latest film – Attack of the Slime People – and Buddy is having the same problem. He wants the Elvis-like Tadd Bentley to star. But producer Dick Goldberg and his saucy assistant Shelia think that stalker/obsessive Sydney Point would be a much better choice. Up against the wall once again, Buddy has no choice but to break out the old Louisville slugger and start solving his problems.
Imagine David Lynch’s demented sitcom On the Air retrofitted for the ’50s b-movie biz mixed with a hilariously healthy dose of baseball bat wielding spree killing and you have some idea of the unsane madness that is Attack of the Slime People. It is safe to say that there has probably been no greater illustration of Hollywood’s dehumanizing effect on talent than this clever, quirky bit of burlesque. With a terrific tour de force performance by co-writer/co-producer Robert Tiffi and spot on era-appropriate direction from Martin King, what could have been artificial and phony becomes arch and very, very funny. This is the kind of quirky exercise where character traits are amplified to running gag perfection, where our leads ever-present smile turns from inviting to insidious at the drop of a dime novel. When combined with a terrific set of side personalities, a viscous Chihuahua, and a snarky sense of satire, the results are truly memorable.
King conceives this entire project as a clever bit of space age bachelor padding. The retro feel is so ripe you can almost smell the sour gin sweat of Flavinoid’s favorite local dive bar. In the lead, Tiffi is terrific, never once playing the role as realistic. Instead, this is one flailing filmmaker who comes across as a combination of Tex Avery’s cartoon and a walking insurance ad. Flavinoid is so clueless, and Tiffi is so brilliant at portraying this disconnect, that we’re amazed when he manages to do anything other than walk aimlessly in circles. This over-the-top tool has his drawbacks, meaning we never really sympathize with his production plight, but King keeps things in check. This is even true of ancillary characters like the slyly psycho Sydney Point or Flavinoid’s elephantine assistant Marge.
Indeed, while Tiffi gets all the close-ups and the cast gets to play period piece dress up, our director handles it all expertly, keeping things light and breezy. This is the kind of mannered material that could get easily bogged down in its desire to be purposefully kitschy and/or camp (read: the lame Lost Skeleton of Cadavera). But thanks to some excellent restraint on King’s part and the exceptional casting overall, what could be tedious instead comes across as electric. Even better, Attack of the Slime People has a subtle statement to make about selling out for the sake of proposed stardom – the title even gives it away. In the irritated ingénue Allison Hayes, a wistful young thing who just can’t believe she has to sleep her way into schlock cinema irrelevance, we get all kinds of well-honed warnings. She often sounds like the voice of the filmmakers speaking directly to an audience of wannabe indie actors and auteurs.
What’s really great about Attack of the Slime People, outside of the expert way it handles its hilarity, is that King and Tiffi are fearless in their desire to entertain. They inject all kinds of mayhem into this movie, from goofy fake names (just try and pronounce police detective Bacon’s moniker – I dare you) to Flavinoid’s issue with dogs. The insider jabs, like namedropping and referencing, also work well, as do the times when King just holds the camera on his star and lets those slightly smoke-stained pearly whites do the talking. From his frequent hooker show/slap downs to the spastic way he carries himself, Buddy Flavinoid is a crazy cult creation – and a surefire cinema superstar. Even if Ed Wood truly could direct rings around this stilted human statue, he’d never have our hero’s flair for flopsweat.
In a realm which regularly congratulates itself for being better and more artistically in touch with its source inspiration than the audience it caters to, it’s nice to see a clever collaboration like Attack of the Slime People. While budgetary reasons keep us from ever witnessing a frame of Flavinoid’s failed oeuvre (it would be super sweet to check out some Atomic Reptile sequences, though), we really don’t need the added illustration. It’s clear from their approach and attention to detail that King and Tiffi totally understand this filmic failure. If he isn’t Hollywood hope perverted, he’s definitely the dream deferred. It’s easy to see why so many Tinseltown types move from a night of 1000 stars to a day with the locusts. Attack of the Slime People may sound like another typical bit of Bert I. Gordon ’50s falderal. Instead, it’s an outsider send-up that’s as cheeky as it is clever.