Director : James Gunn
Screenplay : James Gunn
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2006
Stars : Nathan Fillion (Bill Pardy), Elizabeth Banks (Starla Grant), Michael Rooker (Grant Grant), Gregg Henry (Jack MacReady), Tania Saulnier (Kylie Strutemyer), Brenda James (Brenda Gutierrez), Don Thompson (Wally), Jennifer Copping (Margaret), Jenna Fischer (Shelby), Haig Sutherland (Trevor)
James Gunn has clearly spent much of his life binging on trashy horror movies, and his directorial debut Slither is, in more ways than one, a regurgitation of everything he has consumed. And, gross as that may sound, I mean it as a compliment.
Slither is an absurdly funny, creepy-gross sci-fi/horror hybrid that is bulging at the seams with references to horror movies new and old, serious and campy, profound and forgettable. In one of the movie's most memorable scenes, a woman who has blown up to the size of a small bus literally explodes in a gooey geyser of space-alien worms, suggesting in one fleeting sick-o moment what the movie as a whole is all about. As one character aptly puts it, "That's some f----d-up s--t."
Slither takes place in a small Southern town, but rather than suggesting pastoral tranquility on the verge of disruption, Gunn gives us a community that seems to have taken in every reject from the surrounding areas, resulting in a freak-show atmosphere before the aliens even arrive. Said aliens crash-land in a meteor (shades of 1958's The Blob) that is discovered by Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), a gruff local businessman with a shaved head and square serial-killer glasses (not incidentally, Rooker played the lead in John McNaughton's 1990 stone-faced film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer). Grant is immediately infected by a projectile alien worm shot out of the blobbish slug that emerged from the meteor. The worm goes straight to his brain and takes over his body (shades of 1986's Night of the Creeps).
Grant's beautiful, but increasingly disinterested trophy wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks) begins to sense a change in her husband, especially when long, fanged tentacles start emerging from the middle of his mutated chest. Grant uses said tentacles to infect another woman in town who becomes the aforementioned human womb that explodes in a shower of alien slugs (shades of David Cronenberg's 1975 allegorical gross-out Shivers) that quickly scamper off to take over everyone in town (shades of 1956's Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and turn them into lumbering, flesh-eating zombies (shades of 1968's Night of the Living Dead).
The only thing standing between the space slugs and total domination (which, in a weird flashback, we see has already happened once when they took out the dinosaurs 65 millions years ago) is Bill Pardy (Serenity's Nathan Fillion, who looks like a dead ringer for Arrested Development's Jason Bateman), the requisite nice guy and local sheriff who has carried a torch for Starla since high school. He assembles a motley crew of defenders, including the town's hilariously foul-mouthed mayor (Gregg Henry) and a teen girl (Tania Saulnier) whose entire family was taken over by the slugs.
Gunn, a veteran of the infamous Troma studio (he gives a shout-out to his old employer by showing one of his characters watching their flagship movie The Toxic Avenger), has a beautifully warped sense of humor that never becomes parodic enough to let the air out of Slither's scarier moments. He gooses the audience along with hints of nastiness to come, and he delivers time and time again, clearly taking advantage of the MPAA's increasing leniency on graphic horror violence (we see everything from half a head blown away by a shotgun, to one character who is literally sliced right in half). The movie's jokey-campy tone makes the guts and gore funny, rather than horrifying, but never to the point of abject silliness.
Gunn also wrote the 2004 remake of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978), and he clearly took to heart Romero's tendency to lace his blackly comic zombie epics with social commentary. Watching Slither, it's hard to not to connect the town's seemingly insatiable need to consume (when the movie begins, it is the opening of deer season, which is celebrated with booziness and gluttony) with the invading aliens, whose primary goal appears to be the same. It isn't accidental that the movie's grisly climax ends with Grant and Starla's banally picture-picture Pottery Barn mansion drenched in slime and gore.
The movie is awash with images of zombified townspeople eagerly consuming raw meat and moaning about their hunger, and what's striking is how little things have essentially changed from before the invasion. The space slugs may be ghastly critters that look like writhing turkey necks and share a callous central consciousness, but their most horrifying quality may very well be that they simply bring out the worst in their victims.
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2006 Universal Pictures