Feed the fear.
We all start from somewhere and eventually work our way up; director James Gunn is no different. Beginning his career at Troma Studios — America’s leading Independent Film Production Company — Gunn wrote and produced the cult classic Tromeo and Juliet (1996) together with Lloyd Kaufman, Troma’s eccentric president and the creator of The Toxic Avenger. It wasn’t until 2004 that Gunn got his big break penning the hit horror remake Dawn of the Dead (2004). Several years later, Gunn was given a chance to prove his worth as a filmmaker when he was given the opportunity to write and direct his own feature film. A love letter to 80’s horror-comedy, Slither is an icky blend of B-movie madness reminiscent of classics The Blob (1958), H. P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986).
It’s almost hunting season in the small US town of Wheelsy when a meteorite housing a malevolent extra-terrestrial parasite falls from the sky and crashes into the woods, cracking open and releasing an alien slug onto the unsuspecting townsfolk. All the while, local high school teacher Starla Grant (Elizabeth Banks), is having a hard time getting ‘in the mood’ when her loyal, devoted husband Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), is aching for some lovin.’ In order to release some of his tension, Grant Grant decides to go out for a midnight stroll. While walking in the woods, he runs into the foreign slimy creature slithering in the grass — his curiosity gets the better of him — and the slug shaped parasitic infects Grant with its toxic sting, seizing his body and mind. Once infected, the devious Grant begins exhibiting strange behaviors such as locking the basement door, buying large quantities of meat and showing his more sensitive side, reigniting his troubled sex-life.
While Starla initially overlooks Grant’s bizarre actions, she becomes increasingly concerned after his hostage body begins showing signs of disfigurement, which Grant claimed were the side effects of a ‘bee sting.’ The situation worsens when Wheelsy’s pets and livestock mysteriously begin to disappear and Grant transforms into a squid-like creature resembling something out of a Stuart Gordon, From Beyond (1986), or David Cronenberg, The Fly (1986), flick. It’s not long until Starla and local sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) — a man from her past — swiftly discover that Grant is not only behind the disappearances but is also in fact, the leader of a new breed of hungry zombies — controlled by the parasite — intent on turning Wheelsy into an alien breeding ground. With a small band of survivors by their side, including the Mayor Jack MacReady, (Gregg Henry) and local schoolgirl Kylie Strutemyer, (Tania Saulnier) Bill and Starla must now — in the midst of hunting season — stop Grant before he devours the entire town. Let the hunt begin!
Writer-director James Gunn knows he’s essentially making Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) meets Night of the Living Dead (1968) and has tremendous fun with this premise. Gunn also manages to get the tone right with Slither in terms of mixing two different elements together — horror and comedy — thing is, Gunn never treats his film seriously, but all his characters do, which is what makes the comedy work, while the gore — although sometimes icky and disgusting — is never over-the-top or out to disturb. The effects team does a tremendous job with their obviously smaller budget to bring these gooey creatures to life while splattering blood, guts and tacky green spit around the set. Gunn’s script is snappy, quick-witted and sharp — even downright hilarious at times — while remaining constantly lively and engaging. What’s more, Slither never hides the fact that it’s a low-budget horror flick, but the actors give it their all and, although Gunn is working with archetypes of the genre, he throws in plenty of freshness and originality to keep propelling his movie forward. With countless horror references and in-jokes — Mayor Jack MacReady being named after Kurt Russell’s character R.J. MacReady from The Thing (1982), while places and buildings, throughout the film, allude to various late-20th-century monster movies, such as Meg Penny’s Diner, from The Blob (1988), being just one example — it’s evident Gunn knows his stuff and is out please with this rare B-movie gem.
It’s clear the actors undoubtedly shared a solid bond on-set — many have worked with Gunn countless times since the film’s release — and their performances shine with energy and flair, exhibiting enthusiasm for their director and his project. Michael Rooker, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) is put through the ringer as Grant Grant, playing the loving husband and host alien body — under copious amounts of sticky make-up — to campy perfection oozing with tongue-in-cheek outbursts and over-the-top facial expressions. Nathan Fillion, Serenity (2005), does an impressive job as the calm yet determined sheriff Bill Pardy delivering some pitch-perfect comedic lines at the nick of time — adding an extra punch to the picture — while sharing great chemistry with his co-stars, particularly his partner Wally, Don Thompson, Watchmen (2009) and Elizabeth Banks, The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005). Gregg Henry, Payback (1999), takes the unpolished politician to new heights with most of is scenes being laugh-out-loud comical and relative unknown Tania Saulnier, The Wicker Man (2006), is fun as the sweet teenage girl caught in the midst of this madcap alien plague. Look out for crafty cameos by director James Gunn as another teacher at Starla’s school and singer-turned-director Rob Zombie, The Lords of Salem (2012), as the voice of Dr. Karl.
From The Deadly Spawn (1983), to The Toxic Avenger (1984), to Basket Case (1982), James Gunn’s horror homage is a radiating blast from start to finish, with throwbacks galore — a particular favorite is a scene involving a young girl reading a Goosebumps book from children’s horror author R.L. Stine titled, The Girl Who Cried Monster — a firm cast and a splendid script, Slither is gleefully entertainment and an overall guilty pleasure sure to please B-movie enthusiasts. Be sure to stick around after the credits for an additional scene involving a curious cat and the remains of the alien slug.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Slither is released through Umbrella Entertainment