Released in 2006, this movie is responsible for making writer/director James Gunn one of my favorite creative forces in modern horror cinema. He already had some noteworthy accomplishments to his name, such as his work on the screenplay for the remake of Dawn of the Dead, but Slither is the first film that felt to me like it was Gunn's baby all the way. This time around, he wasn't reworking someone else's original concept, and he wasn't just a screenwriter. He was the guiding force behind nearly every detail of this movie, and in my opinion, he knocked it out of the park and into the stratosphere, dishing out genuinely hilarious moments that went hand in hand with scenes that legitimately make your skin crawl. Sure, this is most definitely a "gross out" movie, but it's so damn entertaining that even many people who don't care for being grossed out would surely find a lot to enjoy here.
Gunn's script was impressive enough to attract a top shelf cast of acting talent, from veterans such as Michael Rooker and Gregg Henry to up-and-comers (at the time) such as Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks and Tania Saulnier. Gunn's then wife Jenna Fischer (of TV's the Office) also pops up in a small role. Throughout the film, the entire cast does a commendable job of walking that fine line between horror and comedy, managing to keep things lighthearted and campy while still playing their characters as believably terrified and repulsed. Even the bit players here are rather memorable, such as the well-meaning redneck (Ben Cotton) who tries to play hero and ends up getting split down the middle by one quick swipe of a monstrous tendril.
For those of you unfamiliar with this movie, here are the basics of the plot. A meteorite rockets towards Earth out of deep space and lands in a small, southern town, bringing with it a form of alien life that the earthlings of the film quickly come to regard as a plague (at least until they become afflicted with it themselves). The first one to stumble on the meteorite's landing place is a man named Grant Grant (Rooker), who is soon shot in the chest by an alien spoor that comes zipping out of the festering thing. Though he immediately gets somewhat sick from his injury, Grant initially retains enough of his identity and composure to hide the severity of what is happening to him from his lovely young wife, Starla (Banks). Grant's act becomes harder to maintain as he begins to sweat profusely and develops an insatiable hunger for raw meat. By the time he begins to mutate into an oozing, boil-covered fiend complete with the aforementioned tendrils, he's pretty much lost all sense of who he was before, except for one little detail: he is perhaps more attracted to his wife than ever, and desperately wants to copulate with her. Luckily, Starla has the local police force and a rag-tag team of townies to come to her rescue, headed up by Sheriff Bill Pardy (Fillion), who shares an attraction with Starla that neither one of them has ever acted upon. As alien slugs permeate the town, other residents get caught up in the terror as well, most notably Kylie Strutemyer (Saulnier), who can't even successfully take a bath without being besieged by the disgusting little worms. What's more, it gradually becomes apparent that everyone who falls victim to the alien plague not only mutates, but eventually becomes part of a large hive-mind. Since Grant is "patient zero" in the whole epidemic, his love for Starla imprints on every single one of the once-human beasties. They might want to infect pretty much everyone, but what they want to do to the poor woman that they all think they're married to is even more repugnant. But hey, surely a little mood lighting and romantic music will help Starla get over her aversion to having sex with a gooey pile of merged plague victims, right? It would be bad enough if the ultimate goal of the squirmy aliens was to turn the entire town into their own private love nest with Starla, but the script finds a rather clever way (which I won't reveal here) of showing us that these dirty bastards have destroyed other entire planets before and aim to do the same thing to earth. It's now up to Bill, Starla, Kylie, loathsome Mayor MacReady (Henry), and a small handful of others to do everything in their power to stem the tide of a global invasion.
In addition to the original quirks Gunn brings to his premise and the pitch perfect performances of the cast, Slither also benefits from its special effects. Gunn was adamant about accomplishing the creature effects with old-school make-up and prosthetics, saying that they simply look "grittier and dirtier" than CGI. He brought in Todd Masters to help him achieve his vision in this regard, and in my opinion, the two of them almost always made the right choices when it came to how to present the effects for this film. Although there are one or two moments where a certain effect may not quite look real, even those moments only add to the campy atmosphere of the piece and, in any event, they definitely look a lot better than anything CGI could have brought to the picture. Besides, who among us can really say with any authority what a "realistic" alien lifeform would or would not look like? For the most part, I was thoroughly impressed with how authentically slimy and scary the mutated creatures looked, especially the primary monster played by Rooker and another bulbous plague victim (Brenda James) who swells to the point that she nearly fills an entire barn. Aspiring horror filmmakers should take notes on the fantastic work that was done here in the arena of special effects that are not entirely dependent on computers.
Gunn's ear for dialogue gives the film yet another boost. It's no wonder that Fillion wanted to come on board for this project, since the script features one-liners that his work on Firefly proves he was born to deliver. I am a person who can stomach violence against people in movies a lot easier than violence against animals, but when Sheriff Pardy finds the remains of a dog that Grant disemboweled and says "I reckon Grant ain't got one of them puppy calendars on his desk. Just don't strike me as a real dog lover is all.", the delivery is so flawless, and the comedic pay-off ample enough, that even I could not muster up any real desire to avert my attention from the screen. There are also tons of great exchanges between characters here that you simply have to experience for yourself in order to fully appreciate.
Though it's not technically part of the movie's narrative, I wouldn't be giving Slither the credit it deserves if I failed to mention that the DVD also contains one of the best gag reels I've ever encountered. I laughed my ass off watching the cast cavort about with alien prosthetics and I also learned that there is apparently quite an art to getting a fake cow to fall over in exactly the right way. In addition, there must have been some kind of contagious strain of Tourette's going around the set, as various cast members randomly went off script throughout shooting, including one guy with a miniscule part who spontaneously starts ranting about getting his salad tossed. The best feature, though, is definitely the good-humored mockumentary in which Nathan Fillion's castmates claim that "He's not just a shitty actor, he's a shitty human being."
Basically, Slither is one hell of a fun mash-up of everything that is good about horror/comedies, with a slight sci-fi twist. It may not make for a good dinner-and-a-movie selection, but it's an excellent film to have a blast with while you kick back and enjoy an adult beverage or two. Never too complex or too simplistic, not quite a zombie flick and not quite a straight up alien invasion film, this movie represents that rare hybrid of a dozen different things that manages to coalesce into something uniquely entertaining, rather than turning into incomprehensible mush. And that's something worth celebrating in my book.
My next installment is coming soon, so be on the lookout!