Written and Directed by: James Gunn
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, and Gregg Henry
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"If I weren't about to shit in my pants right now, I'd be fuckin' fascinated."
Back in the fall of 2005, I saw a trailer for a flick that totally blew me away. Looking like a demented Troma-esque cross between The Thing and Night of the Creeps and full of hilarious and gross gags, Slither looked like a canít-miss flick. When I found out that Troma veteran James Gunn was writing and directing, things were looking even more promising. However, the best was yet to come, as I also found out that the film would take place in my home state of South Carolina, making it the first and only horror film to hold that distinction to my knowledge. Throw in the fact that the film would feature Nathan Fillion (better known as Malcolm Reynolds to Browncoats everywhere) and Michael Rooker (the title character from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), and Slither was shaping up to be one of my most anticipated horror films in years.
Set in the fictional town of Wheelsy, the film begins with a meteor falling from the night sky, which interrupts Sheriff Bill Pardyís nap. Not much is made of the incident, and life proceeds as normal as weíre introduced to some of the locals: the foul-mouthed mayor, Jack, the pretty biology teacher, Starla, and Grant Grant, the townís requisite rich guy. The latter two are married, but the marriage isnít the most passionate one. In fact, the main thrust of the story is set into motion by Starlaís refusal to have sex one night, which prompts Grant to go out drinking. He eventually meets up with the younger sister of an ex-girlfriend, and they go out into the woods for some drunken escapades. Unfortunately, Grant comes across the meteor, which happens to house a malevolent alien entity that ends up possessing him. Soon, Grant develops an insatiable appetite for meat, and the local livestock and civilians begin turning into zombies. The film then becomes a hilarious romp as Bill, Jack, and Starla unravel the mystery behind the strange events taking hold of the town.
Slither is without a doubt a love letter to B-movie creature features of days gone by, with a little bit of Troma absurdity and humor thrown in for good measure. The film is very much a horror comedy that doesnít take itself too seriously. That said, itís not a parody by any means, as thereís just enough visceral horror here to keep viewers honest. Though its light-hearted tone is firmly rooted in a B-movie aesthetic, the film no doubt owes its splatter-fest side to Gunnís Troma days, as the film does have more than a few gross-out moments and excellent creature designs that will have you squirming and laughing at the same time, and this makes for an immensely fun film. In fact, itís one of the most entertaining horror films Iíve seen in the past five years. It takes a lot for me to re-watch a film these days, but Iíve already watched Slither multiple times in the past couple of years. It's rare for a film to live up to its hype, but this one did for me.
As with any comedic film, itís the cast of characters that makes Slither great. Like I said earlier, the film takes place in my home state, and, while I am nothing like the stereotypes presented here, I appreciate how well Gunn captured this aspect of the film. At one point, you have beer drinking yokels gathering for a countdown to deer-hunting season, and these people could most definitely be from my home-town. Iím sure some southerners might find it offensive, but I donít; in fact, I think itís what makes the film so fun. Specifically, Fillion as Sherriff Pardy steals the show, which should come as no surprise to those familiar with his work from Firefly. He has a very natural and charismatic screen presence, and itís too bad he doesnít get more work in Hollywood. Heís the heart and soul of Slither, and heíll often have you in stitches. Not to be outdone, however, is Gregg Henry as Jack MacReady (one of many references to Carpenterís The Thing), the foul-mouthed mayor that gets most of the filmís best lines. Finally, Elizabeth Banks is excellent as the female lead, as she makes even the most absurd scenarios work. Most importantly, you actually care about all the characters involved, which can be a rarity in a film like this.
Itís a real shame that this film absolutely tanked at the box office. I knew the film didnít fare well, but a closer examination really shows how tough it was for this film to find its audience. Iím not one to care too deeply about box office performance, but I think Slither's poor performance is significant for many reasons. First of all, itís a shame that Gunnís first major outing as a writer and director didnít produce because Iíd really like to see more from him. He shows a lot of promise behind the camera here, as thereís a distinct visual flair for this creature feature. Also, it would seem that the often misunderstood horror-comedy sub-genre was levied a huge blow by the filmís low haul. In an era where deadly serious horror makes up the bulk of the genreís releases, Slither was perhaps a bit too different. For this reviewer, it was a refreshing change of pace. Donít let the filmís box office fool you: there is a ton to love about Slither. Itís essentially a big budget Troma film thatís full of fun characters, outrageous situations, and glorious grue. Even though the film is barely two years old, I feel that itís already an unsung treasure, and I can see this becoming a cult classic in the years to come. In this respect, it might follow its influences, as both The Thing and Night of the Creeps suffered similar fates and are now considered staples of the genre. For me personally, it's a worthy successor to films like Critters and Tremors, the creature-features of my youth.
Like many films before it, I can only hope that Slither will be rescued from the bowels of obscurity by home video. Despite its performance at the box office, the film received an excellent treatment on DVD, and even received an HD-DVD release. In terms of the audio and video quality, the latter is of course superior, but a spot-checking of the standard def release revealed an excellent transfer and strong audio track as well. There are a host of special features including a commentary track with Gunn and Fillion, a blooper reel, deleted scenes, and even a short feature documenting Troma legend Lloyd Kaufmanís set visit. There are also two making-of documentaries, and one of them is dedicated solely to the filmís visual effects. With HD-DVD now being extinct, most will stick with the standard release, but if youíve already got some HD-DVD hardware, youíll be happy to know that all the special features are carried over to the DVD side of the hybrid disc release. However, no matter what format you see Slither on, youíre in for a real treat, and the DVD sweetens the deal. If you consider yourself a horror enthusiast, Slither is a requisite viewing as far as modern horror goes, so run down to your local store and Buy it!
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