Troma Films veteran James Gunn comes calling with his first feature as a director (he penned the above-average Dawn of the Dead remake). The amusingly gooey horror flick Slither is actually a work of some note, if only because it makes for a welcome respite from the trend that increasingly mistakes torture and sadism for horror.
Of course, this is partly due to the fact that the film is intentionally funny, rarely attempting anything that’s actually intended to work on an actual fright level. The closest it comes is a scene where a parasitic slug invades a bathtub — and that’s a riff on a well-known scene from David Cronenberg’s Shivers (aka They Came from Within).
Gunn does have the sense to create several scenes of notable tension, but little that aims for a creepy horror-film frisson in the manner of Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, Ken Russell’s The Lair of the White Worm or Don Mancini’s Seed of Chucky. Those are films that genuinely blend real horror elements with humor in a postmodern manner.
Gunn’s movie is more just plain jokey, wearing its silliness on its sleeve in every scene — something hardly unexpected from a graduate of the production company that gave us the Toxic Avenger and Sgt. Kabukiman. However, Gunn — who even includes a clip from The Toxic Avenger — has crafted a much savvier, more professional film than anything his Troma compatriots ever managed. Basically, he’s made a film that delivers the goods in terms of creative splatter and goo, and that generates a reasonable degree of thrills even while functioning as a deliberately goofy homage to the genre. Not a bad accomplishment.
Set in the improbable town of Wheelsy, S.C. (played by British Columbia, of course), where the decidedly Troma-esque locals celebrate the opening of deer season, know everyone’s business and are quirky to a fault, the story concerns the arrival of a meteorite that disgorges an alien life-force of the kind that’s decidedly inimical to mankind’s best interests. In this case, the life-force is a gooey item (rather like something out of a Cronenberg movie on a much cheesier level) that manages to find a host in one of Wheelsy’s less lovely citizens, the redundantly named Grant Grant (Michael Rooker, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), who is out in the woods not quite cheating on his unresponsive wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks, The 40-Year-Old Virgin), in a liaison with the would-be biologically accommodating Brenda Gutierrez (Brenda James, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants).
The characters are fleshed-out in soap-opera terms, with Starla as the “white trash” wife, who succumbed to the financial rewards of marrying Grant, only to find him considerably less than appealing in the long run, while still pining for childhood sweetheart and current Wheelsy Sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion, Serenity), a decidedly atypical specimen of the community. Gunn uses Bill as the bemused observer of the quirk-filled town he protects. Though a high-profile inhabitant of Wheelsy, he’s more than a little baffled by it (wondering what possible enjoyment is gained by wandering around in the woods with a thousand dollars’ worth of gun to shoot a deer).
Yet there’s a sense that the locals would merely consider this as quirkiness on his part and overlook it, much as they seem to ignore the foul-mouthed outbursts of their ill-tempered mayor, Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry, Femme Fatale). There’s a shrewdness to this, because it sets up the basic approach of the humor, which is to greet the quickly amassing mutations, zombifications and general carnage in the most understated manner possible.
Grant turns into tentacled monstrosity (bearing a not coincidental facial resemblance to Belial from Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case– since the bar in the film is named Henenlotter’s) who then “impregnates” Brenda with a horde of nasty slugs bent on taking over mankind. Even after this, Starla insists, “You’re just sick, that’s all.” The resulting monsters are much the same. When Brenda is swollen to the size of a small bungalow with her brood of slugs, she conversationally asks to be handed a dead possum to snack on. The zombified Strutemyer clan keeps reminding daughter Kylie (Tania Saulnier, She’s the Man) that it’s “family fun night,” as they try to break into the locked car she’s taken refuge in to escape them. Even at his most inhuman blob/squid-like state, Grant tries romancing Starla with “their song” (the vapid Air Supply’s ultra-vapid “Every Woman in the World”).
Likably goofy, cheerfully cheek and never mean-spirited, Slither is pretty much what it intends to be — engaging schlock. The film has little to no residual power, but it’s fun while it’s onscreen. Rated R for strong horror violence and gore, and language.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke