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Slither
Reviewed by Andrew Kozma, Laura Eldred, © 2006

Format: Movie
By:   James Gunn (Writer/Director)
Genre:   Old-style sci-fi, gored up
Released:   March 31, 2006
Review Date:   April 06, 2006
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

Andrew: There's one part of Slither that you don't need to see. You know that little teaser that comes after the credits in all movies that have a sense of playfulness? Nothing to see here, folks.

I mean, there is something, but it'll just cheapen your view of the movie as a whole (and of James Gunn's inventiveness in particular).

And it's such a strange inventiveness. His first film was Tromeo & Juliet which, I say somewhat happily, that I've never seen.

Laura: Oh! Oh! I've seen that! It was ridiculous, over the top, and brilliant. My favorite Troma film actually. But you may continue, Andrew.

Andrew: Thank you. Then he made The Specials, two Scooby Doo films, and the Dawn of the Dead remake. His oeuvre, so far, seems to be in taking other, older ideas and making them his own. The Dawn of the Dead was good as a film, visceral, but skipped out on all of the socio-political commentary that made Romero's film a masterpiece — but, frankly, the two films are so different in their take on the events that it is pointless to compare them.

With Slither, Gunn is essentially doing a remake of Night of the Creeps, a 1986 movie that involves an alien parasitic infestation based around a college campus. These leeches, or whatevers, enter through the mouth so [tagline alert] "If you scream . . . you're dead." With Gunn, the setting changes to a small, unapologetically hick town where it's best to "Whatever You Do. . . Don't Scream." Cause, see, there are these things that enter through the mouth . . . oh, yeah, you know the drill.

What Gunn does is take the story of Night of the Creeps (also, coincidentally, written and directed by the same person: Fred Dekker) and make it completely his own. Parasitically zombifying it for his own horrible, twisted ends, if you will. And if you won't, he'll make you.

Okay, Laura, time to open your mouth, say yeah.

Laura: This film can infect me anytime. Anytime, baby. First, I'd like to acknowledge that this is my favorite genre: the goofy, gory horror comedy. If you're partial to classics like Evil Dead II and Dead Alive, this should be up your alley. It's not quite as good as those two, but not everyone can be Leonardo Da Vinci. Unfortunately. The film does, though, have a nice blend of gore and solidly delivered one-liners, grounded by solid special effects work and the able acting talents of Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker, and Elizabeth Banks.

Andrew: The supporting cast also does amazing --

Laura: I would like to insert here, for the girls and those men who can appreciate an attractively put together piece of male flesh, that Nathan Fillion is quite easy on the eyes, and his blend of clumsy charm, masculine bravado, and self-deprecating one liners is the stuff that long, happy dreams are made of. Bravo to the casting director for casting Nathan! Let's hope many other directors follow James Gunn's lead in using the Firefly star. I'd like to see Nathan in SHOUT! Commercials, in a guest spot on House (preferably kissing Hugh Laurie), and in (gasp! I'm getting my hopes up) a Serenity sequel.

As far as plot goes, Slither is an odd mix of alien-invasion film, The Blob, and a zombie flick. The basic schtick is that a meteor crashes to earth in the small town of Wheelsy, and it houses a nasty blobby slug thing, which soon infects Grant Grant, local nerdy (but strangely buff) rich man and husband to our heroine, Mrs. Starla Grant. Grant soon begins acting odd (if killing and eating local dogs counts as "odd"), and it become apparently that this infection means to spread — which it does via various gross methods, including penile stomach extension-thingies that make the victim pregnant with a bazillion nasty worm sperm slugs; once the sperm slugs exit the victim (which usually involves said victim exploding in a hail of sperm slugs), the sperm slugs enter another person through the mouth, and turn that person into a green bile spitting zombie creature. (I know my vocabulary was a bit repetitive there, should've used some pronouns, but you don't get to say "sperm slugs" everyday.)

Our hero, Bill Pardy, played by aforementioned hottie Nathan, attempts to stop all this with the help of Starla, the town mayor, and a couple members of his police force. I think I neglected to mention that he's the police chief. (There are just so many reasons to find Nathan hot and manly that I miss a few occasionally. . . .)

Props to writer and director James Gunn for incorporating references to Troma films as well as the childhood classics series Goosebumps. Some dudes watch the classic The Toxic Avenger on TV at one point, and Troma's main guy Lloyd Kaufman is also cameoed as a Sad Drunk. Not to mention the very Evil Dead opening scene of swooping through creepy rustling woods with strange sound effects. Okay, so this isn't really all that Evil Dead-esque.

Andrew: No, I second the notion. Any thirds?

Andrew, too: I third it. The movements of the camera capture the feeling of the Evil stalking the woods in Evil Dead too perfectly to be less than a homage.

Laura: Anyway, Andrew . . . Andrews . . . plenty of movies have woods scenes. However, given how much I enjoyed this film, I'm inclined to think that James Gunn is cool enough to know and revere the Evil Dead series as much as I do. It's therefore, as seconded and thirded, an Evil Dead reference.

Andrew: The many references in the film come off like that swoop through the trees. Gunn obviously has a deep knowledge of science fiction and horror, and many of his shots and situations (especially Bill Pardy's reaction once he enters the barn) play off of what he expects his audience might be familiar with. And from the opening shot of the meteor hurtling through space towards Earth, you can tell that the movie will be drenched in Old-School Science Fiction (by which I mean older than 1986. Circa '50s and '60s, natch). You can hear the meteor as it tumbles. Let me say that again: You can hear the meteor as it tumbles through space. Yes, it's clear that Mr. James Gunn has no regards for science. Not even fond ones.

This is a "good thing." What it does, strangely enough, is bring Slither closer to Romero's work, to Carpenter's, to Cronenberg's: As with those directors, Gunn's film takes on a personality that is separate from the genre itself — at least his films are starting to. He still holds remnants of Troma's overwillingness to shock (Gak! An edible penis!) and to gross out seemingly needlessly (Gak! An edible penis!). In Dawn of the Dead, a zombie fetus was perhaps not called for and, in addition, really, really silly (OK, there is really no edible penis), but Slither seems to hold the rough edges and interests of the auteur and make the various parts work as the house James Gunn built. You know, along with the actors and crew. That crew really helps, with their hammers and nailguns.

Gunn's aesthetic seems Cronenbergian in ways, especially the specifics of the alien invader, but instead of a fascination with the gross reality of the human body and blurring the notion of flesh with technology, Gunn explores the idea of the alien, and how what is alien is related to us (can only be related to us?) through its humanness, or utter lack thereof. In a similar way, there is Gunn's focus on old school sci-fi where the threat was more important than the logic behind it, and the small town held appeal over the urban center. ('Cause if a small town is wiped out, I mean, who really cares? I mean, knows. Who really knows. Don't hate me all you small townies. I mean, towners. Oh, fark.)

Laura: On the small-town point, I thought what Gunn did with that was interesting. Most films, even horror flicks, set amongst the locals of a small town tend to present that small town as an idyllic haven, the American Dream in miniature, which then must be defended against the terrible threat of invasion. This movie doesn't do that. The shots we have of Wheelsy and its locals emphasize dirt and decay, even deformity. One of the first shots of a living person we get is of the mayor screaming, "Get the f*** out of the way, c***sucker," from his car window. It's apparent that we're dealing with flawed, far from perfect people.

The film could go too far in this direction and present no one with whom the audience could identify, but it doesn't. Most of the townspeople that we meet are flawed and imperfect (and likely have dirty mouths), but they still come across as generally well meaning and interesting. [SPOILERS COMING UP. CLICK AND SWIPE TO BE SPOILED.] Even Grant, who ends up being the Big Bad, is an annoying but generally good guy; when offered the chance to cheat on Starla with the town slutola, he begs off, noting that "Starla gets real worried if I'm out too late." It was at this moment that I sat up a bit, as I noticed that this movie wasn't going to offer easy outs: The villain wasn't the asshole that a lesser movie would have made him.

The one weak plot/characterization point is an unnecessary dependence on a weird sort of psychic experience for the necessary revelation of how to stop the infection. [PRETTY MUCH A SPOILER. NOT A BIG ONE, BUT, YOU KNOW, STILL.] One girl manages to rescue herself from slug infection by dragging the slug out of her mouth using her long, long, manicured nails; while the slug was in her mouth, she apparently had a psychic connection with it, and came to understand what it was and how it worked. This is fine; plenty of movies do stuff like this. It seems a little unbelievable and contrived, however, without being funny. I feel like it would have been less annoying to have just had them blunder around haplessly, make some guesses that don't work, but eventually, miraculously, kill the monster. That kind of plot line also would seem more in keeping with the film's overall emphasis on realistic, uninspired, even stupid or ugly people; to force such characters to figure the situation out and deal with it would be more interesting, and satisfying, than giving them a psychic hotline to a solution. I would like to note, however, that this is a really minor annoyance, and it's mainly included here as I need to say something negative in a review, generally. Lest the review consist of me saying "Nathan Fillion's HAWT and this movie ROX" over and over.

There're plenty of clever, funny moments. A dowdy, overweight woman singing The Crying Game karaoke, absolutely serious and deadpan. When Grant hears that the local slut has had a crush on him for decades, Grant comments, "You couldn't have been more than 10 or 11 [when the crush started]," to which she responds, "Hell, I was game." The sheriff's office labels the rampaging monster "The Squid," and then marks his shenanigans on their map with little sparkly octopus stickers. All this is to say that the movie has a slightly off sense of humor, and I thought it was great.

Andrew: Any movie where a bunch of zombies become a metaphor for a mismatched marriage clearly has its heart in the right place: about to be eaten by a ravenous alien worm machine. Any last words, Laura?

Laura: Nathan Fillion's HAWT and this movie ROX.

Andrew: Hmm . . . quite.

Laura's Rating: 9/10
Andrew's Rating: 9/10

RevSF Assistant Film Editor Andrew Kozma and RevSF contributor Laura Eldred are feeling very hungry. Oh god, they’re hungry. PLEASE LORD SOMEONE JUST ORDER A PIZZA!

 
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