Slither (2006)

Written and Directed by James Gunn

“Don’t forget your guns. We don’t want any Lyme Disease popping out at us.”

The Disc

This one is pretty packed with extras, including deleted scenes, commentaries, featurettes on the VFX work and a video diary by Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman (who gave writer/director James Gunn his breakthrough way before Marvel handed him Guardians Of The Galaxy), a gag reel, and a feature that’s genuinely useful around Halloween – a guide on the best way to make fake blood at home!

Why Did I Get This?

I don’t remember buying it, to be honest, but I went through a phase of loving Troma movies in the early 2000s so that could have been a factor – this isn’t a Troma production, but I knew enough to know it had a sort of distant link to the cheapo schlockbuster studio.

I’m also a big fan of Firefly and Nathan Fillion is, for my money, an underrated and underused talent in the movies, so that could have been another factor.

I do remember watching it and enjoying it very much for what it was – a gory, silly, unapologetic horror film that knows exactly what it is. Also, the blood recipe on the DVD extras has always stuck with me and is really easy and fun to make!

The Late Review

As always, the Late Review will go into detail about every aspect of the film, so if you’re looking to avoid spoilers, scroll down to the next heading.

Slither is essentially your classic bodysnatcher/invasion movie set in a rural hunting town, only with the gore, silliness and grossout humour turned up to 11. Local arsehole and doubly-named thug Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), discovers a meteor in the woods and is immediately penetrated by a parasitic alien life form. Quickly, the town is overrun by alien slugs and the locals are almost all taken over by the alien hive mind, leaving the local sheriff (Nathan Fillion), teacher (Elizabeth Banks), mayor (Gregg Henry), and a few other survivors to have a very bad time indeed.

Looking at Slither 15 years on from release, and knowing the heights James Gunn has risen to (with major films for both Marvel and DC under his belt), it’s pretty tempting to draw a parallel with Peter Jackson – both began their careers with low-budget horror before moving on to bigger and better things and raking in millions for the big studios. But while Jackson’s early humour was fairly quickly sidelined as he developed new styles, Gunn’s background working with Troma is barely hidden below the surface here, with bloody violence, icky parasitic infection and sickening prosthetics, acid-spitting infected, and goofy humour to boot. Hell, there’s even a cameo by Troma studio head Lloyd Kaufman and Toxic Avenger playing on a TV in an early scene, in case you need it hammering home.

Gunn also includes nods to other classic genre films too, doubtless more than I even noticed, but the alien’s first arrival includes an Evil Dead-style race through the forest to its landing site, Superman’s x-ray vision showing the parasite’s progress into Grant Grant, and the infected townsfolk merging into Grant’s vast, squid-like body is like something straight out of the demented finale to Brian Yuzna’s Society.

In the most famous shot of the movie of course, the one that made the poster and DVD cover, a space slug climbs into and swims through a bubble bath towards an unsuspecting teen (Tania Saulnier), with a shot from behind the worm’s swimming head acting as a clear tip of a battered Fedora to A Nightmare On Elm Street.

Slither knows what it is – a love-letter to those 1950s ‘small town gets infected’ flicks, so you’ve got your stock characters as mentioned above. But that doesn’t mean the script and the cast can’t bring something new to the well-worn stereotypes.

Michael Rooker’s Grant Grant is played up as the town bully right off the bat, and if you’ve seen any of his work, you know how good an a-hole he can be. Think of his Mallrats character and add about 20%, I’d say. His attempt to initiate sex with his wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks), is cringe-inducingly awful, and when he storms out of the house to find a bar and a loose woman, you’re rooting for him to get his comeuppance, as any stock bully character would get.

What’s interesting is his reluctance to actually carry out the deed and cheat on his wife when the situation presents itself – he seems like the kind of guy who does this on a regular basis. Instead, he displays guilt at even getting to the point where it was a possibility. Rooker can do tender as well, I guess, but we see it only briefly before he’s got an alien probe burrowing into his chest.

Once he’s infected, of course, Grant’s mind is overtaken by the alien, and he hordes raw meat, slaughters cats, dogs and cows, and pumps his intended bar conquest full of little alien maggots until she’s literally the size of a barn before she bursts and spews forth a million little space slugs with nothing on their minds except wriggling down the throats of unsuspecting townsfolk – but right to the end, there’s a tiny bit of humanity and regret in Rooker’s heavily-made up eyes, and he seems genuinely sad to have upset Starla.

In the 1950s version of Slither, Sheriff Bill Pardy would be the honest, stand-up, straight-shooting, level-headed lawman who gets things done and takes everything in his stride. But when you cast Nathan Fillion, you get bits of that, but you also throw into the mix an effortlessly likeable, goofy roguishness, and a level of ‘what the hell is going on’, that’s hard to beat. Stands to reason nobody in the town can get their heads around what’s going on, and Fillion’s the perfect everyman to voice those WTF expressions with sarcasm and and a frustrated weariness that fit perfectly and get you onside.

He’s far from the capable hero too, getting overpowered by an infected deer at one point, and managing to bollocks up the big chance to end the invasion by getting Chekhov’s Grenade knocked out of his hand and watching with big, sad Wile E. Coyote eyes as it explodes in a swimming pool instead of inside Grant Grant.

Pardy’s unrequited love of Starla is a neat little thread running through the film too, and as the movie ends with them the two last adults standing in the whole town, you’re kinda hopeful that things are going to work out for them once a pile of paperwork the size of Mount Rushmore has been filled in. Apparently, Gunn’s original ending saw Starla forced to kill an infected Pardy at the end of the film, and I’m really glad he chose another option.

The tone of Slither helps sell the violence and gore, but even for me as a fan of genre cinema, there were a few scenes which were a little hard to handle. For example, teenage Kylie Strutemyer (Tania Saulnier), narrowly avoids being infected by an alien worm forcing its way down her throat in the bath, only to watch her younger sisters and parents suffer the same fate as alien worms completely surround her in the family home.

Her infected family then continue to terrorise her throughout the night as she cowers in their parked car. Her terror as she sees the young girls convulsing on the floor as the infection takes hold is palpable, and the performances by the younger actresses playing her sisters once infected are eerie as hell too.

Creepy children in horror movies man, just terrifying.

Earlier than that, we see an infected Grant seek out his bar conquest and – for want of a better term – pass on his infection to her as she’s looking after a very young baby. This baby sits in its cot while a few feet away, Grant basically rapes her in an extremely unpleasant scene.

It’s played out as the town is celebrating the opening of hunting season and intercut with Fillion, Banks, Henry and the rest of the townsfolk dancing to country music and just having a whale of a time, but the gravity of the situation is referenced later when Pardy tells Starla the child had been found alone and neglected while the woman had disappeared.

By the time the whole ordeal is over, when Grant is dead and the rest of the parasites die with him (it’s a Phantom Menace battle droid situation, y’see), it seems like everyone in the entire town with three exceptions are corpses. Even, you’d assume, the baby. That’s also a lot to take on board, even as a fun sweary song plays over the end credits, and if you sit through the whole shebang, you’ll see one last alien spore attracting the interest of a curious cat… and we all know how that ends up.

So while our heroes walk off into the sunrise, confident they’ve ended the invasion and ready to face down the first day of the rest of their lives, for me, this was a bloody bleak ending. Not that a bleak ending to a horror film is unheard of or even a bad thing, of course (and I know there’s a Late Review coming at some point in the future which has the bleakest of bleak endings I’m not particularly looking forward to revisiting), but it’s something to bear in mind.

Hat tip then to Gregg Henry for his funny as hell performance as the town’s mayor, Jack MacReady, which also helps to lighten the tone a little more. He’s a bit of a loutish arsehole, taking his lead from the mayor in Jaws by wanting to sweep the issue under the carpet at the town’s busiest time of year, but ultimately tries to do the right thing and help deal with the invasion. As you can imagine, things don’t exactly end in glory for him, and his final moment genuinely made me laugh out loud – if that sounds ghoulish, trust me, it’ll make you laugh too.

Fans of horror movies with bleak endings will instantly catch that his name’s a reference to John Carpenter’s The Thing, but I’ll mention it anyway. There’s also a shopfront early in the film named RJ MacReady’s, and the mix of body horror, gooey prosthetic effects and a storyline involving a devastatingly infectious alien organism show Gunn once again wearing his influences proudly on his sleeve.

Speaking of Gunn, he makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as one of Starla’s fellow teachers to whom Grant takes an instant dislike…

… while there’s also a brief appearance by Gunn’s then-wife and star of the US version of The Office, Jenna Fischer, as Sheriff Pardy’s dispatcher. Story goes, she was asked to be in the film when the original performer bailed, and while she doesn’t get a huge amount of screen time, she manages to tee up a tremendously embarrassing situation for Nathan Fillion and give a great scream of terror when she realises her number is up.

Without taking the film beat by beat, there’s not a lot more to include in this Late Review, although I assure you there’s plenty more to discover if any of the above has piqued your interest. Some of it literally has to be seen to be believed.

In short, this was a really fun film to revisit for Halloween. An old-fashioned, unapologetic genre outing with just enough scares, gore and surprisingly original moments to remain memorable, with a great cast who are plainly having a lot of fun.

Thoughts On The Film

Gunn famously got dragged through the media mill for social media comments made years ago, and came out of it stronger and still in employment, but a few of the lines and comments in Slither would probably need a redraft if the script was being submitted now. Alright, they’re mainly being spoken by the brasher, less pleasant members of the community, and designed to show them up as the yokels they don’t think they are, but I suspect some members of the online community would be less inclined to consider that.

On the whole, there’s an energy and enthusiasm to Slither that can’t be faked – it’s a writer/director who knows he might not get another chance to make his own movie, so throws absolutely everything into his film. We saw it with Robert Rodriguez in El Mariachi (although the budget for Slither is definitely closer to that of Desperado), and I reckon it’s on show here too.

I’ve always been a big fan of in-camera, practical effects, and Slither is packed to the slimy gills with them. But it’s not afraid of using CGI too, enhancing the practical nastiness when needed, and for the most part it’s dated pretty well.

I don’t know what more to say about Slither aside from encouraging you to give it a shot if any part of this review has appealed to you. It’s fun, unpretentious and knowing, while managing to be creepy, gory and features a few neat gags I don’t recall having seen on screen before.

Verdict

Gory, silly fun, with lots to like and some brilliant practical effects, this is a hard recommend to horror fans.

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