† H a p p y H a l l o w e e n †
With the tounge-in-cheek wittiness of Cabin in The Woods and the bloodlust of early Peter Jackson, there is a lot to be loved about Slither. It is the first film from Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, made as an homage to the type of B-movies he got started with (he has long worked with Troma and is good friends with Lloyd Kaufman, for instance). Some who saw Guardians have complained that Gunn wasn’t allowed enough room to be his truly nutty self and up the violence and squick. In Slither, he goes far enough, and beyond.
Combining the ideas of alien body-snatcher parasites, inexplicable meteors, slimy leeches that enter people’s bodies and turn them into zombies, and a Blob-esque beast with unspeakable tentacles, Slither is such a thoroughly repulsive and cringe-inducing sight that it’s a riot. It features Michael Rooker as Grant, a resident of Wheesly, South Carolina who falls victim to the parasite during a night of adultery in the woods, and is the cause for most of what happens subsequently in the film. It stars also Nathan Fillion as a heroic but damaged sherrif from the same small town, Elizabeth Banks as Grant’s increasingly suspicious wife, Gregg Henry as the town mayor, and even Jenna Fischer. Or Pam as most of us call her.
The parasite turns Grant into a progressively more unwatchable monster, using alien slugs to control and communicate through other humans (the flesh of which it also uses to construct its new body). But before doing so, it needs someone to carry its slug offspring, for which it selects the woman Grant was unfaithful with the night the meteorite landed.
The scene in which we see the slugs for the first time is glorious. Nathan Fillion and his posse of townsfolk find the woman in a barn, now totally impregnated with slugs and swollen to the point of looking like Violet Beauregard after munching on Wonka’s three-course-dinner chewing gum. Eventually, she can contain no more and explodes as hundreds of mollusks ooze out of her and slither their way down the throats of their victims. I could end this review right here as it should be enough to sell you on the experience, but there is more to be praised.
Much of what we see in Slither is thanks to practical effects, costume design and makeup – all of it exceptionally done. Very little seems to have been digitally pasted in, which would have been the easy but more expensive way out, and even if there were digital effects, I had trouble spotting any (aside from the slugs).
As comical as the film is, it is still effective in terms of genuine disgust and likable characters. Nathan Fillion and Elizabeth Banks are both convincing, Rooker is great like only he knows how, and his transition into a blood-thirsty and unquenchable mutant is equal parts disturbing and amusing. Before he starts attacking humans, pets and cattle, he visits the local store for packets upon packets of red meat, reminding me of myself and my brothers during the average Friday dinner. His appearance is even more unappetizing (try watching him seduce his wife while blasting “Every Woman in the World” towards the end without losing your breakfast) but by God is it fun.
Aside from one or two (maybe even two and a half) jokes that didn’t quite land, I have absolutely no problem with Slither. It does what it sets out to do and some of its “flaws” are part of the tribute it pays to the hilarious B-movie nonsense many children of the 70’s and 80’s grew up with (its biggest similarity is with 1986’s Night of the Creeps). Perhaps even before that, as well; there’s probably a handful of 50’s sci-fi flicks quite similar to this movie.
The film is delightfully self-aware, continuously making gags out of old clichés. One such gag involves the set-up for something that’s so obviously going to be the Chekov’s Gun of the climax, only for it to backfire completely and not actually save the day when we get to that scene. It’s these little touches that remind me what a self-aware, down-to-earth and non-bullshitting artist Gunn is. I do so hope the executives at Marvel don’t give him the Edgar Wright treatment and that the Gunn we love is the one who’s giving us Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 next year. Maybe we will see Rocket Raccoon use his gun for more gruesome tasks and Groot do something R-rated with his tree branches?
This concludes my horror month of 2016. It felt appropriate to end on a high note and discuss my kind of violent and icky love letter to classic science fiction shlock (I’ll try to do one of these per year from now on, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead being the first). Here’s hoping you’ve had a happy Halloween, and that you’re getting the Christmas decorations ready. Thanksgiving I think we can skip.