What kind of standards can you apply to a movie where a tiny slug from outer space burrows into a man’s stomach, causing him to mutate into a giant squid and develop a ravenous hunger for flesh?
Well, it’s no “Citizen Kane,” but “Slither” is the most fun I’ve had at a horror movie since last year’s “The Devil’s Rejects.” To call it a horror movie would be to imply that it is scary, however, which is not really the case. “Slither” is gruesome, for sure, but in a squirm-in-your-seat and laugh-out-loud kind of way. This is the kind of film that is best measured by its sense of humor and the number of inventive death scenes and special effects.
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Writer/director James Gunn cut his teeth with the Troma Studios filmmaking crew (“The Toxic Avenger,” “Tromeo & Juliet”), so naturally the camp factor in “Slither” is high. What he has going for him that Troma’s silly gorefests lack is a some semblance of a real budget. “Slither” successfully combines fast-moving CGI elements that true B-movies can’t afford with the more traditional lumbering (and often hilarious) creature effects that can make them so fun to laugh at.
With a budget comes real actors, and Nathan Fillion (“Serenity”) possesses the kind of effortless dry humor that makes even the corniest of lines funny. He plays Bill Pardy, a small-town sherriff who still pines for his high school crush, Starla Grant (Elizabeth Banks). Unfortunately, she is married to the richest man in town, Grant Grant, played with absurd seriousness by the fantastic Michael Rooker (“Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”).
Between the love triangle and the slugs from space, there is plenty of time to equate sexual desire with meat, and, like any David Cronenberg movie worth its salt, it’s through sexual frustration that the trouble starts. Grant is angry at Starla’s rebukes of his sexual advances, and he ends up walking home from a bar with a trailer-trash hussie named Brenda (Brenda James). He comes to his senses, decides to be a good husband and go home before something unseemly happens, but it is too late once the slimy slug pokes its phallic tail out of a meteor, heading straight for Grant’s stomach.
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When the sexual overtones become more direct is when the real fun begins. Starla is a schoolteacher, and her teenaged students ogle her and draw dirty pictures on their notebooks in class. Grant’s appetite for sex turns to into an insatiable desire for flesh, leading directly to a disappearance of local pets and a high grocery bill at the meat counter. In one of the film’s funniest moments, a girl in a bathtub relaxes with her eyes closed, oblivious to the alien slug swimming up between her legs like a sperm. The creatures do want to fertilize, but they are more like an STD at lightning speed, spreading involuntarily and orally—hence the movie’s tagline “Whatever you do…don’t scream.”
“Slither” also has the extra added bonus of being pretty unpredictable most of the time, as far as horror flicks go. One scene even goes so far as to give quick and violent flashbacks of the creature’s origins on another planet, only to never show anything like that again. When Bill find’s Grant’s secret hiding place in the woods, not even Grant’s mutated, Jabba the Hutt-like appearance could tip you off to what he finds. As the craziness gets crazier throughout the movie, Fillion is the perfect everyman, capable of laughing at ridiculous situations and elevating almost funny one-liners to actually funny one-liners.
No horror/comedy would be complete without the uncomfortable marriage of a cheesy pop song to some grisly event, and “Slither” chimes in with an absurd one. Like “The Devil’s Rejects” re-appropriated Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird,” “Slither” ensures that the next time you hear Air Supply’s “You’re Every Woman in the World” in the dentist’s office, you’ll be more worried about something other than doctor’s fingers sliding their way into your mouth.