James Gunn first got his chance to work in the horror-comedy genre with his time in Troma Films. His first contribution to the genre being a send up of Shakespeare’s Romero and Juliet aptly titled as Tromeo and Juliet. He next moved on to penning scripts for the major studios with his first two being the critically-panned, but profitable two Scooby-Doo live-action films. Gunn next moved on to writing a script reimagining George A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead. Despite howls of protest from the original film’s legion of fans, the film went on to be a modest success and helped bring about the renaissance of the current zombie mania in all facet of entertainment. Gunn follows up the success of his Dawn remake by not just writing the script but finally getting behind the camera and directing it himself. I’m glad to say that James Gunn’s first directorial debut with Slither has turned out to be one fun, gross-out, disgustingly hilarious horror-comedy that brings to mind the splatter-comedy films of the 1980’s.
I say that Slither has alot in common with the horror-comedy during the 80’s just for the fact that we’ve not seen a film of this kind since. Slither brings to mind such 80’s B-movie shlock classics like Critters, Return of the Living Dead, and Night of the Creeps. But Gunn also pays some an homage to cult classics like John Carpenter’s The Thing. One of the character’s in the film and a store are even named after The Thing‘s badass antihero, R.J. MacReady. Then there’s the tip of the hat to Romero’s zombies, though this time around I would say that Gunn had more in mind the quickthinking and funny undead from John Russo’s Return of the Living Dead. There’s even a shout out to Invasion of the Body Snatchers as the alien slug-controlled populace are actually part of a much larger organism who thinks for all.
The story Gunn came up with for Slither was pretty straightforward and simple. Intelligent alien organism bent on world domination hitches a ride on a meteor which travel the depths of space until it falls on an unsuspecting planet. Unfortunately, the planet in question for the film happens to be Earth. Right from the get go the comedic aspect of the film begins even as the alien-laden meteor crash lands its way to one Wheelsy, N.C. A podunk town where the most interesting to happen each year is the annual Deer Cheer which signals the start of Deer Hunting season. We get to see the mundane day-to-day life of the townspeople from the pretty high school teacher Starla Grant (adorably played and with a strong sense of marital fidelity by Elizabeth Banks), the town’s obnoxious and foulmouthed Mayor MacReady (Gregg Henry’s performance was hilarious and he gets pretty much all the best one-liners), to its Chief of Police Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion in Han Solo mode).
The alien soon finds a host in the town’s richest person who also happens to be Starla’s much older husband, Grant Grant. Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) plays Grant and his performance was both funny and sad. He pretty much starts morphing into a creature somewhere between Jabba the Hutt and a Lovecraftian squid-person. But through it all, Grant’s love for his wife manifests itself by way of the alien’s collective intelligence. When the townspeople all start getting infected by the large, slug-like offsprings of the main alien, it’s hilarious to find that they all share Grant’s love for Starla. It would seem that the alien collective learned abit or two from Grant about marital love and also a love of Air Supply’s syrupy ballad, “Every Woman in the World.” These zombies chant the word “Starla” instead of “brains.” The rest of the film was pretty much Starla, Bill Pardy and a small band of survivors trying to stop the Grant-alien, the slugs and the zombified townspeople from spreading out of Wheelsy and out onto the rest of the planet.
The film balances well between horror and comedy. The horror aspect of Slither comes from the many gory scenes. Trust me when I say that this film has more than its share of blood, gore and splatter. We’re shown dead and gutted pets and farm animals. Not to mention the requisite flesheating performed by the zombies. the great thing about the scenes of horror in Slither was the absence of CGI except for a scene or two and even then it was difficult to pinpoint which was CGI and which was animatronics and make-up effects. Slither‘s monster effect owes alot to the work of Rob Bottin and his crew who did the disgustingly creative effects on Carpenter’s The Thing. I’m glad to see that Gunn decided to forgo CGI for these scenes and went for more realism. Even if such realism were nauseatingly disgusting and gross. Just what a horror movie was suppose to be. The comedy part came not from the aliens and the scenes of horror, but from the characters reactions to the unfolding events around them.
Just like Shaun of the Dead, Slither’s characters stumble, bumble and trip their way through the crisis. Even Fillion’s character of Bill the Chief goes against the stereotypical hero from these type of film. He’s a smartass about his job and how he sees the people he’s suppose to protect, but when the time comes to do his job as protector he tries to do the best he can even though the best he can doesn’t measure up to what we’re suppose to get from our heroes. The dialogue was fast and wickedly sharp which made for alot of hilarious one-liners and most of them coming from the mouth of Slither’s Mr. Pibb-obssessed Mayor MacReady and his penchant for overreacting to everything and also for calling everyone cocksucker.
Slither doesn’t try to be anything but what it set out to be: a funny horror film with a large helping of slapstick, splatter and slime. In that respect, James Gunn succeeded with his writing and directing of Slither. The movie doesn’t bring any originality to the horror-comedy genre. To be honest, there’s not much originality left to bring to the genre, but Slither takes all the usual conventions from those 80’s horror-comedies and gives it a new millenium vibe. The acting by the cast was well-done and showed that they must’ve have fun doing the film. The special effects were done old-school style with nary a CGI-effect to be seen except for a few brief scenes. In the end, Slither was one fun, rollercoaster of a movie that scared the audience into jumping and recoiling in their seats and at the same time making them scream, shout and laugh when doing so. I’ve never had as much fun these last couple years watching a movie like I did with Slither.