Slither (2006)

Directed By: James Gunn
Written By: James Gunn
Starring: Nathan Fillion
  Elizabeth Banks
  Gregg Henry
  Michael Rooker

Upon its release, blockbuster box office hit Guardians Of The Galaxy was described by certain genre fans as the most expensive Troma movie ever made. Clearly, they haven’t seen Slither, Guardians writer/director James Gunn’s raucous, gory and hugely enjoyable 2006 creature feature with a heart of gold that, sadly, never quite found the audience it deserved.

Starring Gunn regulars Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker in lead roles, as local cop Bill and his arch-nemesis Grant respectively, Slither follows the inhabitants of the small town of Wheelsy, who find their quiet little home mysteriously overrun by gooey, disgusting, slimy space slugs – all of which are wonderfully realised, thanks to a delicious combination of expert practical effects, puppetry, animation and well-blended CGI.

Grant is the first to fall victim, his body swelling and erupting in hideous boils until he resembles a certain, very famous Troma antihero, who’s close enough to Gunn’s heart that one of his characters here is actually interrupted while enjoying his first appearance on film. Although Grant’s wife Starla (played the reliable Elizabeth Banks) senses “a change in him”, it’s a while before the rest of the town catches on.

Toxie is just one of the many nods for genre fans that give Slither an overwhelming sense of heart, the kind one wouldn’t expect it to have, given how disgusting it is in parts. This is one of those rare treats, though – a genre film made for fans, by fans. And, although its premise is somewhat silly and the laughs come hard and fast, it’s also tense, loaded with great jump scares and ingrained with a wonderful sense of dread throughout.

Gunn cut his teeth in Tromaville, so to speak, and it’s therefore not surprising that his sci-fi/creature feature hybrid is charmingly goofy and relentlessly entertaining throughout. Likewise, it’s also bloody, gory and stomach-churning in equal measure, with the writer/director showing off a real flair for visual effects and inventive set-pieces. One scene, which takes place in a barn and concerns a woman who has ballooned, Willy Wonka-style, is particularly noteworthy for just how awe-inspiring it is in scope and nastiness.

Paying homage to classic horror, the tentacles sprouting from Grant’s chest are reminiscent of The Thing/Alien, but the production design is so impressive and Rooker’s central performance so strong that it doesn’t really matter. There is enough of Gunn’s vision on show that it never feels as though he’s aping those who came before. Although the way in which the seed is spread is a little bit rape-y, especially when Grant is bent over a screaming woman, it’s all so over the top and silly that it couldn’t possibly be construed as exploitative.

The horrible local Mayor, Mac Ready, played by the hilarious Gregg Henry, provides most of the laughs by flat-out refusing to believe anything untoward is going on, in spite of Grant’s considerable change in appearance, which he explains away as both a “bee sting” and “Lyme disease”. Mac Ready itself is just one of a million lovely touches, another being a heart-warming moment at bedtime, as two young girls read Goosebumps books before being ravaged by space slugs.

The attention to detail is impeccable, from the lively, imaginative script to the SFX to even the setting itself. The location is perfect for just such an invasion, but the townspeople aren’t caricatures and it’s difficult not to hope they overcome their enemy. However, the genius of Slither is the special effects, which are truly something to behold, in particular Grant’s transformation which is awe-inspiringly gooey and disgusting.

The gore is gut-wrenching and awesome, each scene bloodier than the last, while the score by Tyler Bates, whose work has featured in Ti West’s The Sacrament, among others, further adds to the campy, B-movie feel. The film never verges on exploitative, even when it’s nasty and gross – it’s all in good fun.

Slither is in a similar vein to the fantastic Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil, which dealt with comparable themes, disestablished well-known genre tropes and employed an equal amount of gore and laughs, also to great effect. This is a different beast, though, because the tone is goofier and it isn’t so much a blockbuster takedown, as an homage to a time of movies, supposedly, long since past.

Considering comedy-horror is such a maligned crossover, it’s even more impressive how well Slither mixes the two opposing genres together, while blending in along well-chosen elements of sci-fi and creature features. Described on IMDb as a mix of The Blob and classic Romero, Slither defies easy classification, instead choosing to take the best elements of a wide variety of different influences to create something truly unique and wonderful.

A must-see, genre fan or otherwise, that’ll leave you thinking twice about stepping on the next slug that crosses your path.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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