Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: August 1st, 2017
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Time has been exceptionally kind to James Gunn’s Slither. Even though it was only released just over a decade ago, it might as well hail from a completely bygone era when an unrepentantly gory and silly creature feature was actually taken seriously, so much so that a major studio put it out in wide release. I shudder to think what its fight might have been if it were pitched today, as it’d likely be shipped directly to SyFy, soaked in irony, and spit out as a no-budget lark. But credit to Universal: back in 2006, they took a bit of a risk on a guy whose previous credits included a stint at Troma, a couple of Scooby-Doo scripts, plus the screenplay for Zack Snyder’s excellent Dawn of the Dead redux. Nothing about Slither was a sure thing from a box office perspective—its creator, its premise, even its cast—and yet, there it was, a film that felt like it could have easily been something I’d been renting on VHS my entire life. In the grand tradition of Critters, Night of the Creeps, and Tremors, Slither mashes gore, laughs, and monsters into a violent blender and invites the audience to delight in it.
If I’m being real, I was already delighting in the trailer for Slither. I know we’re not supposed to be taken in by marketing, but I could tell Slither and I would probably be good friends. My suspicion was confirmed within the opening few minutes, as I took in the streets of fictional Wheelsy, South Carolina and spotted references and shout-outs to the likes of The Thing and Frank Henenlotter. By the time the small town high school was revealed to be Earl Bassett High, I knew Slither and I were going to be best friends forever. Sometimes, you just know a movie has been made exactly for you: it hits you in your sweet spot, appealing to your every sensibility before immediately carving an indelible place in your heart. Slither was very much one of those moments for me, and it’s gone on to become a personal favorite. Not a modern horror favorite, not a horror comedy favorite—a favorite, full stop.
Which is to say it more than holds up a decade later, especially since these types of movies are so scarce now (well, at least in the studio arena, though it’s not like the indie ranks are exactly swarming with them). The plot is the sort of simplistic yarn that could be germane to any era’s creature features: after an asteroid crash lands on Earth, it unleashes an alien parasite that needs to find a host so it can reproduce and mutate all across the planet. Wheelsy—a Podunk town that isn’t too far removed from where I grew up—offers an assortment of beer-swilling yokels just counting down the minutes to deer season, but the slithery, slug-like creature settles on Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), a local blueblood with a young wife (Elizabeth Banks) assumes is a gold-digger because of the age disparity.
At first, the monster’s infestation is subtle—something’s obviously off with Grant, who suddenly has an insatiable hunger for meat and has bolted down the cellar door for no logical reason. Soon, though, a gross mutation begins to ravage his body, slowly transforming him into a full-blown monster that terrorizes the town, creating quite a problem for the chief of police Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) and Mayor RJ MacReady (Gregg Henry).
In short: brain-burrowing worms turn people into zombies, and it’s a blast. Yes, that can basically also describe the plot of Night of the Creeps, and Slither is obviously likely to remind you of several cult classics, but I have to ask: “what’s the harm in that?” After all, I’m sure we all had that rotation of movies we’d rent again and again because they never got old, so anything that can even vaguely recapture that magic—no matter how derivative—is welcome in my book.
That’s especially true when a film like Slither legitimately earns its place among such company—it might echo old favorites, but it puts its own distinctive, bawdy spin on it. Gunn’s update of this old staple is rowdy as hell, as he looks to push it towards even more outlandish heights in terms of sick gory and inappropriate humor. Calling them “Troma extremes" might be overselling it a bit, but Gunn’s time spent there is an obvious guiding force, particularly in terms of sheer excess. Everything here is being pitched at something approaching full volume, whether it’s tons of latex, karo syrup, and wit. Slither is just about everything I ever loved turned up to eleven, sort of like a cover band putting on an infectious performance that smooths over the familiarity of it all.
Such an approach has an obvious appeal when it comes to the mountain of effects work. Not only is Slither impressive on this front from a pure volume standpoint, but it also features some of the decade’s most twisted and iconic gags. Spanning flesh-melting body horror to brain-splattering shotgun blasts, Gunn’s effects team orchestrates an orgy of unrelenting carnage. While some of the digital patchwork does show a few more seams a decade later, they’re easily overlooked since Gunn is otherwise so committed to putting on a practical showcase for the ages. A gorehound’s dream, Slither especially takes its toll on poor Michael Rooker, practically buried here under mounds of rubber—though not so much that his sardonic personality can’t creep through it all. Hardly anyone else makes it out without being spattered in someone else’s blood or possessed by a space-worm, either, since Gunn is out to paint this small town red.
Doing so results in a fine splatter movie to be sure, chiefly because it’s obvious that Gunn gives a damn. The years since Slither’s release have made it clear that this is not something to be taken for granted, as this kind of blood-soaked romp is basically the domain of no-budget nonsense that can’t even bother to deliver the basic necessities of this type of film. Slither delivers them in spades and underpins it with genuine heart and wit—this is not a film to be laughed at (that sort of “joke” is way too easy to make) but rather laughed along with since it’s in on the joke, yet takes itself just seriously enough. That’s a crucial, delicate balance to maintain, but Gunn’s cast is certainly game for it, with Fillion anchoring the chaos with his signature deadpan charm. Even his outbursts of profanity—and there’s lots of it here, in keeping with the somewhat juvenile spirit—are measured and pitched at a level that acknowledges the surrounding farce without succumbing to it.
Besides, just about everyone around him is more than willing to pick up that slack. Banks—who is still one of the funniest people working in Hollywood today—is terrific as Starla Grant, a sweet, southern-fried schoolteacher suddenly pressed into the duty of imploring her mutated husband not to feed on live animals. Speaking of which, Rooker can’t be praised enough here (or in any other case, really), as Grant is a rascally good old boy, both charming and slightly sinister depending on his mood. If nothing else, Slither totally rules because Gunn rightfully saw fit to thrust Michael Rooker back into the spotlight, and, in doing so, paved the way for him to steal the show in both Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
Stealing the show here, however, is Henry as the ridiculous, foul-mouthed mayor. The complete opposite of his namesake, this Jack MacCready is a finicky, motor-mouthed weasel, albeit one you grow to kind of love. In a cast crawling with colorful personalities, his is the broadest as he spits out one absurd line after another. He’s the sort of guy who witnesses alien parasites taking over his town but is more concerned that no one packed the Mr. Pibb he asked for since “it’s the only Coke he likes.” Referring to any soda as a coke, by the way, is perfectly on-point Southern vernacular and is indicative of just how accurately Slither reflects its setting. Just about the only thing that’s “off” are the cold temperatures at the start of deer season, which is in September, at which point it’ll likely still be like 90 degrees. Otherwise, Wheelsy is a dead-on depiction of South Carolina (by way of the Vancouver filming locations that likely dictated the cold weather).
If I could, I’d officially declare it our State Movie (sorry, Shag!), though I’m sure that wouldn’t go over for a variety of reasons. Chief among them would be the fact that few people actually saw Slither at its time of release, making it an unfortunate encounter with that sort of disappointment. While I’m not one to get hung up on box office results, it was a genuine bummer that Slither didn’t find an audience in theaters despite boasting the sort of glowing reviews these movies rarely earn. To this day, I can still recall the bemused looks on my co-workers’ faces when I tried to convince them that Slither was worthwhile when it looked like such an obvious joke—which it is, of course, but something about horror comedies makes them a tough sale for whatever reason. Well, unless you can pitch them as disposable television garbage that’s “meant” to be mocked, in which case they go over like gangbusters.
More than anything, that’s why Slither’s underwhelming performance still stings: had it been a resounding success, the fate of creature features may have turned out much differently. Maybe that’s a stretch, but I do like to imagine a world where a Slither 2 was able to follow up the post-credits tag here alongside a new wave of fun, gory monster movies on the big screen instead of the junk that clogs TVs now. At least Gunn went on to receive his due at Marvel, where his zany sensibilities have managed to peek through and explore the weirder corners of that universe, perhaps not too far from wherever the Slither slugs hail (for proof, look very closely at some of The Collector's exhibits the next time you watch Guardians of the Galaxy). Maybe Gunn had the last laugh, after all.
The story of Slither does have a more obviously happy ending, however, as it’s gone on to attain a cult status, just as I predicted it would back in 2008 (just saying). Its coronation is complete with a new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release from Scream Factory, marking the film’s debut on the format, thus mercifully allowing me to retire one of my very last HD-DVDs. Scream’s packaging doesn’t indicate a new master, but it’s hard to imagine a film from 2006 really needs one anyway since the original release was fine.
Scream Factory has delivered a trio of new extra features, including a brand new commentary with Gunn, Fillion, and Rooker. Gunn also appears in a 30-minute interview where he reminisces on the project from its conception to its release—imagine the typical Red Shirt retrospective, only it’s just the director appearing. The interview features some interesting tidbits and anecdotes, especially about the effects work that resulted in some pretty miserable conditions for some of the actors (especially Rooker, though Gunn insists he took it like a champ and notes that very few Hollywood actors would have been willing to do so).
He’s also complimentary of Universal for taking the gamble and staying out of his way for the most part, at least until the film’s release. When the studio intended to hide the film from critics on the basis that movies like Slither never receive good reviews, Gunn implored them to let it screen, a risk that paid off with raves from critics. Of course, Gunn notes that it didn’t do much good for the film’s performance, though he even admits to checking Box Office Mojo around the time of release and noticing that horror comedies never do very well, prompting him to wonder just what he’d gotten himself into.
The other new feature is an 8-minute interview with Henry, who raves about his time on set, noting just how professional, efficient, and funny Gunn is. His account makes the production of Slither sound like an absolute blast, just as I would assume—well, unless you were covered in prosthetics in the middle of a cold, Vancouver night.
One of the reasons Scream didn’t need to produce many new supplements is because the old release was already absolutely stacked. Everything has been ported over from that DVD, including the original commentary with Gunn and Fillion, deleted scenes, extended scenes, a featurette detailing the effects work, an on-set tour with Fillion, an EPK package with the cast and crew, a gag reel, Lloyd Kaufman’s video diary, and a trailer. Between the original and newly-produced supplements, it’s hard to imagine a more comprehensive release for Slither.
With this release, Slither’s place is now firmly cemented among the ranks of other cult classics that similarly found a second life on video. As someone who has been a fan since day one (okay, before day one if you count the trailer), I couldn’t be more pleased with a release that will help others discover what so many of us have known for years: Slither is one of the best horror movies from the previous decade and an all-time splatter classic. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: