If you grew up in the 1980s, watching horror movies and reading Fangoria magazine, here's a film made just for you. Slither is a tongue-in-cheek splatter movie about gore and slime and pus and yucky creatures with unpleasant designs on your body. It's packed with things that would look right at home on the cover of Fangoria: slug-creatures, hordes of shuffling zombies, decapitated, eviscerated humans and giant, fleshy mutants.
The setting is Wheelsy, South Carolina, a blue-collar redneck town that looks like it's just down the road from the cabin in Cabin Fever. Its beer-bellied, line-dancing inhabitants make most of their money during deer season, selling guns and hunting licenses to tourists. This year's hunting season is about to begin but there's a twist: this year it's humans that will be the victims. An extra special tourist has arrived in Wheelsy - a small, slug-like creature that's crashed to earth inside a meteorite. It's intelligent and it's not friendly.
The creature is discovered by the poorly named Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), Wheelsy's richest citizen. He's out the woods cheating on his young trophy wife with a bar-room pick-up when he stumbles across the slug-thing. The creature launches itself into his mouth, crawls into his brain and takes control of him. Stumbling back home, Grant at first seems like his usual surly self to his wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks) but he has strange marks on his body and he can't hide the craving he's developed for fresh, raw meat. At first he satisfies it at the deli counter but the hunger grows and grows and soon the neighbourhood pets start disappearing.
Starla turns for help to the local sheriff, Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), who happens to be her childhood sweetheart and still carries a torch for her. Bill's already investigating the mysterious disappearance of the woman last seen in the woods with Grant. Little does he know that Grant has her tied up in an old barn, where she's pregnant with an enormous litter of baby slugs.
James Gunn, the writer and director of Slither knows his splatter movies. This movie feels like someone put John Carpenter's The Thing, Brian Yuzna's Society, George A Romero's Night Of The Living Dead and pretty much all of David Cronenberg's early work into a blender. Fans of the genre will recognise bits cribbed from these films - the worm in the bath from Shivers, the "shunt" from Society. Gunn steals with gleeful abandon but, like Tarantino, he acknowledges his sources and he makes the recognition part of the fun. At least he's honest. The other film I saw this weekend - 16 Blocks - might as well be a remake of Clint Eastwood's The Gauntlet, with added sprinklings of Cop Land and Enemy Of The State and I didn't get the impression I was supposed to realise this.
Slither is unpretentious and it's good, gruesome fun. It gets the balance of horror and comedy just about right, playing the story entirely straight and putting the comedy on top like icing on the cake. The movie's been compared to Tremors by some and while it's less high-spirited, it does have the same sardonic humour. Slither is a hell of a lot gorier than Tremors however. This is surely the bloodiest film ever to receive a 15 rating. The BBFC must have decided (correctly I think) that the gore's so far over the top, it's unlikely to upset anyone.
Most of the humour is verbal and so it's just as well there's a good cast to make the most of the jokes. Michael Rooker is very funny and oddly human as the cheating-husband-turned-mutant. It would have been easy to portray Grant as a complete asshole but Rooker makes him almost sympathetic. I was impressed too by Nathan Fillion, who is a lot more convincing and likeable here than he was in Serenity, where he seemed like a poor man's Han Solo. Stealing the show however is Gregg Henry's sleazy, foul-mouthed mayor. Henry's a prolific character actor who usually plays the villain - his career stretches from Brian De Palma's Body Double to the TV show 24. After this, I think we'll start seeing him in a lot more comedies.
Slither is an impressive directing debut for James Gunn, who wrote the Scooby-Doo movies and the Dawn Of The Dead remake. The man obviously loves his work. Even the mediocre Scooby-Doo films were partially redeemed by their genuine affection for the cartoons, while Dawn Of The Dead surprised the hell out of a lot of people, including this reviewer, by being as good as it was. With Slither, Gunn's proven he can direct as well as he can write. He's a talent to watch.