November 10, 2006
Slither (2006) harkens back to the heady decade of the 1980s when monster movies were gross-out affairs that mixed cleverness with gore. Early on, James Gunn’s feature film directorial debut gives several shout outs to these horror films by naming several stores after the protagonists in The Thing (1982), Videodrome (1983) and Tremors (1990) to name but just a few.
A meteor strikes near a small town where nothing much happens. One of the locals, Grant Grant, a nearly philandering husband (Rooker) discovers the remnants and is promptly zapped by the large, slimy slug-thing that emerged. He becomes a host and this radically changes his demeanour as he is more attentive to Starla, his schoolteacher wife (Banks) and buys very large amounts of raw meat at the local grocery store.
Pretty soon the Grant starts sporting extra appendages that he uses to zap another person a la Marilyn Chambers in David Cronenberg’s Shivers (1975). Grant is eventually transformed into a massive, squid-like creature who slaughters the neighbourhood’s pet animals and tries to kill his wife. The local sheriff, Bill Pardy (Fillion), the town’s blowhard mayor Jack MacReady (Henry) and several deputies devise a plan to track down and kill the alien but it isn’t that easy as the creature proves to be surprisingly elusive.
However, the town’s problems get even worse when one of the hosts gives birth to hundreds of blood red slug-like things that take the area by storm by going into people’s mouths and taking them over a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). It’s up to Pardy and a teenage girl by the name of Kylie Strutemyer (Saulnier) whose family was taken over by them to stop ‘em!
Gregg Henry and Nathan Fillion seem to have a running competition in this movie to see who gets the more memorable dialogue with Henry edging him out with his hilarious delivery. Their bickering rivals that of Oliver Platt and Brendan Gleeson in Lake Placid (1999), which Slither also shares its clever mix of black comedy and horror. With memorable turns in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Serenity, Fillion is quickly becoming the cool cult film actor destined to join the ranks of Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Campbell and others. He brings a nice, deadpan delivery to a lot of his lines and has the rugged authority that is perfectly suited to the sheriff role he plays. Yet, his character is by no means invincible and it is this vulnerability and natural charm that is a large part of his appeal.
Gunn wrote the Dawn of the Dead remake (2004) and continues his fascination with the siege-like mentality from that movie along with the townsfolk being transformed into zombie-like beings after the alien slugs have had their way with them. The doses of humour helps keep the Slither from getting too bleak, like when the alien servants feed on their fellow hapless townsfolk to the sappy strains of Air Supply.
Admittedly, Slither starts off a little slow but once the alien menace becomes more pronounced and people start dropping like flies, the pace really picks up. This movie is in the same vein as Eight-Legged Freaks (2002) and Shaun of the Dead (2004) that are all made by hardcore horror film fans as evident by the numerous references to other movies. But unlike, say Quentin Tarantino, one of the most notorious cinematic samplers, it is all done in good fun in Slither.
There is an audio commentary by writer/director James Gunn and actor Nathan Fillion. They get right into the origins of the movie and what films influenced him, namechecking the usual suspects: Sam Raimi, David Cronenberg and John Carpenter. Gunn says that he went to Universal because they wanted to make it immediately and gave him creative control. The director also recounts numerous filming anecdotes and challenges he faced as a first-time director. He says that the creepiness has gone out of horror films and wanted to get back to that with Slither. Fillion’s dry humour comes through as he comments on his performance with self-deprecating wit. The two men deliver a chatty, engaging track that is a lot of fun to listen to.
There is a “Gag Reel” featuring cast members blowing lines, props not working properly and some extreme flatulence.
Also included are eight deleted scenes with optional commentary by Gunn. He points out production difficulties (like weather) that plagued some of these scenes. He also puts them in context with the rest of the movie and talks about why they had to be cut (i.e. iffy staging, slowed down the pacing or just didn’t work). He is surprisingly very critical of his own work.
“Visual Effects: Step by Step” is a montage showing the various stages for the CGI effects in a few scenes with music.
“Slithery Set Tour with Nathan Fillion” is a featurette that has the actor take us backstage with a camera as he has fun messing with cast and crew members. Everyone goofs around in this amusing extra.
Also included are four extended scenes with optional commentary by Gunn. Not surprisingly, these scenes were trimmed because they ran too long. He talks about how they faired with test screenings and why they are better in their shortened form in the movie.
“Who is Bill Pardy?” is a montage of outtakes where the phrase, “I’m Bill Pardy,” is said again and again in some kind of cast and crew in-joke. We also see what various cast and crew members “really” think about Fillion.
“The Sick Minds and Slimy Days of Slither.” Gunn wanted to bring back the gory, over-the-top monster movies from the ‘80s. To this end, he put in countless references to horror films from this decade and takes us through the casting process.
“The Gorehound Grill: Brewin’ Blood” is a step-by-step tutorial on how to make authentic-looking fake blood. This is a great idea and these kinds of how-to’s should be included on more horror movie DVDs.
“Bringing Slither’s Creatures to Life” takes a look at how Gunn wanted to go back to prosthetic monsters as opposed to the current trend of predominantly CGI. So, he decided to mix the two together. We see how several scenes are pulled off with the effects guys taking us through it.
“The King of Cult: Lloyd Kaufman’s Video Diary.” Kaufman is the President of Troma Entertainment and the director of all three Toxic Avenger movies. Tromeo and Juliet (1996) was Gunn’s first feature film screenplay made into a movie and as thanks had Kaufman do a cameo in Slither. Kaufman gives us a tour of his trailer, we see him go through make-up, wardrobe, etc. in this amusing extra.