Yes, I know, I’m a guest contributor and I’m totally hijacking one of MGK’s personal topics, but how can I resist the lure of the giant soapbox? It’s a chance to tell large numbers of people to go see a movie I like, and you will all listen to me oh the POWER MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!! In case that doesn’t clarify, let me stress again: I’m not MGK. If you have seen this movie, and do not think it is good, don’t blame him for my opinions. Oh, and also, you clearly hate babies and puppies and things that are awesome and are probably a Twilight fan or something.
So, on to Slither. Slither was a 2006 horror-comedy (with the emphasis on horror) written and directed by James Gunn, a horror veteran who got his start writing for Troma Films. His profile had been seriously raised by his screenplay for the Dawn of the Dead remake, and it wasn’t too surprising that he eventually got a shot at directing his own feature. It was, perhaps, a little surprising that he wound up making a film that was such an unabashed throwback to the splatstick horror movies of the early 80s; at the time, horror fans accused him of ripping off Night of the Creeps, but that misses the point. Slither isn’t ripping off any particular 80s horror movie any more than Metallica was ripping off any particular heavy metal band. They just knew they liked the sound and made it their own.
In the same way, Slither takes the tropes of splatstick (physical comedy, combined with grotesque body-horror) and makes them its own. Human beings bloat up like balloons as they gobble down vast quantities of rotting meat, only to be consumed from within by slugs that then jump down people’s throats and burrow into their brains…all so that they can proceed to deliver a speech about marital fidelity in perfect unison. Then spit acid at people. It’s the kind of unabated, disturbing freakishness that requires an R-rating to deliver…and unlike the vast majority of horror films of the last decade, Slither doesn’t water down its horror to cater to a PG-13 audience. This is the kind of movie you used to have to sneak into, back in the day; unfortunately for Slither‘s box office, it’s harder to do that now.
But Slither has more than just gross-out comedy and startle moments going for it; the film has a charming cast of characters that make you genuinely root for them, aided in no small part by the cast. Gunn went for character actors over stars (at this point, I will remind you that there’s an entire comments section in which to debate my labeling of star Nathan Fillion as a “character actor”.) Gregg Henry, one of those quintessential “nobody remembers his name, but everyone remembers his face and performance” actors, makes you delight in every narrow escape of the sleazy mayor as things go from bad to worse (to worse to worse to worst.) And Michael Rooker gives a great performance in a thankless role, taking the thoughtless husband who becomes the host of an alien parasite and making him sympathetic even under a metric fuckton of prosthetics.
But most importantly, Slither is sneakily subversive about the tropes it’s borrowing. Characters constantly behave just a little different than you expect them to in a movie like this; the teenage girl who might as well have Obvious Victim written on her forehead turns out to be a smart, determined survivor, and the brutish heel who’s destined to turn into a monster winds up having a sweet, decent streak in him that you only find out about just before things go bad. The movie’s subversive streak can be summed up in a single scene: One of the characters, having been turned into a breeder for brain-slugs, begs Fillion to kill him. Before you have more than a second to anticipate the traumatic, brutal decision he has to make, Fillion whips out his gun and blows the guy’s brains out. Because jeez, did you see what he looked like?
Unfortunately, Slither bombed at box offices (in no small part because the perfect audience for a splatstick horror movie is sixteen year-old boys, and they’ve cracked down a lot on sneaking into R-rated movies since the golden days of the 80s.) But movies like this are destined to do better as cult DVD hits, building up their reputation through word of mouth and devoted fans. I know I’ve had to practically force a couple of horror fans to sit down and watch it; afterward, one of them said, “Slither is this generation’s Evil Dead II.” High praise, indeed.
And if none of that convinces you, I will say that this movie has the single best karaoke scene ever committed to film. Seriously, I would watch a full 90 minutes of that woman singing karaoke. I’d describe it, but…it has to be seen to be believed. Just like Slither.