Remember that title, though, as Night of the Creeps will be mentioned more than any other horror film in breaking down Slither, James Gunn's (2004's Dawn of the Dead remake) science fiction/horror/comedy/homage to 80s "body horror" films (and if we want to go further back, we can add Shivers, David Cronenberg's feature film debut made in 1975 and his first near-masterpiece, The Brood made four years later). Night of the Creeps was a campy, low-budget science/fiction horror flick best remembered for its infection-by-alien-parasite gimmick that turned unwilling hosts into walking, shuffling killers.
Slither is set in the relatively peaceful town of Wheelsy, South Carolina. As the rundown storefronts and graffiti attest, Wheelsy has seen better economic days. The town's mercurial mayor, Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry), seems to be doing just fine, at least financially. Not much happens here, with the exception of deer season-related activities. Deer season's not enough to give the newly minted Chief of Police, Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) and his deputy, Wally (Don Thompson), much to do. Bill spends his nights on patrol quietly taking naps in his police cruiser. In mid-nap, Pardy doesn't notice the meteorite that crash-lands in the distance. Someone else does, though.
Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) has the (almost) perfect life. He's wealthy and married to the (almost) perfect wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks), a marine biologist at the local high school. Older by a good fifteen years or more, Grant jealously guards his wife from the attentions of other men, real and imagined. Upset at Starla's cold reaction to his physical advances, Grant Grant goes out to the local watering hole, where he meets up with Brenda (Brenda James), who's more than willing to rock Grant's world. Something does, but it's not Brenda.
Wandering drunk in the woods, Grant and Brenda discover the contents of the fallen meteor. It's from outer space, so it can't be good. Grant smartly (well, not really) prods a quivering pod-like object with a stick. It naturally opens, shooting something in Grant's direction. Overnight, Grant's behavior goes from neurotic to seriously disturbed, as he develops a craving for meat, lots of it. Meanwhile, local pets and livestock go missing. Eventually, Grant's behavior is matched by a physical transformation (into what is better left for viewers to see on their own).
Slither then follows genre conventions, as the alien infestation spreads, the town is besieged, secondary characters are converted into zombie foot soldiers for an alien creature's bidding or turned into Happy Meals(tm), heads explode, bodies are eviscerated or otherwise turned inside out, and the remaining characters slip desperately into survival mode, with their numbers dwindling and the odds against them.
So far, so predictable, right? Well, not quite. Despite borrowing key elements from 80s horror flicks, including the alien slugs from Night of the Creeps, outrageous gore, high body counts, and a steady barrage of one-liners (most of them uttered by Pardy), Slither isn't all-homage, all-the-time. It brings back all the "goodness" of 80s horror minus the cheesiness, the low production values, or sub par acting that made 80s horror flicks the object of ridicule even among hardcore fans. If that weren't enough, Slither also gives up irony-free pathos in the disturbing, ambivalent (yes, you read that correctly) relationship between Grant Grant and Starla. How many horror flicks this year or any year can make that claim?
Sure, Slither has its flaws, beginning with a slow first third that's short on action or jump scares, the usual bland stereotypes for supporting characters, and, at least in one case, a poorly introduced secondary character who turns out to be one of the final survivors by film's end. And it does some of the worst zombie "acting" this side of straight-to-DVD schlock. But really, if you consider yourself a horror fan, especially a fan of 80s horror, or just simply want to support the few "R"-rated, adult-themed horror films that get released every year, then what are you waiting for? See Slither now (or rather when it opens this weekend). Vegetarians and pet lovers, though, should probably sit this one out.
© Mel Valentin, 31st March, 2006
What do you think of Slither
Share your opinions on our forum