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Posts Tagged ‘Sither’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published May 18th 2006:

The spirit of the classic 50s sci-fi B-movie lives on in James Gunn’s Slither, although the flesh in which it is clad is, to put it mildly, somewhat contorted. Apparently Gunn has history with the notorious American indie company Troma, who were responsible for such unforgettable gems as the Toxic Avenger series and A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell and, indeed, one of their movies gets referenced here – but Slither is anything but cheap and cheerful trash. No, it’s very well-put-together and darkly witty trash.

Set in the small town of Wheelsy, this is the story of everyday American folk who lead ordinary lives right up until the occasion of their usually premature and invariably disgustingly horrific deaths. The cause of all this is a meteorite which lands in the woods outside town and which carries within it an alien organism with a life-cycle so grotesque it makes HR Giger’s famous creation look like prime family pet material by comparison. A voracious plague-parasite with a hive-mind spread throughout its victims, it wastes no time in infecting the first person it comes across – fairly objectionable local resident Grant Grant (Michael Rooker). Inevitably Grant’s lovely and wholesome wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks) soon starts wondering why her hubby is acting so oddly and what those funny marks on his body are. Meanwhile, the local store is wondering why Grant’s buying such vast quantities of raw meat and everyone in the neighbourhood is wondering why their pet dogs and cats are vanishing. It looks like being a particularly stressful week for the Wheelsy PD and their chief Bill Party (cult superstar Nathan Fillion) – who, conveniently enough, has had a bit of a thing for Starla since way back when.

Gunn looks very much like a big fan of early David Cronenberg movies and pretty much the entire body of work of George Romero and he’s managed to come up with a story which allows him to filch the best bits of their work along with 50s sci-fi cliches. The first part of the film is modelled very much along I Married A Monster From Outer Space lines but, as it progresses and the spread of the organism accelerates (rapidly but plausibly), the plot changes from ‘what’s wrong with hubby’ to ‘there’s a monster on the loose!’ to ‘there are hundreds of small but disgustingly phallic monsters on the loose!’ to ‘zombie apocalypse!’ to, er… well, ‘complete body-horror splatterfest meltdown’, a subgenre I’ve probably just made up. (There’s also a brief gag where the soundtrack blatantly turns into the theme from Predator.)

To be fair, this film doesn’t have the psychological rigour of Cronenberg, or the political sophistication of Romero’s best movies, but it makes up for it with a refusal to simply copy the films it’s referencing – it brings something new to every scenario, and isn’t afraid to follow its ideas through to their logical conclusion.

There’s a sense in which Slither looks like one of those movies the script for which was commissioned by a special effects/makeup company simply as a showcase for them to show exactly what they’re capable of (the most famous example of this kind of thing being probably From Dusk Till Dawn). They certainly get the job done as the effects in this movie are universally accomplished and universally repulsive. You want ropily muscular ovipositors emerging from unexpected bodily orifices? Check! You want the grossly distended bodies of the human hosts of alien broodlings? Check! You want heads blown away by point-blank shotgun blasts? Check! People graphically sliced in two? Check! Cannibalism? Check! A crowd of people merging into a single fleshy super-organism? Check! Acid-spewing zombies? Check! I could go on but I’m planning to eat at some point in the future. God only knows how the most graphic horror movie I’ve seen in years got away with only a 15 certificate in the UK – twenty years ago this would have been on the banned list, I’m certain.

As you’ve probably gathered, this kind of film is not the sort of thing you would usually associate with either reasonable performances or subtle comedy, but it’s very much to Slither‘s credit that it has both. You’re either familiar with Nathan Fillion’s rumpled charms or you’re not and while he may have been hired here simply in the hope this would encourage Firefly‘s dedicated (to put it mildly) fanbase to bump up the box office (certainly his performance as Bill Party is very Mal Reynolds-ish in places), he gives the film a strong and likeable centre. Banks and Rooker are also effective, as is Tania Saulnier as a teenager caught up in the icky nightmare and Gregg Henry as Wheelsy’s Mayor. Elsewhere the film has some rather droll things to say about small-town life and never completely loses its sense of humour, even though that humour is tending towards darkness by the end.

In a way it’s a shame that Slither was released right on the doorstep of blockbuster season, as it’s bound to get squashed by the much bigger releases coming out over the next few weeks. That said, the mainstream appeal of a film like this was always going to be a bit limited, and the kind of people who watch this sort of thing are the kind of people dedicated enough to seek it out, if required to. I wouldn’t like to go and see this kind of film too often, and Slither is an unusually accomplished example of the genre anyway – but as something a bit different from the norm, I was hugely impressed, my enjoyment thoroughly eclipsing my nausea. Probably not for everyone, but those with open minds and strong stomachs will definitely be entertained.

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