Most horror movies released nowadays are rated PG-13. Scary but not overly gross or profane, they actively court the tame rating to get teens into the theater seats.
This is a horror movie that proudly wears its R-rating around its neck, in full view of everyone.
At the heart of Slither is a love story...a triangle of sorts, between the wealthy Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), his younger wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks), who has married to escape the poverty and unhappy homelife she grew up with, and Sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), who has carried a torch for Mrs. Grant since high school.
As this lop-sided triangle plays out, all appears well in the sleepy small town of Wheelsy, South Carolina. So much so, that the deputy out catching speeders only has fast whippoorwills to clock on the radar.
But it appears marriage has lost some of its luster for Starla and her husband storms out in the middle of the night to get drunk and find some trouble. And find it he does, as he witnesses a meteor crash into a nearby field. The aliens have landed and poor Grant Grant has been chosen to be the unwilling emissary for the colonization of Earth.
Meanwhile, Starla heads out to the local bar for the annual "Deer Cheer" party to celebrate the start of deer hunting season, where she encounters Pardy and the rest of the town doing a fine job of getting drunk -- especially Mayor Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry), whose dialogue is liberally peppered with profanities.
As thousands of the aliens slugs are set loose on Wheelsy, they infect other humans by leaping down their throats. This effectively kills the host, turning them into alien-controlled zombies that have an insatiable craving for raw meat.
It's left to Pardy, his deputies, the foul-mouthed MacReady, Starla and a teen survivor, Kylie Strutemyer (Tania Saulnier), to figure out what is happening and how to stop it.
But even as Grant Grant becomes a huge deformed mass of alien tentacles, he still carries a torch for his wife. She, however, is less than thrilled with her husband's changes -- but comes to realize she may hold the key to stopping the madness.
It's a lot to take in, but Slither works on several levels.
It is a decent horror film, with plenty of gore and moments that make you jump. There's blood, there's slime, there's people getting eaten and zombies spitting acid mucus. Ah, good times.
It also has a very macabre sense of humor -- even as you're being grossed out, you find yourself groaning in laughter at the dialogue or even just the absurdity of it all. The whole movie has a very un-p.c. twisted sense of humor, and just about any subject is fair game.
But the script would be nothing without a group of talented actors and the film ultimately works because the actors involved play the characters as real people who happen to be caught up in situations they are totally unprepared for. Even though the situations may be outlandish, the characters aren't.
Fillion, in particular, really captures the essence of a man in charge who is just not ready to be in charge. Those who've seen him in previous roles in films like Serenity already know he has a great sense of dry comedic timing. But in Slither, Fillion shows he also has a mastery of using facial and body language to convey more than words every could...a talent that serves well to convey Pardy's frustration at being the one who has to deal with this unexpected disaster. Not only does he not know what is going on -- he doesn't want to know.
Kudos also go to Henry who plays the profanity-spewing, responsibility-ducking, hard-partying mayor. This character is totally abrasive and yet in Henry's hands, MacReady is actually kind of endearing. He also steals just about every scene he's in. The very first scene where we meet the mayor in a mini-traffic jam is probably one of the most hilarious scenes I've seen on film in the last few years.
Screenwriter James Gunn, who wrote 2004's reinterpretation of Dawn of the Dead, also helmed this film, and even though it was his first time directing, having such an intimate knowledge of the script really helped him with the overall vision of the film. There's always something happening, yet the pacing never strays.
It's also obvious that Gunn has an almost-reverence for the classic horror films of the 70s and 80s. He eschewed the current trend for massive CGI effects and tried to use old-fashioned techniques--prosthetics, puppets, etc--as much as possible.
He also threw in several references to films that inspired him. For example, the mayor is named after R.J. MacReady, the character played by Kurt Russell in the remake of The Thing. The scene where Grant Grant gets infected was inspired by the original Blob. And another scene where Kylie, Starla and Pardy are being chased by the Strutemyer family is reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead, with a little bit of A Streetcar Named Desire thrown in. Rabid horror fans will enjoy picking out all of the references Gunn lovingly threw in.
It's not just movie references I spotted. Gunn's former boss, Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Entertainment, has a cameo as a sad drunk in the bar scene and I swear that was Rob Zombie's voice coming over the telephone as Starla called the doctor, concerned about Grant Grant's condition. Gunn's wife, Jenna Fischer ("The Office"), has a more substantial role as Shelby, the bored police department switchboard operator who figures out the hard way what is happening around town.
Slither is a serious horror film that knows when to laugh at itself. It's a rollercoaster ride of frights, gross-outs and full body laughs. I highly recommend it to all those who remember when horror movies were both fun and funny, and to those who enjoy films like Shaun of the Dead and the Evil Dead trilogy.
But it is most definitely NOT for the kids.
Cast: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry, Tania Saulnier, Brenda James, Don Thompson, Jennifer Copping, Jenna Fischer, Haig Sutherland
Director/Writer: James Gunn
Rated: R [for strong violence, disturbing images, extreme gore and language]
Rating Score: 9.5 out of 10
Official film website: www.slithermovie.net
*all photos copyright 2006 Universal Pictures and used with permission*