We continue our journey through a month of frightening, bloody and violent films. For more, check out our 31 Days of Horror homepage.
Synopsis: A small town becomes ground zero to an alien invasion, which reaches Earth in the form of alien slugs on a chunk of space rock. After the meteor lands in the woods, a local big shot Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) becomes infected with the alien parasite, which controls his body and memories. It’s a story we’ve seen many times before, and understandably so. Director James Gunn creates a loving homage to movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Blob and Night of the Creeps, in which the small-town sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) must battle an onslaught of infected, zombified humans while trying to stop the spread of the parasite to the rest of the world. Helping the sheriff is his long-time crush and girl next door Starla (Elizabeth Banks), who also happens to be married to patient zero.
In every horror film featuring a parasitic invasion from another planet, there’s a key scene where the alien’s true form is revealed. In Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it’s when the heroes are sleeping and the pods are hatching. In The Puppet Masters, it’s when the humans sneak into the ship and see the aliens uncloaked. In The Thing, it’s the infamous dog kennel sequence. In Slither, James Gunn takes the adage “Go big or go home” to heart. The aliens haven’t just infected Grant’s girlfriend, they’ve used her as a giant incubation chamber, keeper her locked in a barn, swollen with their offspring. When our heroes discover her, bloated like a tick, it’s a game of anticipation for the audience to see when the creatures will emerge. The result is, shall we say, explosive.
Many horror films could have easily been renamed There Will Be Blood, but Slither is one of the few that could have been renamed There Will Be Blood And Slugs And More Slugs. The gore level is pretty high, especially in the scene referenced above. However, it’s not visceral, realistic gore. It’s over-the-top madness and splatters, like Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond featuring plenty of latex prosthetics. This may result in a higher gross-out factor for some, but the creature violence is more humorous than anything else, and that’s exactly what James Gunn was going for.
For the kind of film Slither is – a loving homage to b-level horror with aliens “impregnating” their victims – there’s a shameful lack of authentic sex. Even Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which was never a T&A movie featured Brooke Adams PG-rated fun bags. As an exercise in over-the-top hilarity, Slither is deficient in frank nudity. There’s plenty of skin, but it’s often covered or cleverly shot to not reveal too much. Gunn teases the audience with a sequence in the trailers and posters in which the town hottie gets overrun by slugs in the bath, but we only get to see the standard shots of her back and feet as the robe falls to the floor, with only a couple nip slips during the struggle. I know this, too, is an homage to genre films, but Gunn could have been a little more generous. It is rated R, after all. If it weren’t for the stark sexual overtones of people being penetrated with alien slugs, the sexual angle of this film would be slim to none.
Slither isn’t a horror film made to actually scare the audience. The “watch the skies” mentality of the 50s and 60s lost its bite after the Cold War warmed up to room temperature. So horror veterans will see the film for what it is, a tip of the hat to these older stories. Still, for the novices, it can be a little extreme, especially if gore and tentacle creature effects bother them. Slither definitely has the creepy-crawly factor going for it. Like the cockroach segment in Creepshow or the snakes sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s going to mess with the head of anyone who has a remote fear of slimy creatures.
When it was released in 2006, Slither was a forgotten bomb. Ironically, it received very positive reviews and has since garnered a cult following (a story many horror films are familiar with). I think it was lost on the youth of the day, who were into the in-your-face horror of films like Hostel and Saw or the pop Asian imports of The Ring and The Grudge.
With no pre-knowledge of b-horror movies from the past 50 years (of which your average teenage moviegoer has none), the movie comes off as a bit silly. And while it lacks in sex and authentic scares, Slither was one of the best films of that year. Genre fans can get into it for its thematic elements, as long as they look at it as a tongue-in-cheek comedy. The only thing missing from this film was Tom Atkins and his glorious ‘stache, but there’s always Night of the Creeps if you want that.