Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on March 31, 2006, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.
When a movie gives Troma wildman Lloyd Kaufman an onscreen cameo but doesn’t allow him to actually say anything, you know you’re in the hands of a filmmaker with a true love of excessive horror cinema, yet takes his project seriously enough not to break the fourth wall. Such is the case with Slither, a movie that contains just as many laughs as grisly shivers, and achieves the yocks without stooping to mockery of its genre. Like Scream was, Slither will likely be mistaken for a spoof by many onlookers, but it isn’t one; writer/director James Gunn (who got his start working for Kaufman) takes his slimy, possessive alien invaders seriously, and so do the characters, and it’s the way in which they react to the threat that elicits the humor which balances the straight-faced horror.
Like Fred Dekker’s Night of the Creeps (to which it bears a number of narrative similarities), Slither does wink at hardcore horror fans by dropping a number of familiar names into the mix; the stores and bars in the small town of Wheelsy, SC bear monikers like Henenlotter and Max Renn. The residents of this slow Southern burg (who, in a refreshing change from the recent norm, are actually allowed to speak with accents) are minding their own business when a meteorite crashes in the woods one night and, like so many meteorites before it, disgorges a slimy alien something. The first person to come upon the something is rich local Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), whose financial wealth is not matched by anything resembling personal refinement. Infected by the critter, Grant begins to devolve into something truly inhuman, much to the consternation of his wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks) and local sheriff Bill (Nathan Fillion)—who’s carrying a long-burning torch for Starla.
It’s not necessary to explain any further how Bill, Starla and other assorted Wheelsy residents wind up fleeing from an army of messy extraterrestrial slugs, and from humans that the critters have taken over. (Those who objected to the “fast zombies” in the Gunn-scripted Dawn of the Dead remake will be happy to know that these walking dead lurch and stumble in the 20th-century tradition.) What matters is that Gunn infuses this homage to ’80s FX fests like The Thing and The Fly with both fun and urgency, and he shoots it in the plainspoken style of the period’s fright fare too, resisting the urge to trick it up with flash-frames and other distracting modern visual tricks. The sights he presents are attention-grabbing enough on their own; Todd Masters and his MastersFX company provide a gallery of eye-poppingly yucky prosthetic setpieces, and the CGI that brings the space slugs and assorted tentacles to life has a tactile feel missing in a lot of recent digital creature work.
Holding their own against their monstrous co-stars are the human actors who engagingly inhabit Wheelsy’s no-better-than-they-should-be residents. The best performance is given by Rooker, who lends Grant touches of humanity throughout his transformation from moneyed white trash to grotesque beast. Fillion does the stalwart small-town hero to a T, Banks screams and fights back with aplomb and Gregg Henry is a hoot as the town’s foul-mouthed mayor. A less familiar face who makes an appealing impression is Tania Saulnier (recently seen in Supernatural’s “Scarecrow” episode) as a teen girl whose family is overtaken by the slugs in Slither’s most harrowing sequence, and whose almost-possession by one of them allows her to share insight into their behavior with the other characters.
Gunn posits a hive-mind connection between the crawlers and their human hosts that all stems from the transformed Grant, whose goal—even as his alien spawn threaten to take over the world—remains simply to get Starla back. That adds a fun personal element to the gallery of splattery mayhem in Slither’s final reels, demonstrating that as much as Gunn clearly loves his monsters, he also knows that human touches help give creature features extra bite.