Writer-director James Gunn got his break into movies with Tromeo & Juliet (1996), a low-budget shlock-horror comedy from the infamous Troma Entertainment. From these humble beginnings, Gunn secured a writing gig on Scooby Doo and its sequel, before successfully updating Dawn Of The Dead for the 21st Century. Not a bad career trajectory, really.
In 2006, a decade since Troma, Gunn got his shot at the big time with Slither, a horror-comedy he wrote and directed. Clearly enamoured by 1980s "body horror" wave, Slither is an unashamed ripoff of every zombie/alien-bodysnatching horror from the past 30 years. The premise is simple and ingrained in the public consciousness: a meteorite carrying an alien organism crashlands in Smalltown USA and leads to the population turning into ravenous zombies.
If you've seen Night Of The Creeps or The Blob you'll have a fair idea where Gunn's Slither is heading. It wears its bloody heart on its sleeve and is focused on providing a good time for gorehounds and fans of pulp-SF.
Michael Rooker plays wealthy good ol' boy Grant Grant, a somewhat oafish and sexually frustrated man married to local siren Starlet (Elizabeth Banks). Grant is the first victim of the meteorite's E.T cargo; after venturing into the wood's for some nookie, Grant is lanced by an alien egg, later becoming bloated and addicted to meat (particularly local pets).
Nathan Fillion (Serenity) plays Bill Pardy, the town's Sheriff with a soft spot for Starlet since Elementary School, who becomes the likeable hero after his posse discover Grant mission to procreate with local girl Brenda.
Cue lots of gruesome make-up, ripped-open animal corpses, buckets of blood and some nifty CGI slugs. Slither's storyline is predictable, with Gunn taking homages to such extreme that the entire film becomes utterly unsurprising. The characters are stereotypes, although brutish Rooker's implausible marriage to sexy Starlet lends a degree of intrigue and Nathan Fillion is always a fun presence. Gregg Henry also gets a few moments to shine as Mayor MacReady with enjoyable overreactions.
But the real stars are the special-effects, which are ingenious for a relatively low-budget project ($30 million) and rarely disappoint. Fans of the genre will certainly enjoy the parallels to 80s splattery deaths and slimey make-up. The combination of CGI and "real" effects are impressively handled and provide Slither's only moments of note, upstaging the cast at every turn.
There's low-brow fun to be had along the way, for sure. Slither is a neat throwback to the age of "video nasties" that should provide nostalgia some and a guilty pleasure for others. The effects are cool, the humour is unapologetically broad, there are plenty of injokes (note character surnames) and an air of creepiness. However, it's also sorely predictable and not as bonkers as the trailer suggests.
Gunn's direction is dependable, but his script could have done with more rewrites to build the characters, add gags and perhaps some twists in the narrative. Gunn's clearly a fan of broad horror (unscary but joyously gross), but his enthusiasm for the material never transcends itself here, marking Slither as disposable 80s shlock two decades late to the party...