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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Slither James Gunn 2006

'Til Slugs Do Us Part

A hilarious, profane, and wonderfully gooey creature feature, Troma-boy-done-good James Gunn’s Slither is one of those wonderfully self-aware flicks that knows it’s a B movie and doesn’t bother pretending to be anything else. It’s not enough of a sendup to get spoofy, not serious enough to get bogged down by needless drama, and too packed with hilariously goofy effects and incredibly foul language to be considered even remotely “safe”. While it’s certainly a bit clumsy and ultimately doesn’t really break much new ground (anyone who’s seen the brilliant Night of the Creeps might feel a bit of deja vu), its devil-may-care attitude and boundless energy are more than enough to make up for the fact that it’s essentially just another wacky gross-out horror comedy about a small town under attack (see also: Critters, Arachnophobia, Tremors, Eight-Legged Freaks, etc.).

Starla Grant (the wonderful Elizabeth Banks, finally getting her leading lady due after shining in Wet Hot American Summer, The Baxter, and 40-Year-Old Virgin) is a lovely high school science teacher who also happens to be married to the town’s richest citizen, Grant Grant (a gloriously unhinged Michael Rooker, all but washing the disturbing aftertaste of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer out of our mouths). But the sheriff, Bill (Nathan Fillion of Serenity, whose balance of good looks and one-linermanship rivals that of the reigning Queen of Snark – I’m sorry, King of Snark, Ryan Reynolds), still carries a torch for Starla, although both are such good folks that neither would ever do anything about it. When Grant and Starla get in a couple’s disagreement and Grant wanders into the woods and stumbles across a giant slug that broke out of a piece of fallen space rock, everything in the small town of Wheelsy changes very quickly. Before you know it, the sheriff has much more to worry about than drunk deer hunters.

After Grant’s belly is invaded by a small worm-looking thing that quickly sublets his brain and begins messing with his DNA, things get fun. Grant begins eating raw meat by the truckload and sleeping in the basement, and before you can say “my babydaddy has tentacles”, he’s impregnated a local hussy with about 1,000 baby slugs. Yes, I said “slugs”. Once these little buggers are on the loose, it’s pretty much a sprint to the finish, with just about everyone being turned into either alien-controlled, acid-spewing zombies or shambling, meat-starved incubators for more of the sluglets. Heads get blown off, people munch on corpses, zombie deer attack, and Air Supply’s “Every Woman in the World” is somehow made even creepier than it already is.

But along the way, some interesting and unique choices are made that keep this from being a strictly by-the-book horror comedy. For one, Starla – our heroine – is determined to help her husband through his “illness”, regardless of how fucked up he gets. Even when Grant has morphed into a giant, cow-eating squid with a barely-recognizable face, Starla stands by her man – her determination and loyalty until the very end (when it’s clear that Grant no longer exists) is actually quite sweet, and entirely unexpected – it’s touches like this that make the characters “Slither” more likeable than any horror movie characters in recent memory. They’re smart, flawed, temperamental, funny, and human – and with this grounding, the onslaught of killer, mind-controlling slugs actually plays pretty well, because we WANT these people to live.

There’s also a wicked sense of humor at work here – horror conventions are brought up and dashed with the glee of a kid picking off his favorite action figures with a pea-shooter, to consistently amusing effect. Gunn also lets the citizens of Wheelsy be the economically depressed, bored, and rather profane people they likely would be rather than doll them up as some sort of apple-cheeked American small town – also a great choice in terms of avoiding parody or unintentional camp.

The movie’s centerpiece, in my opinion, is the much-advertised “bathtub attack” and its aftermath. When the slugs descend on a farmhouse and attack the family inside, we haven’t really gotten to know the characters well enough to be able to judge whether they’re going to live or die, so there’s genuine suspense. Plus, the thought of little girls being attacked by slugs that possess you by forcing their way down your throat is pretty much one of the most unpleasant things I can think of. This scene proves that a flick that’s heavy on jokes and gross-out laughs can be genuinely frightening if it really wants to be – and Gunn’s handling of the humor and scares is really what’s most impressive here. The scene where Grant impregnates his mistress while the rest of the town line-dances before a big deer hunt is also quite sick, even though it angles for a dark comic feel more than an outright scare.

There’s also a completely unnecessary and therefore entirely welcome gay character – Bill’s lead deputy is a lesbian, or as Bill puts it, “packs a box lunch”. The fact that she does a good job and that her gayness allows for some good-natured back-and-forth between her and Bill is refreshing, as is the fact that she’s also a Christian, which you don’t see too often. It also doesn’t hurt that the actress playing lesbian Shelby is none other than Gunn’s wife, Jenna Fischer, who also happens to be in a little show called The Office, and she’s quite funny. Now just let your head start to ruminate on the fact that Fischer also had a cameo in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which lead Elizabeth Banks also had a featured role in, as well as the fact that one of the zombies bears a striking resemblance to Steve Carrell (seriously – when they’re placing Starla in the bed, the guy on the right could TOTALLY be him), toss in the fact that both Troma-lord Lloyd Kaufman AND The Toxic Avenger have cameos in the movie, and slowly realize just how incestuous Hollywood really is.

So essentially what we’ve got here is a film that successfully snuggles itself between the outright dumb cheese of a Sci-Fi Channel Original movie and the bland high polish of a Men in Black sequel – by refusing to swing too far into parody and holding on to its rather punk-rock edge (count the number of “fucks” in this one, kids), Slither emerges from its slimy eggsac as one of the most flat-out entertaining horror movies in years.

Rating (out of 5):