The word itself, lolling off the tongue as it does, conjures up images of those slick, slimy denizens of swamps, sewers and sloughs. And writer/director James Gunn (2004ís Dawn of the Dead) couldnít have picked a more perfect name for this queasy, rollicking throwback to the monster cinema of the drive-in days.
The film is a goofy, but intelligent, combination of David Cronenbergís seminal slimy freak-out Shivers, the underrated teen zombie slugfest, Night of the Creeps, The Hidden, and one of the countless ribald, hicksploitation flicks that clogged the drive-ins in the Ď70s (I donít think Iíve seen such a cast of less-than-attractive performers outside of Quest for Fire.) Article continues below
Like any good film of this type, Slither opens with the arrival of a meteorite, immediately invoking The Blob and Creepshow. The gooey inhabitant of this wayward space flotsam crash lands in the backwater of Wheeley. Itís a town of drunks, the handicapped and the desperate. The main players are the mayor (Gregg Henry), a foul-mouthed party animal, the chief of police (Nathan Fillon, Serenity) who pines for his lost love (Elizabeth Banks, Seabiscuit), and said lost loveís husband, the rich, bald (and surprisingly buff) Grant Grant (Michael Rooker). When Grant stumbles upon the creature and it forces its way into his body, a thoroughly disgusting transformation takes place. Grant goes from buff to blistered and oozing, twin tentacles sprouting from his belly to inject baby worms into the unsuspecting. Yes, itís about as nasty as it sounds. Thatís when Grantís not eating up the pet population of the town.
Eventually Grant transforms into a pink squid-like monstrosity that scours the countryside for meat, and one of Grantís victims balloons up the size of a barn, her writhing body home to millions upon million of blood red, foot-long worms looking for mouths to squiggle into.
Cheerfully ugly, Slither is also exceedingly funny. None of the characters (or even the actors, for that matter) take themselves too seriously. That works when Gunn saddles his geeky cast with hip banter; some of the conversations could have been throwaways from a Tarantino film. And when the banterís in the midst of some really goopy goings on, it works.
But itís not all joking and gross outs, there are some scary sequences mixed into this monster mash Ė elevating the film from simple farce. And Slither moves along at a breakneck pace once the monsters are unleashed; Gunn unloads every gross weapon in his cinematic arsenal. Not only do those infected by the worms become cannibal zombies, but they spit the same greenish acid that circulated through the alien in Alien. Luckily, he knows where to draw the line and fall back on original ideas, saving the film from collapsing into a heap of campy homages.
Slither is a post-modern creature feature for hipsters. Cloying smart, gleefully mischievous and resplendently, stupendously gross.