Slither (Canada/United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Let's get this straight from the start: Slither isn't great art, but that doesn't mean it isn't good entertainment. One of a growing number of horror/comedy casseroles, the film provides its share of tasty mouthfuls - at least up to a point. Putting it into context, it's not as enjoyable as either Tremors (which resides on the pinnacle) or Shaun of the Dead, and is about on par with Eight Legged Freaks. Those in search of scares might do better to look elsewhere. Slither is too cheesy to be frightening. But the movie offers plenty of laughs, indicating that the production team is aware that a serious version of this story might be enough to resurrect Mystery Science Theater 3000. The tactic works - make fun of things within the context of the movie so people in the audience are laughing with the film rather than at it.

Slither takes us to the great state of Texas, where something wicked this way comes. When Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) leaves on a late-night walk, he's his usual grumpy self. But when he arrives home, after having been injected by a wormy sort of thing out in the woods, he's acting odd. At first, his wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks), thinks he's being sentimental, but then he develops hives and other signs that something's not right. And there are behavioral issues to go along with the physical deformities. Does he have Lime Disease? A bad case of poison ivy? Or has he become the host for an alien life form? Considering the title, my bet is on the latter.

Once Grant goes on a rampage that involves more than one instance of turning Fido into Alpo, the police become involved. Chief Bill Pardy (Nathan Fallion), who has long held a torch for Starla, must now hunt down what's left of her husband, who resembles a cross between a squid and a giant ear of corn with bad skin and pointy teeth. But Grant has a few tricks up his sleeve. One of those involves causing a young woman to do a passable imitation of Mr. Creosote (from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life). When she pops, out pore thousands of slippery, slug-like CGI critters that undulate all over the place.

As comedy horror movies go, Slither is more than passable, although it doesn't achieve the level of the funnier, more clever Tremors, which is the Holy Grail for mainstream films of this genre. With the possible exception of one well-orchestrated "boo!" moment, there's not a genuine scare to be found between the credits sequences bookending Slither's story. There's plenty of blood and viscera, but it's of the kind that amuses with its over-the-top look. For the most part, the computer generated special effects look fake, and I'm sure that's what writer/director James Gunn is shooting for.

Slither starts out slowly; the first half-hour drags. Things pick up, however, and once Slither slides in its groove, the movie crackles with campy energy. In addition to nailing the tone, Gunn gives us a pair of surprisingly likeable protagonists. Bill and Starla aren't well-rounded, three-dimensional characters, but we can't help rooting for them. Part of their appeal is no doubt due to the performances of Nathan Fillion and Elizabeth Banks (the wild woman in The 40-Year-Old Virgin). They are joined in their endeavors by a trash-talking politician (Gregg Henry) and a pretty young thing (Tania Saulnier) who encounters her first slug while taking a bath.

Slither isn't for everyone. In fact, it's probably only for a select few - those who revel in this sort of Troma-inspired, bloodsoaked offering and understand what it's trying to do. Those who enjoy their horror straight up won't be impressed, nor will those who prefer their comedy to come without a vomit bag. I believe Slither is exactly what Gunn wanted it to be and there's little doubt that his core audience will be thrilled. But it's unlikely the film's appeal will be as broad as it is deep.

Slither (Canada/United States, 2006)

Director: James Gunn
Cast: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry, Tania Saulnier, Brenda James
Screenplay: James Gunn
Cinematography: Gregory Middleton
Music: Tyler Bates
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2006-03-31
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1