UK release date: 28 April 2006

cast list
Gregg Henry
Nathan Fillion
Elizabeth Banks
Michael Rooker

directed by
James Gunn

With a name like Slither, you might be forgiven for expecting this film to feature menacing snakes, and lots of them. You’d be wrong, though. The monsters here are a lot odder and more interesting than mere killer snakes.

Instead, we get a mutant alien/human squid-like creature with a craving for meat, thousands of slug-things intent on crawling into their victims’ mouths, and acid-spitting zombies; even a zombie deer. If you think this doesn’t sound like your standard horror film, you’re right.

First-time director James Gunn loves the horror-comedy genre and it shows. He gleefully packs about a thousand different ideas, into his film, each weirder and wilder than the one before. The result is chock full of surprises. The biggest surprise of all may be just how well it all works.

Slither is not exactly a sibling to Shaun of the Dead, but it might just be its small town cousin.

The small town in question, Wheelsy, South Carolina, is just a little off plumb: the opening day of deer hunting season is celebrated as a local holiday, and the town has its share of eccentrics long before the monsters arrive.

The mayor, Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry), is foul-mouthed, egotistical, and hilarious. The local police chief, Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) has a dry, cynical sense of humour and a laid-back manner that serve him well in his job, but he also has a hopeless, long-time crush on Starla (Elizabeth Banks).

She’s a local teacher who is the stuff of adolescent boys’ dreams. Unfortunately for Bill, she is also the loving wife of Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), a well-off older businessman who saved her from a life of poverty by making her his trophy wife.

Although Starla appears to genuinely care for Grant, the bloom has worn off the rose in at least one aspect of their marriage: Starla is seldom “in the mood”, as she puts it. One night, a frustrated Grant ends up in the local bar, chatting up (or, more accurately, being chatted up) by a local honey, Brenda (Brenda James), who’s had a crush on him since high school.

They drink too much and take a walk in the woods, and, as is traditional in certain horror films, they are punished for their moral transgression. In their case, the avenging angel comes in the form of a meteor that has recently landed, bringing inside it an alien life form that enters a too-curious Grant. Before long, Grant is buying lots of meat, neighbourhood pets are disappearing, and Brenda goes missing.

You get the sense that James Gunn had a blast making this film and the fun definitely carries through to the audience. If Gunn is not a horror film geek, who stores all sorts of horror film clichés, creatures, settings, and possible scenarios in the nooks and crannies of his brain at all times, he is doing an awfully good imitation of one. He may have been working hard when he made Slither, but it feels like he was playing. Other horror geeks will be right there loving it with him.

The strange thing is that non-horror fans won’t hate it, either. The film is scary without being too scary. Gross but in a way that is definitely moreover-the-top icky rather than mind-disturbingly gory. Will audience members leave the theatre quaking with fear and sleep with the lights on for the next six months? No. Are they going to be rolling on the floor, laughing and gasping for air? No. But are they likely to have some chills and plenty of chuckles? Absolutely.

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