Studio: Scream Factory
Director: James Gunn
Writer: James Gunn
Producer: Paul Brooks, Eric Newman
Stars: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Tania Saulnier, Brenda James, Don Thompson, Jennifer Copping, Jenna Fischer, Haig Sutherland, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker
An alien organism infects a small South Carolina town, transforming residents into monstrous mutant creatures.
Major mainstream audiences tasted filmmaker James Gunn’s personal blend of action, suspense, drama, and humor en masse with the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films. Horror fans were already aboard the bandwagon a decade earlier, when the still-developing director was really starting to slide comfortably into the stylistic skin that would make his name.
When you revisit 2006’s “Slither” with the knowledge of where James Gunn would go from there, it’s practically a no-brainer to see why Disney entrusted him to steward the cosmic corner of their multibillion-dollar Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whether it is comedy that is concurrently campy and witty, explosive scenes defying their outrageousness to also be realistically grounded, or characters who are likable and loathable in the same moment, Gunn is a magician at melding multiple moods into every element.
No matter how many disparate tones are in play, Gunn finds surprising ways to balance them using perfectly cast actors, energetic editing, and intelligent writing. That ability is the secret ingredient in a recipe for concocting films that are fun, funny, and ferocious all at once.
Gunn cut his teeth in the trenches at Troma, and some of that brand’s trademark sense of splattery silliness is certainly evident throughout “Slither.” But there is just as much Roger Corman and Joe Dante in the movie as there is Lloyd Kaufman and the Toxic Avenger. With the way its tongue stays in cheek without easing off the gas in the creature carnage department, “Slither” comes about as close as any contemporary genre film can to capturing the feel of a 1950s Saturday matinee monster movie in 21st-century form.
“Slither’s” plot is pulled from the same summertime drive-in vein as “The Blob,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” even “Night of the Living Dead.” A meteorite crash-lands in a forest outside the rinky-dink town of Wheelsy, South Carolina. Wheelsy is one of those folksy little burgs where everyone knows everyone, the start of hunting season calls for a town-wide celebration, and Bud Light is the best beer you’ll find while line dancing at the local country tavern.
Problems with his wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks) send Grant Grant (not a typo) into said forest with a floozie met at said tavern. Curiosity gets Grant (Michael Rooker) to poke at the meteorite and that curiosity is rewarded by an alien organism poking back. Possessed by the parasite, Grant gradually transforms into a monster requiring raw meat, and as many human drones as possible, to feed.
Starla’s troubled marriage is now troubled even more, and in a manner no one could have imagined. Looking to save Starla’s fair skin from her newly villainous husband is police chief Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion in one of his most Nathan Filliony roles), who has crushed on Starla since their school days together.
Also in the mix are irascible mayor Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry), an assortment of bumpkin deputies, and a ranch family whose teenage daughter Kylie proves to be unexpectedly resourceful. With the players in place, the stage is set for both gags and gore as humans take on mutants in a bloody battle for survival.
“Slither” willfully winks so much at its audience, one might think the movie is having a seizure. Quick hits of humor arrive in “blink or you’ll miss ‘em” bits such as snarky signs displayed in backgrounds or certain slouches of body language. Virtually every street, business, or person’s last name is some sort of homage to real or fictional horror icons, offering an intensive Easter egg hunt for devoted fright film fans.
Probably no one involved with the film would quibble over its classification as a horror/comedy. Still, it might be more accurate to say that “Slither” has a sense of humor instead of being an uproarious riot, or even something along the lines of “Zombieland” or “Shaun of the Dead.” As funny as it is, and as impossible as its premise might be, “Slither” stays relatively levelheaded thanks to performers using characterizations to entertain without turning into clownish caricatures.
Practical and CGI effects mesh seamlessly. It’s often tough to tell where one ends and the other begins. In fact, the most dated thing about the film is the fact that it comes from a time when big studios such as Universal gave fresh creative voices 15 million dollars to make a hybrid genre movie, which is a risk not often taken since.
“Slither’s” poor box office returns proved why that is. Yet longtime and newcomer fans of the film know that despite its initially disappointing performance, “Slither” holds up better than many wide-release scary movies within a five-year radius.
Not every joke lands (they never do). The story may be too slim at times. But “Slither” has horror, humor, and heart, all three of which come through in just about every frame.
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 75
Scream Factory Collector’s Edition: “Slither’s” previous home video release was already loaded to bear with as many Special Features as could fit on a disc, all of which reappear on the Blu-ray edition. Leave it to Scream Factory however, to always go the extra mile by creating several pieces of new content to ensure a package so ridiculously comprehensive, no fan could fathom needing anything else.
NEW Audio Commentary with James Gunn, Nathan Fillion, and Michael Rooker: Three key pieces of the band are back together for an all-new commentary track. An offhanded joke about Canada, where “Slither” was filmed, being a preferable political climate to America proves the track was recorded in 2017.
This commentary carries the great feeling of watching the film with three true friends whom you have also known for years. The men catch up (“That’s so-and-so! How’s she doing now?”), swap stories from the set, and playfully rib Michael Rooker at every opportunity they can get. I can’t imagine James Gunn being more enthusiastic than he is here. The trio gets so caught up in watching their own movie, they fall into the usual trap of pausing in strange silence. Then they quickly catch themselves doing it and get right back to their fun, natural conversation.
NEW Interview – The Genesis of Slither with James Gunn: For nearly half an hour, James Gunn mentions memories ranging from casting to creating effects to the film’s critical reception and everything in between. Diehard devotees probably already know the connection, but Gunn dishes on tidbits such as how “Slither” connects to the Marvel Cinematic Universe through a clever “Guardians of the Galaxy” cameo, and how Universal and Disney very coolly collaborated to make that link happen. That’s only the tip of the iceberg regarding what Gunn has to reveal.
NEW Interview - The Other MacReady with Gregg Henry: At just over seven minutes, which includes quick clips of Henry’s most memorable moments from the movie, this interview is hardly indispensible. But it is a nice bonus to catch up with “Slither’s” resident scene stealer, even if much of it is gushing over how great it is to work with James Gunn.
Audio Commentary with James Gunn and Nathan Fillion: If the new commentary isn’t enough, Scream Factory’s release contains the previous commentary recorded a decade earlier for those who want to run through the movie a third time, with the director and a star offering additional insight.
Deleted and Extended Scenes with Commentary by James Gunn: A dozen additional scenes make their way onto the disc, along with the option of adding Gunn’s voice in your ear to explain why they exist here and not in the main movie.
Visual Effects – Step by Step, Bringing Slither’s Creatures to Life, and Brewing the Blood: For FX fans, these three featurettes total not quite a half hour of looks at how CGI enhances specific shots, how artists molded the monsters, and how to create the same blood used on set in your own home.
Who Is Bill Pardy? and Slithery Set Tour with Actor Nathan Fillion: Everyone loves Nathan Fillion. These two five-minute pieces give his fans personal access to Fillion’s on-set antics, if only for fleeting glimpses.
The Sick Minds and Slimy Days of Slither, Lloyd Kaufman’s Video Diary, and Gag Reel: Rounding things out is a trio of lighthearted bonus bits, again almost a half hour’s worth, featuring bloopers, behind-the-scenes, and a day in the life of Troma’s head honcho preparing for his few seconds as an extra.