Wheelsy is a small town like any other in America (any other in the Pacific Northwest, that is), everyone enjoys their line dancing, deer hunting, and the some juicy rural gossip. Local businessman Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) is no stranger to that, as he reportedly courted his young wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks) when she was somewhat below the age of consent. She appears to be having some second thoughts about their current situation herself, and when she spurns Grant’s advances one time too many, he ventures off to the local bar looking for a little something on the side. He gets that, and a great deal more, when he and his new lady friend drunkenly stumble upon a recently crashed meteorite.
So begins “Slither,” a welcome throwback to an older generation of horror. Grant returns to Starla a…changed man. His actions are a bit off, and he’s developed a craving for raw meat. As with most marital situations like this, the problems stem from an alien parasite that has burrowed into Grant’s brain. As his appetites increase and his behavior becomes more erratic, Starla seeks out police chief Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), who’s been carrying a torch for her since high school. Things rapidly get out of hand, as expected, leaving Starla, Bill, Wheely’s mayor (the hilarious Gregg Henry), and a local teenager (Tania Saulnier) to fight the slimy invaders threatening not only their town, but the entire planet.
“Slither” is writer-director James Gunn’s first effort helming a movie since his Troma days, and while he got some funny looks for scripting such masterpieces as the live-action “Scooby Doo” movies, he also wrote the screenplay for the “Dawn of the Dead” remake, which was much better than it had any right to be. With “Slither,” Gunn not only exorcises the ghosts of Freddie Prinze Jr. and Matthew Lillard, he goes back to his low budget roots.
Finally, we have a horror film that recaptures the schlocky spirit of the ‘80s: when gore strolled hand-in-hand with comedy, studios weren’t afraid to released R-rated monster movies, and B-actors could still find safety and comfort in the realm of genre films. It has no pretensions to high art, choosing instead to revel in introducing unpleasant people to an unpleasant end while enjoying a few chuckles at their expense.
The lackluster horror efforts of the last decade or so have suffered not just from a neutering PG-13 rating and the restrictions of being yet another sequel or remake of an earlier film, but also the growing idea that “brutality” somehow equals “scary.” Films like “Saw” and “Hostel” may be effective in showing us new and innovative uses for a pair of pliers, but they aren’t really frightening. And while “Slither” isn’t going to be remembered as a classic of the genre, like “Alien” or “The Exorcist,” it has its share of jolts, all served with a welcome dose of good humor.
“Slither’s” remake status is a little hazier. It’s not an outright do-over of 1986’s “Night of the Creeps,” though Gunn borrows liberally from the overall plot. Then again, he borrows from movies like “The Blob,” “Evil Dead,” the “Living Dead” movies, and “The Thing,” among many others. “Creeps” was itself an homage to classic horror films, so even if “Slither” is a rip-off (a claim Gunn denies, for what it’s worth), it’s a rip-off of a movie that borrowed liberally from its predecessors as well.
It’s nice to see Fillion continuing to work, with the character of Bill essentially serving as a much less competent version of “Serenity’s” Mal Reynolds. Banks is serviceable, and it’s hard to imagine anyone but Rooker playing Grant. However, it’s Gregg Henry, as Mayor MacReady, who steals the film as a coward forced into action, much like Hudson from “Aliens.”
“Slither” isn’t great filmmaking, and its low budget shows through, painfully at times. It is, however, a thoroughly entertaining effort, and one that can only be enhanced by watching it with a group of friends after a few beers. Not only is it one of the best (American) horror movies of the last ten years, it’s one of the best movies of 2006.
Of course, in a year that’s already seen the release of “The Pink Panther” and the Larry the Cable Guy movie, that may not be saying much.