Horror today seems kinda mean-spirited. Yeah, I guess that's kind of a dumb observation to make about a genre that pretty much boils down to someone, somewhere trying not to get butchered, but horror flicks used to sprinkle a little fun in with the sadism. Veering away from the torture-porn flavor of the month, James Gunn's splatter-comedy Slither is a campy, goopy, gory homage to '80s schlock-horror.
The plot's something yanked out of a 1986 issue of Fango, opening with a meteorite plummeting just outside the backwater burg of Wheelsy, South C'lina. Local rich feller Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) stumbles onto the crash site while en flagrante almost-o with the town jizz jar, and 'cause he found a meteorite in the first few minutes of a horror movie and all, Grant-squared becomes possessed by an otherworldly, millenia-old, planet-gobbling parasite. His out-of-his-league wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks) awakes the next morning to find her husband a changed man, although that seems like A Good Thing™ at first glance. Turns out that his hungers aren't just for soft-lovin' and Air Supply, though. Grant craves meat, and the fresher, the better. The po-lice -- headed up by chief Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), who's been carrying a torch for Starla since they wuz in high school -- don't pay much attention to the dozens of fliers for missing dogs and cats that not-so-coincidentally start being plastered all over town. Still, they can't shrug off the disappearance of Brenda, Grant's skeevy side dish.
Captain Tightpants is on the case, and Bill and his twelve-toothed posse track down Grant and Brenda, although they kinda wish they hadn't. Grant's devolved into a slimy, toothy squid-thingie, and Brenda's swollen up so much that she looks like one of the roving tits from Woody Allen's Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex. When that ticking timebomb bursts, an army of fluorescent slugs invades Wheelsy, leaping into the townsfolks' mouths and animating their lifeless bodies as part of the alien hivemind. It only takes a couple of hours for the sleepy little town to be completely infested. Well, not completely infested 'cause there hafta be a few plucky heroes to make it around to the climax, and the protoganists-du-jour are police chief Bill, still-the-apple-of-Grant's-putrescent-eye Starla, the town's foul-mouthed, Mr. Pibb-swilling mayor (Gregg Henry), and PG-rebellious teenaged cutie Kylie (Tania Saulnier).
I'm enough of a fan of James Gunn that I'll gloss over the whole he-wrote-two-Scooby Doo-movies thing, not that I can fault the guy for cashing in on that kind of payday. Gunn co-wrote one of my favorite books on film, All I Need to Know about Filmmaking I Learned from The Toxic Avenger (c'mon, did any of those Cahiers du cinéma folks scrawl any footnotes about getting crabs in Chad? That's Chad as in the African country, incidentally, not some Central Park himbo), and although I was as pissy as anyone about the idea of a Dawn of the Dead retread, his better-than-it-had-any-right-to-be script was clearly written by someone with a deep and abiding love for the genre. Likewise for Slither, an Ultraslime-encrusted love letter to '80s B-movies. Think Night of the Creeps meets Dead Alive with a $15 million budget.
Okay, a quick skim through the plot may leave Slither sounding like something Rhonda Shear would've given a bubbly introduction on USA Up All Night fifteen years ago. What James Gunn has pulled off with Slither is nicking the best from a decade of schlock, only...y'know, competently...and with a great cast and crew perched on both sides of the camera. Most horror-comedies wind up not offering much of either, but like Dead Alive and Evil Dead 2 before it, Slither juggles its genres effortlessly. The humor's mixed in really deftly; there are scenes that are funny, but it doesn't shoehorn in any funny scenes. James Gunn also infuses the movie with enough energy that even the prolonged pre-hell-breaking-loose wind-up -- usually the most agonizing part of a B-movie -- zips by. Slither isn't flanked-by-finger-quotes "scary", but it does sport a couple of solid jolts, and some of the imagery is surprisingly unsettling. There's just something about zombified little girls in particular that makes my skin crawl. My only real gripe is that a bunch of the dialogue is a little too faithful to '80s schlock, straightforward enough that it could probably stand some punching up. Then again, Gunn'll lob out something like the Mayor's tirade quoted up top or Bill's brilliant deadpanned response to a "what do we do now?", and suddenly I didn't mind so much anymore. The screenplay treats its well-acted and brighter-than-average central characters with enough respect that some of the more emotional plot points actually :gasp!: resonate, and when was the last time you could say that about a B-movie?
So, yeah: alien invaders, backwater rednecks, barrel drums of viscera and slime, kinda-sorta-zombies, a hefty body count, stacks of half-eaten critters, scores of nods to classic B-flicks, oodles of profanity, a great sense of humor, and even a quick flash of a couple of boobs. Yup, one of my favorites of 2006.
Video: Slither is one of the best lookin' B-flicks out there, sporting a solid 1.85:1 high-def presentation on this single-layered combo disc. Even if its release was dragged out so that this DVD would hit store shelves just in time for Halloween, it's still fresh enough out of theaters that there's no speckling or wear to nitpick. Sharp, detailed, colorful...all the stock adjectives apply. A handful of the underlit shots are grainier and murkier than the rest of the movie, but I vaguely remember Slither looking the same way when I caught it theatrically, so I won't hold that against this HD DVD. Pretty typical for a recent theatrical release, and I mean that in the best way possible.
Audio: The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio sounds pretty good too, even if it kinda forgets that there are a couple of speakers collecting dust in the back. Although there is some sporadically effective activity in the surrounds (the slithering of the space-slugs, f'r instance), the sound design's kind of tame for a horror flick, especially one as manic as this. The film's dialogue gets a little lost in the mix at times, but it generally comes through well enough. The subwoofer lets loose a bunch of low-frequency belches, and the squishy sound effects are clear and full-bodied. Nothing spectacular, but 'salright.
There are also six-channel dubs in French and Spanish along with optional subtitles in all three of the disc's languages.
Supplements: Like Universal's past few day-and-date releases, Slither is a combo title with a high-definition version of the movie on one side of the disc and a garden variety DVD on the other. Aside from the audio commentary, Slither's supplements are somewhat annoyingly relegated to the standard definition side of the disc. Not that standing up and flipping one of these five inch platters is all that big of a deal, but like Oscar Goldman said, we have the technology...
Usually when you see a long, long list of extras, you can bank on the fact that 70% of it's a waste of time. Slither is one of those rarer-than-it-oughtta-be cases where everything really is worth a look. So, in...errr...clockwise order, the pile o' extras includes:
It's kind of a drag to dig through the extras and marvel at some really clever menu design while the HD DVD portion of the disc just gets the same old generic Universal template. Another inconsequential gripe is that the movie boasted some of my all-time favorite poster art, and the HD DVD cover isn't nearly as creepy by comparison. It's also been rotated slightly from the regular DVD cover art, probably to accomodate those dumb swooshes that Universal uses on all of their HD DVDs.
Conclusion: What a sad, sad world where Stay Alive (y'know, "if you die in the game, you die fo' real!") rakes in tens of millions of bucks while something infectiously fun like Slither sputters and stalls at the box office. Oh well; hopefully Slither will find its audience on video 'cause the genre needs something with this hypercaffeinated, demented sense of humor to balance out the unflinchingly grim wave of horror in theaters now. A must-see for schlock fanatics. Highly Recommended.