Long before the wild success of Guardians of the Galaxy and ten years after writing Tromeo and Juliet, James Gunn made his directorial debut with the Troma-infused Slither (2006), a campy slice of horror-comedy hoping to capitalize on the recent success of films like Shaun of the Dead. Though it didn't connect with audiences during its theatrical run, Slither plays its cards right with plenty of slime, scares and self-deprecation, acting as more of a humble ode to the genre than something altogether new and different. Boasting an assortment of tongue-in-cheek characters and an ample amount of disgustingly disturbing monsters, Slither should appeal to anyone who enjoys great green gobs of over-the-top schlock. This is not a perfect film, but it's still a lot of fun and has held up fine during the last 11 years.
From start to finish, Slither feels like a film made with die-hard horror fans in mind, dishing out non-stop nods to classics like The Thing, Rosemary's Baby, and David Cronenberg's Shivers, with plenty of similarities to other films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Night of the Living Dead, Tremors, and especially Night of the Creeps. Fans of The X-Files should instantly be reminded of quirky, off-center episodes like "Bad Blood" and "War of the Coprophages", while Troma disciples should feel right at home too. So while Slither's obvious "comfort level" of familiarity keeps it from being much more than the sum of its parts, Gunn's film manages to leave its own stamp on the genre in a few subtle ways.
Thanks to a well-rounded series of performances by its capable cast, Slither never takes itself too seriously. Nathan Fillion (Firefly) is perfectly cast as the laid-back, deadpan sheriff Bill Pardy, while Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) does a fantastic job as the meat-hungry Grant Grant. Supporting roles are filled nicely by Elizabeth Banks (The 40 Year-Old Virgin), Gregg Henry (United 93), Tania Saulnier (Caitlin's Way) and Gunn's then-wife, Jenna Fischer (The Office), creating a caricatured collection of citizens that never strays too far over the top. The small-town setting of Wheelsy, SC also gives Slither an appropriately closed-off atmosphere that suits the story well.
Also of note are the excellent special effects, a potent mix of practical handiwork and CGI that gives Slither a convincingly campy backdrop. There's more gross-out than actual gore on display (read: slime > blood), though there's no shortage of victims nonetheless. Between a few exploding heads, flesh-eating zombies, and pounds of rotting meat, even veteran horror fans may feel a bit queasy. Again, Slither is saved by the fact that it serves up these disgusting visuals with a knowing wink, as almost every bit of violence is played entirely for laughs. It may not win any awards for originality, but it's obvious that those involved had a lot of fun and their enthusiasm clearly shows.
If Slither has one problem, it's the pacing. Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, it admittedly takes much too long to kick into high gear---and once it's over, you'll probably wish that the first 60 minutes were more like the last 30. Several early moments, like Grant's initial argument with Starla and his transformation in the woods, could have been trimmed quite a bit with almost no impact to the story. The infamous "bathtub scene" (depicted on the front cover) is another good example of this, as it introduces a completely new character much too late in the film. It's a great scene in its own right, but feels like more of a forced detour that should've happened much earlier. Even with the slower introduction and pacing problems, though, Slither should entertain those looking for a laughs and thrills in equal doses.
Originally presented on DVD (and HD DVD, may it rest it peace) by Universal, Slither has finally been ported to Blu-ray in its home country by none other than the good folks at Shout Factory. It's a stacked disc on paper: we finally get a full 1080p transfer, lossless audio, and even a few new bonus features on top of all the old ones...but overall, this Collector's Edition isn't exactly leaps and bounds ahead of what's been available for over a decade now.
The good news is that, unless you've been region free for several years, Shout Factory's new Blu-ray represents the first 1080p transfer of Slither around these parts (HD DVD was typically a half-step behind at 1080i). This is a clean and relatively good-looking transfer that exhibits solid image detail, good color saturation, consistently deep black levels, and notable amounts of texture at certain points. The bad news is that this is obviously taken from the same source material as its older counterparts, as no new restoration or scan is advertised anywhere on the packaging. So while Slither would certainly look better with a little more spit and polish, this at least represents a modest upgrade from the previous HD DVD (and, at the very least, isn't a flipper disc). Keep your expectations in check with this one.
DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
Slither's audio, on the other hand, gets a slightly larger boost: the HD DVD maxed out at a lossy Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix, so the Blu-ray's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track offers a clear improvement in overall clarity and dynamic range. This is a great sounding film with some nice attention to detail, along with a few punchy jump scares and plenty of squelching, slimy gross-out sounds at all the right moments. Dialogue is mixed well and easy to understand, while the score by Tyler Bates (a long-time film composer and frequent collaborator with Gunn, who also currently works with Marilyn Manson) makes its presence known without hogging the spotlight. Optional English subtitles are included during the main feature, although they've got a few embarrassing typos. ("Lime disease"? Really?)
The interface is presented in Shout's typical no-frills style with smooth, simple navigation and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. Separate options are provided for chapter selection, audio/subtitle setup, and bonus features. This one-disc release is packaged in a standard keepcase with reversible cover artwork and a matching slipcover.
Three exclusive extras are featured here. Leading off is a new Audio Commentary featuring writer/director James Gunn, who's jointed by actors Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker (the packaging mentions "cast members", which is kind of misleading). Either way, it's a fun chat and topics of interest include the production design, assembling the cast, shooting in Vancouver, minor characters and cameos, makeup and visual effects, difficult shots, cutting some of the more graphic moments, favorite scenes, working with a low budget, and much more. The tone is a lot more energetic and enthusiastic than Gunn and Fillion's 2006 commentary, (also included - see below), but there's also a bit of overlap here and there. Overall, it's nice to have some retrospective input, even if their memories aren't exactly fresh.
Two recent Video Interviews continue the new goodies. James Gunn (29:38) speaks about writing the script, early years at Troma, balancing the ordinary with the outlandish, his surprising career path, and many other memories from his first Hollywood film. Meanwhile, Gregg Henry (8:08) discusses working with the director, improvising a few lines, working under prosthetics and makeup, and eating a delicious arm. It's a lot less in-depth than the Gunn interview and feels more than a little rushed for time, but good to have it either way. Also technically new to home video---but not advertised as such---is the film's Theatrical Trailer (1:28), which is always great to have for posterity.
Luckily, everything of interest from the 2006 DVD is also included. These recycled extras include a 2006 feature-length Audio Commentary with director James Gunn and star Nathan Fillion, "The Sick Minds and Slimy Days of Slither" (10:03), a "Slithery Set Tour with Nathan Fillion", "Visual Effects: Step by Step" (5:02), "Bringing Slither's Creatures to Life" (18:04), "Gorehound Grill: Brewin' the Blood" (3:34), a collection of Deleted & Extended Scenes with optional audio commentary by James Gunn (12 clips, 17:13 total), "The King of Cult: Lloyd Kaufman's Video Diary" (8:59), "Who is Bill Pardy?" (5:14), and a Gag Reel (8:12). Overall, no complaints...this is quite a stacked disc.
James Gunn's Slither isn't the most bulletproof directorial debut, but it's still a good time at the movies. Featuring fun performances, outstanding gore effects, and a much-needed light touch, there's a lot to like here...even if the whole doesn't add up to much more than the sum of its parts. Shout Factory's welcome Collector's Edition Blu-ray finally replaces Universal's DVD and HD DVD editions, though surprisingly not by all that much: the A/V presentation only offers a modest bump in quality, and only a few items have been added to the already-stacked list of extras. But fans will be glad to finally have this, and first timers should enjoy themselves as well. Recommended.