The slumbering Southern town of Wheelsy becomes the focal point of an alien invasion when an extraterrestrial parasite crashes to Earth and possesses the town bully (Rooker). As the aliens spawn turns the townsfolk into zombies, chief of police Bill Pard
Dawn Of The Dead remake scribe James Gunn returns to the zombie genre for his directorial debut. But where Dawn was the rejuvenation of a seminal ’70s horror, Slither is a loving nod to the shoddy charms of countless bottom-shelf titles that littered ’80s video stores.
From the initial crash sequence, we’re under no illusions as to what’s in store: slime, blood, phlegm and gore, splattered about with giddy glee as the movie wallows in the primordial muck of its DTV origins. But it’s worth pointing out that, self-aware as it may be, this is still a low-rent romp with throwaway plot, stock B-movie characters and an emphasis on splatter — hardly a giant leap for the genre.
However, Gunn does show some needed restraint — it would have been easy to blow his budget on unwarranted post-production. Instead, the director uses CGI only to enhance the horrific mutations he’s created, relying on acres of dripping, fleshy prosthetic to carry the monster’s share of effects and making the horror all the more visceral (and faithful) for it.
Entrails and appendages make up only one part of Slither’s appeal, though. While Michael Rooker’s shambling horde takes over the town and increasingly disgusting mutants go on the offensive (watch out for the killer deer!), Gunn underwrites the carnage with a parched sense of humour that provokes barking belly laughs to off-set the offal. A string of artfully delivered one-liners and deftly handled exchanges crackle through the script, the (quite intentional) comedy not only adding substance but hoisting Slither above its schlocky source material.
It’s no surprise that the majority of laughs are ably captured by Fillion, showing off the knack for deadpan delivery previously tapped by Joss Whedon in Serenity. As Pardy, he fills out the role of an unlikely hero dealing with extraordinary events, bringing bumbling affability to a part that could so easily have been lost to square jaws, steely eyes and other clumsy stereotypes.
Tipping its hat at everything from the original Puppet Masters to bargain-bin trash like Ted Nicolaou’s TerrorVision, Slither is a carefully crafted parody (the Predator nod in particular will bring a smile to your face). But this is the scalpel to the Scary Movie series’ bludgeoning sledgehammer, skirting cheap imitation in favour of affectionate irreverence and managing to produce a genre hybrid that’s far more than the sum of its pilfered parts.
Undeniably funny and gooey to boot, Slither may not be groundbreaking but it is a rarity: a horror-comedy that does both its genre-parents proud.