SLITHER doesn’t just embrace the cheesy goofiness of those B-grade horror films from the middle of the last century, it also gives them a big wet sloppy French kiss. Taking what is so endearing about the ineptitude, it tweaks the bad dialogue and worst plot points, turning them into an homage to bad cinema that celebrates its unerring ability to produce guffaws, only this time, the guffaws are the point.
The humans in peril this time reside in the sleepy little town of Wheelsy, North Carolina. It’s a place that’s seen better days, and so has it’s police chief, Bill (Nathan Fillion), who is burdened by a deputy obsessed with figuring out how fast the local wildlife is going and by a torch he’s been carrying for his childhood sweetheart, Starla (Elizabeth Banks). She’s a wholesome blue-eyed blonde in prissy embroidered sweater sets married to Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), the richest man in town, a possessive good ol’ boy who is twice her age and half her smarts. Fortunately or not, depending on your point of view, the meteor that crashes just outside of town is about to change all of that. When Starla rebuffs Grant’s attempts at a little marital bliss, he storms out of the house and wanders about looking for trouble until he finds it with a loose woman at a bar, and with a gelatinous something that they find in the woods, one of which shoots him full of an alien worm that doesn’t quite kill him, but does make him its meat puppet. Before you can say William Castle, or even Samuel Z. Arkoff, there’s a squirmy bunch of slimy things from beyond the stars wriggling around with malicious intent all over Wheeling and only Bill can save the day.
Writer/ director James Gunn takes no prisoners when filleting small-town life, whether the sadly forced cheeriness of the annual celebration of Deer Cheer that marks the ritual countdown to hunting season, to the nuclear family inviting the only member not playing host to a space slug in the brain to join them for family fun day. The script is a dead-on simulacrum of the schlock that make the originals of this genre such a guilty pleasure, there are delicious moments such as the one where Starla solemnly declaims on the sanctity of marriage, for better or worse, or in this case, the attack of squidiness that Grant is suffering, while a deputy frets about how to handcuff him in his current squid-like state. At the same time, it injects a character into the proceedings that is ironically self-aware of the absurdity that is going on around him from the locals and the slugs. That would be Bill, and Fillion, stalwart and heroic in an aw shucks sort of way, has an uncanny talent for mining the absurdity of it all while, like the film itself, playing it absolutely straight about how very, very dangerous a situation involving a rampaging herd of extra-terrestrial slugs is. When confronted with yet another of Grant’s metamorphoses courtesy of the fx department amour fou for foam and slime, his “that’s some peculiar effluvia” (I’m paraphrasing) is a wonder of wonder, fear, and a fine sense of not wanting to buy the farm courtesy of something so intrinsically silly.
As for the danger, there’s plenty of blood and guts, but no lingering shots, even during the rather slick bisectional evisceration that one character undergoes. The escape of another character, first from a bathtub and then from a house overrun with the vicious little critters is, is paced and cut for maxium ick and ack impact.
SLITHER is a nice variation on the classic zombie theme, but is sublimely unencumbered by any deeper, profound metaphor, even with right-wing putz of a mayor who frets about having his favorite soft drink handy when all heck breaks loose. The mission here is to provide light entertainment and that it does.