Body horror is one subgenre of the horror/thriller/sci-fi realms that is usually so over-the-top gory and far fetched that it typically stumbles its way into the style of horror-comedy tropes, whether it is intentional or not. That’s one thing that’s always either thrown me off or entertained the hell out of me when it came down to viewing stuff like Parasyte, Re-Animator, The Blob (both versions), the Evil Dead flicks as well as the collective works of David Cronenberg, just to name a few. They’re bloody, they’re cheesy and they do a bang-up job of making you paranoid about all the possible things that can happen to you or your body in science fiction F/X fashion. Which brings us to today’s movie.
Slither is a mid-2000s effort directed by James Gunn (then primarily a writer of Dawn of the Dead fame who would go on to work on the critically acclaimed Guardians of the Galaxy series) that, despite its subtle wit, outstanding hints of comedic tones, and relentless body count and alien gore, turned out a box office bomb when it initially hit theatres. However, the film garnered immediate overwhelmingly positive critical reception and, over the years, has accumulated a largescale cult following on home media release. It even won some Fangoria Awards, too! Slither is definitely one of those films you either love or hate… and what do I feel about it? Personally, I think it’s a breath of fresh air despite its tiresome concept for several reasons.
Starring the likes of Nathan Fillion—who some of you may recognize from other non-horror related media such as Serenity, the Castle TV show or his voice work on the Halo video game franchise—Michael Rooker and Elizabeth Banks, this South Carolina-set horror offering focuses on an extraterrestrial organism that crash lands via a meteor and proceeds to infest, viciously attack and infect the rural countryside residents that live in the area. Though the creature here mainly acts as a parasite that takes on a host for feeding, which mostly consists of feasting on large amounts of raw meat, it also packs some surprises in the form of sharp tentacles, blob-like masses and, as the cover art suggests, tiny larva-esque pests that attempt to crawl in your mouth uninvited and take control of your body (AKA where the body horror comes in). Among other main players in this flick include a ragtag group of police troopers who fight the alien creatures and other quirky townsfolk who are mainly there for cannon fodder.
Getting right into it, the first thing that caught my attention about Slither happened to be the somewhat awkward and sometimes unnatural dialogue in many of the conversations, which are surprisingly comical in nature despite the alarming situations the characters engage in. For instance, you’ll have a guy complaining about not having any Mr. Pibb (for those unaware, it’s a more obscure version of Coca-Cola’s Dr. Pepper) packed in his knapsack despite almost getting killed by zombified alien walkers. Also, there’s a ton of back and forth banter between the group of main characters as well as some entertaining little bits of toilet humor and pop culture references thrown in. As mentioned before, it can get pretty over-the-top when it wants. There’s even a scene in which one of the main deputy officers goes in to look for supplies in an office building and gets attacked by a mutated deer, no joke.
Aside from that, the special effects found in this movie really seem top-notch considering the not so high budget. The texture on the alien creatures themselves as well as the special F/X on the mutated townspeople (i.e. their growths, disfigurements, and overall outwardly crazy appearances) all look extremely believable and top-notch. This factor alone gets all too evident when you look at the death scenes here, which there are certainly many of. I mean, you’ve got a guy who gets sliced in half vertically from head to toe by a tentacle, a couple of people being splashed by an acidic liquid that makes them melt, and a few people getting their heads or limbs blown off in classic gorehouse/Tom Savini effects fashion. Hell, there are some aspects of the plot and certain scenes that remind me of similar doomsday type flicks like Robert Rodriguez’ Planet Terror, which came out a bit after this movie, I know, and of course The Blob or some other Romero type material. One scene, in particular, is very reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive/Braindead, though I will not spoil too much.
Some of the flaws with the film include the lack of suspense in some parts, such as the rescue section near the end which gets clouded by the film’s general comedic tone. I know this one doesn’t take itself too seriously at the end of the day, but more suspenseful parts like the barn scene could’ve been helpful for balancing the atmosphere. The writing could be at fault, as well. Other than that, I enjoy the plot points themselves and most of the performances were more than competent, though I felt like one or two characters were more annoying than anything. The ending is satisfying as all hell, though, so there’s that, too.
All in all, Slither stands as a very competent and well-made body horror comedy in its own right and should be taken more seriously by film historians or the like despite its not-so-serious sendups. The F/X had me gripping at my gall and all the witty writing and cleverly colorful characters, especially those of Michael Rooker, Nathan Fillion and that one a-hole who nobody seems to like (if you watch, you’ll know) really put me in a good mood every time I revisit this instant modern classic. Don’t get me wrong, it has its own fair share of flaws and it’s certainly no Cronenberg movie or The Blob from 1988. But, I can still dig the atmosphere, the little laughs I got here and there, and all the over-the-topness that comes wrapped up in this slimy little cult flick. I’d recommend it for anyone who is a fanatic of the material mentioned earlier and those looking for an amusing 90 minutes or so of hard R-rated gory alien killing fun.