There are some movies that are just so terribly, terribly bad that right from the outset you want to claw your own eyes out so that you're no longer capable of witnessing the ongoing twenty car pileup that is unfolding in front of you on the screen. If by some miracle of intestinal fortitude you manage to stick it out until the closing credits, you have to repress the nearly overpowering urge to grab the greasy little teenager behind the box office counter and shake him while shrilly demanding the last two hours of your life back. Slither is not that movie. I know what you're thinking, it seems like it should be, but I can tell you with authority that it is indeed that rare gem that occasionally crops up within the played-out diamond mine that is the genre of B-Movies.
There's nothing really new or shocking about Slither. It's your standard; alien-slug-takes-over-local-hick, local-hick-starts-impregnating-local-trailer-trash-females, local-trailer-trash-females-spawn-an-army-of-alien-slugs, alien-slugs-create-an-unstoppable-army-of-shambling-oozing-zombies, movie. You know, a classic. The real twist comes in the writing. It's good. The dialogue is snappy and witty, the smart characters don't suddenly do stupid things, "Oh that's right, just walk backwards while you're alone in the woods while Jason Voorhees is out for his newest spree-kill evening stroll." Doesn't happen in this movie.
The writer in question is the amazingly talented James Gunn. If you look him up on the IMDB , you'll get four choices. You want the writer of the Scooby Doo movie. That's right, the Scooby Doo movie. He wrote the second one too. He's a master at turning ideas that seem like a bad idea on the surface into interesting and oftentimes fun movies.
James Gunn first came to my attention with a little movie released by one of my favorite B-Studios, Troma. The movie was appropriately titled Tromeo and Juliette, and although the directing was sub par, even for the *ahem* standards of a Troma film, the writing was outstanding. Gunn took a truly bad idea, a modern update of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliette, put them a punk setting, and added wit and spark, turning it into the best film Team Troma ever did. Who knew that several years later Baz Luhrmann would try the same stunt again and make a ton more money at it, proving conclusively that a good idea is a good idea, and the only thing standing between you and instant fame and fortune is having an advertising budget the same size as 20th Century (isn't it about time they updated their name) Fox.
Gunn's second film was something that if you were quick, you could have caught it on DVD, maybe. It was a neat little story called The Specials, and it had the bad luck to be a big budget special effects extravaganza with the actual budget of an old English street urchin. Think Oliver Twist and you've got it. The Specials did star Rob Lowe and that guy from Wings... whashisname... Thomas Hayden Church, but neither of them were able to do anything with the supremely inspired but very insular script, and the movie pretty much tanked. It did have one of the best tag lines ever though, "The Specials, not as good as regular super heroes, but slightly better than you."
His third trick was reworking George Romero's original script for Dawn of the Dead into one of the best zombie movies of this decade. Gunn updated the setting, punched up the dialogue, and added enough extra characters to make this movie just under two hours of absolute zombie butt-kicking fun. Between this and the success of the second Scooby Doo movie, he finally got enough press with this one to convince Universal Studios that it might be a good idea to jump on board when it was time to release Slither. Which, except for a bunch of short films (that you can research on your own,) brings us up to date.
Slither is a bit intense for most folk what don't have strong stomachs, but if you have any love at all for smart, witty dialogue, actors who really shine, and a movie that really shows how much fun you can have with a b-movie setting, then Slither is definitely for you. If all this doesn't pique your interest, then go see it for Nathan Fillion. The man is an excellent actor who (if he plays his cards right) will have official leading man status in spite of himself. He plays the local sheriff who becomes the last best line of defense against this hostile alien takeover, and he plays the part extremely well. Michael Rooker is in rare form as the first to be infected by the alien slime worms, and even Elizabeth Banks (whom some of you might recognize as Betty Brant from the Spider-Man films) shows her true potential as a b-movie scream queen. (A dubious honor to be sure, but an honor none the less.)
If you missed Slither in the theaters, and most of you probably did, it's okay. The DVD is scheduled for release shortly, and according to James Gunn's Website it looks to be packed full of extra stuff, which is always a good thing.
One last thing for all you Serenity and Firefly fans. There is a great reference to the grenade gag in Serenity. Actually the movie is packed full of all sorts of sly nods and subtle references to the great b-movies that have come before. Nothing is over the top though, the main plot does a good enough job of that on its own.