Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Off the Shelf: Slither (2006)

Slither is the kind of grossly entertaining B-horror movie that gets you giggling right from the opening scene when a flaming alien-infested comet hurtles rapidly to Earth. (This chattering chunk of rock has the worst possible intentions when it arrives.) The biggest joke on the audience, though, is that when these critters finally get hatched, things get much worse than anyone could possibly imagine. Slither in quick order becomes horror trash without a trace of solemnity.

Set in the quiet rural town of Wheelsy, S.C., Grant (Michael Rooker of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) is a strapping he-man who may be losing the affections of his generally devoted wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks of The 40-Year-Old Virgin). While ruminating the state of his marriage late one night in the woods, Grant gets rudely invaded by a slithery slug-like creature. Before long, Grant begins mutating into a whole different species of he-man. He first impregnates a woman (who becomes a host for a litter of slimy beasts) and then later devours dogs and cattle. (These aliens come with a generous and purposeful appetite.) As Grant soon begins to resemble Jabba the Hut with a bad case of psoriasis, Nathan Fillion (the sardonic space captain from Joss Whedon's Firefly and Serenity) as the town police chief demonstrates some of the funniest straight-faced double-takes in movies while tackling both this mutant infestation and his hidden lust for Starla.

Writer and director James Gunn, who wrote both Scooby-Doo (2002, 2004) movies and the take-no-prisoners Dawn of the Dead (2004), happily packs this horror parody with a virtual fun-house of familiar movie references. But Gunn doesn't simply demonstrate his knowledge and affection for the 1986 Invaders From Mars, David Cronenberg's Shivers (1975), Alien (1979), the George Romero zombie flicks, or the tawdry Troma horror movies. He heightens the jokes (and the horror) by providing a tongue-in-cheek twist to all the familiar and tacky tropes in the genre (unlike the makers of the Scary Movie franchise who simply turn those tropes into a self-congratulatory fetish). More far out than many of its pulp predecessors, Slither is as much fun as EC Comics on nitrous oxide.

Kevin Courrier is a writer/broadcaster, film critic, teacher and author. His forthcoming book is Reflections in the Hall of Mirrors: American Movies and the Politics of Idealism. Through Ryerson Chang School, Courrier begins a 10-week course on writing criticism (Analyze This: Writing Criticism) that begins October 3rd (6:30pm until 9pm). Classes will be held at the Bell Lightbox. (For more information, or to sign up, see here.)

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