Slither (2006)

Director: James Gunn

Starring: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry, Tania Saulnier

Earth can be a lonely enough place as it is. Imagine if you were the only one of your kind among a collection of other organisms. That doesn’t seem to leave much room to find common ground. Making any kind of a connection would be close to impossible without forcing the issue. Every creature acts according to his/her/its own nature. Some live according to the code of “survival of the fittest.”

In South Carolina, the town of Wheelsy is hosting its annual Deer Cheer celebration, after which deer hunting season is to be underway. Starla Grant (Elizabeth Banks) is in attendance, as is Sherriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion). While the festivities are going on, Starla’s husband, Grant (Michael Rooker), is out fooling around in the woods with a waitress from a bar when they come upon a meteorite. It’s Grant’s bad luck that the space rock carried with it a parasite which quickly attaches itself to him, taking over his body. Later, Grant infects the waitress, making her host to hundreds upon hundreds of slug-like beings which enter through the mouth and attach themselves to the brainstem. Soon, Starla, Bill, and a couple of other survivors are left to fend for themselves against a town full of former citizens-turned-zombies who’ve all been made a part of Grant’s collective consciousness.

Timing is everything. In an era where horror movies are as gory as they’ve ever been, the horror comedy genre has been in short supply. In 2006, it was practically extinct apart from films by Troma Entertainment, the notorious low budget independent film studio. The career of writer/director James Gunn began with that company (he wrote “Tromeo and Juliet”), and he has never forgotten about his roots. It’s safe to say that Gunn knows a little something about satire. For example, the southern accents are so exaggerated in “Slither” that they could destroy any film trying to take itself seriously. Unfortunately, his first directorial effort was paid very little attention, disappearing from theaters without making so much as a dent in the box office. Many who did give it a look slammed the film for being a “rip-off,” citing 1986’s “Night of the Creeps” as the film being plagiarized.

While I admit that “Night of the Creeps” is an easy comparison to make, James Gunn insists that his main most direct influences were “The Brood” and “Shivers,” both directed by David Cronenberg. The 1982 remake of “The Thing” by John Carpenter, itself a film about an alien with the ability to become everyone, should also be counted. Gunn made that clear when he named the town’s mayor, Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry), after the Kurt Russell character from “The Thing.” I’ve just realized that “Slither” is where I first saw actor Gregg Henry, who also starred in “Body Double.”

I’m going to take a wild guess and assume that James Gunn is an Air Supply fan. He wrote the 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” remake, which includes the song “All Out of Love” as elevator music. For “Slither,” Gunn chose “Every Woman in the World” as Grant and Starla’s love song. As someone who is fond of taking classic, sweet pop songs and juxtaposing them against scenes of bloody mayhem, this is right up my alley. That said, this does sometimes have the side effect of forever altering one’s perception of the song in question.

Beyond the satire, what attracted me to “Slither” from the beginning was the casting of Nathan Fillion. Still a couple of years away from being cast in the lead role of the TV crime drama series “Castle,” Fillion was mostly known for playing Malcolm Reynolds in the TV series “Firefly” and the follow-up movie, “Serenity.” What made Malcolm Reynolds such a great character was A) the witty dialogue written by Joss Whedon and B) Mal being caught somewhere in-between smart and dumb. Sherriff Bill Pardy may not benefit from the writing of Joss Whedon, but he also is a character that isn’t quite smart, but isn’t entirely dumb, either. Fillion provides some of the most natural reactions to alien encounters I’ve ever seen. Particularly hilarious is his response to the possessed spitting some kind of green goo that burns human skin on contact.

From “Dawn of the Dead” to “Slither” (to probably a few other movies I haven’t as yet figured out that he wrote), James Gunn has done a lot to impress me, and soon he’ll be taking it a step further. He’s about to join the Marvel Comics Universe. On August 1, 2014, “Guardians of the Galaxy” will hit theaters. Michael Rooker will be part of the cast, as will Bradley Cooper, Benicio Del Toro, Vin Diesel, Zoe Saldana, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Karen Gillan of “Doctor Who” fame, among others. I was already intrigued, and intent on seeing it as I have been the other Marvel Comics films, but now that I’ve been made aware that it is the director of “Slither” who is in charge of the project, that movie cannot be released soon enough. Making a connection is not easy, but James Gunn made one with me, and it has taken hold.

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