October Horrorshow: Slither

October. If it weren’t for Halloween, October would be an intolerable month. Last week, New York City was sunny and the temperature was in the 80s. When in the apartment, I’d have all the windows open, breathing fresh air, wearing nothing heavier than a t-shirt. Today, as I write this, it is 54 and raining. It’s a cold rain, too, matched in ugliness during the day only by the grey skies that spawned it. And at night, it’s a barrier, something to keep a person locked away indoors. No windows open today. They’re shut tight, and a cotton fleece has replaced the t-shirt. In a matter of days the life has been sucked out of this city. Everything feels like it’s dying. But, that’s autumn. Thank goodness for horror films. Because it’s time once again for the October Horrorshow, when Missile Test chases away the doldrums of the changing seasons by watching and reviewing horror films. The good, the bad, and the putrid. It doesn’t matter. As long as it has blood, it’s better than dealing with fall.

Slither, from 2006, is an interesting film. It’s half creature feature, half zombie flick, with an irreverent script written by the film’s director, James Gunn. Slither tells the story of a small southern town beset by an invasion from an alien world. The creature makes its first appearance by attacking and infecting a fellow by the name of Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), a successful local businessman. The alien possesses Grant’s mind, turning his body slave to the strange machinations of its otherworldly biology. Grant’s new mission is to spread the Slitherinfection, and he does so by using a local woman to spawn a gaggle of foot-long slugs that can enter a human or an animal through the mouth and turn them into zombies.

Alien slugs? Possessing innocent people and using them to breed and spread? If this sounds familiar, it should. Some have said Slither is a ripoff of Night of the Creeps, which also featured slugs that infect the brains of host humans as a means of spreading. In that, Slither does bear strong similarity. Even the outer space origins of the menace are a commonality the two films share. But beyond the slugs, there really isn’t anything else the two films have in common. I would say Slither is guilty of no more than borrowing a plot device. A plot device central to the film, but still.

Going up against Grant and his slithery progeny are Grant’s wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks), local cop Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), and the town’s foul-mouthed mayor, Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry), among others. They have to fight zombies, evade slugs, and take down the now hideously deformed Grant Grant before he and his minions take over the entire world.

James Gunn’s script is full of humor, a good thing in a film this relentlessly gory. The creature effects are over the top, by design, of course, and having some laughs in the script helped immensely. There wasn’t a whole lot of chemistry between Elizabeth Banks and Michael Rooker (not much was needed, either), but a scene where Rooker tries to play off his growing deformity as a bee sting is priceless.

Nathan Fillion is also more than able to work with a script of this sort. His greatest strengths as an actor lie in deadpan humor and a sickening amount of charm, as evidenced by his work in Firefly and its film adaptation, Serenity, and also his current television series, Castle. Fillion is great at making his characters appear to take extreme situations in stride, puncturing the tension with lighthearted cracks here and there. He just doesn’t do hopeless.

And neither does Slither. It’s a film meant to produce alternating shocks and laughs in the audience. There’s no crushing sense of foreboding or nauseating scenes of human torture. Slither is modern drive-in fare, polished and well made.

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