Benjamin’s Stash

The best tourism ad South Carolina could ever ask for. Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Gregg Henry and Michael Rooker star in Slither.

SlitherCast of Characters:
Bill Pardy – Nathan Fillion
Starla Grant – Elizabeth Banks
Kylie Strutemyer – Tania Saulnier
Jack MacReady – Gregg Henry
Grant Grant – Michael Rooker

Director – James Gunn
Screenplay – James Gunn
Producer – Paul Brooks, Eric Newman & Thomas Bliss
Rated R for strong horror violence and gore, and language

Down in Wheelsy, South Carolina, while out frolicking one night in the woods with bar chick Brenda (Brenda James), local car dealer Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) stumbles upon an unusual organism. As he’s inspecting it, the organism turns out to be a malevolent parasite that attacks and infects him, taking control of his body. Soon after, Grant starts showing signs of odd behavior and physical abnormalities, much to the worry of his wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks).

Don’t worry. It’s just a bee sting.

Before Starla can reach local police chief Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) about her concerns, Grant has already infected the town with his own alien offspring.

And there goes the neighborhood.

Creature Features, schlock films and Z-movies have long been a staple of cinema, and they are what they are. Producer Roger Corman, Troma Entertainment and The Asylum are probably the three most well-known examples of the genre. Paying homage to the sci-fi monster flick, Slither is what you get when you combine all the elements of a monster schlock-fest into one skillfully made film.

Everything about this film screams cheesy, but in a good way. There’s a difference between a fully earnest movie that winds up unintentionally cheesy and a movie that knows it’s cheesy and relishes every opportunity it gets to be so. Slither not only relishes those opportunities, it’s flashing a mile-wide grin while it does, and while its budget’s still small, it has a much higher production value than many other films of its kind.

Writer/director James Gunn began his filmmaking career with Troma Entertainment, which is why he’s a perfect fit for a film like this. Gunn, in his feature-length directorial debut, knows this is a ridiculous premise and embraces it with a wink and a nod to the viewer, letting them know he and his film are in on the joke. Using a combination of visual and practical prosthetic effects (superbly done by visual effects supervisor John Gajdecki and special makeup designer Todd Masters), Gunn may start things off slower than he should, but once he finds his footing, he redeems the slow start by not letting off the brakes once. From there, he balances humor, blood, guts and gore, and some key, off-the-wall bizarre turns (I won’t spoil them for you) with a confident tone and sharply timed laughs.

It’s an effort by him that pays off well enough for me to forgive him for writing those two Scooby-Doo films.

Yep, that was him.

Next to Gunn, another key strength here is the cast. While not a string of A-listers, this is still a fairly recognizable bunch. They sell the laughs, of course, but they’re effective mostly ’cause like their director, they embrace the over-the-top stock characters they’re portraying. Nathan Fillion has that “Everyman” quality that allows him to feel right at home playing the small-town police chief. Elizabeth Banks – in one of her first big roles that introduced me to her – is just as charming and likeable as we know her to be today. Banks has the naive local gal bit down pat, but at the same time shows she can take down some of the baddies herself. Gregg Henry provides some very dependable comic relief as the town’s foulmouthed mayor, and the underrated Michael Rooker (check out Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer to see how great he really is) is perfectly cast as the rich car salesman turned whatever the hell kinda creature he ends up becoming.

That’s him buried in prosthetics once he transforms, by the way. His creature alone shows how terrific of a job the makeup crew did.

The one complaint toward the end that I do have is Gunn making Rooker’s creature tragic, a la Frankenstein’s monster. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it’s really the one area within the film I felt didn’t gel with the rest. It would’ve been better had Gunn turned the character full baddie, pedal to the metal style, and given the type of film this is, it would’ve been perfectly within bounds to do so.

Much in the vein of prior films like Gremlins, Tremors and Shaun of the Dead, Slither is an equal parts creepy and funny homage to B-movie schlock. Despite a few missteps in the beginning that’s oftentimes par for the course with rookie directors, James Gunn gives this a much sleeker look than the Troma films he’s clearly been inspired by, thanks mostly to his very talented effects team. Overall, Slither is an example of camp done right, offering its viewers a fun 96 minutes of outrageous entertainment sure to make you squirm and laugh simultaneously.

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