The Horror/Sci-Fi comedy 'Slither' is grisly, ghasty fun....though not without its purposely comedic moments...
Being a self-proclaimed aficionado of cinematic horror films of all shapes, colors, and subgenres, let me state right from the get-go that horror and comedy usually mix about as well as oil and water; kerosene and a lit match; a raging case of hemorrhoids and a saddled-up steed. That said, there have been the occasional exceptions to the rule that actually did manage to combine scares, gore and chuckles within the same blood-drenched bag; Peter Jackson’s unrated 1985 zombie-fest ‘Dead Alive’ was hilariously over the top, akin to the Three Stooges with chainsaws (Humorous note: the ‘unrated edition’ of Dead Alive is a full 12 minutes longer than the ‘R-rated’ edition. What does that tell ya?), and of course there are Sam Raimi’s classic ‘Evil Dead’ films, all of which induced as many laughs as shivers.
It was then with great reservation that I slapped down my eight hard earned dollars at the neighborhood cinema to view ‘Slither’ upon its theatrical release, a lightning-quick run which garnered surprisingly good reviews but precious little box office. Seems many potential movie-goers were thrown off or just down right confused by the studio’s off-centered ad campaigns, only about half of which played up the comical aspects with the rest feeling obligated to advertise it as hardcore horror.
Being a sucker for any genre film receiving favorable reviews, not to mention a ratings caution that includes the phrase ‘extreme gore’, I walked in with pretty high expectations. As is naturally the case when perception outweighs reality, I walked out somewhat disappointed though not severely so.
As plotlines go, the tried and true ‘alien life-source crashes to earth, lands in tiny southern community where murder, monsters and mayhem ensues’ always has entertainment potential, depending on several factors.
Genre Factor Number one: the effectiveness (i.e. believability) of the creature effects. Lack of fake-looking (Sci-Fi channel anyone?) CGI effects are always a plus. Luckily, the budget was sufficient that this was not an issue. I grade the effects a solid ‘A’.
Genre Factor Number two: the ‘cast of characters’ must be colorful but not overly stereotypical. Talk about a tall task, especially when you take into effect the other two dozen or more horror/sci-fi films that have tackled a similar storyline. Again, good writing outweighs tired plot, but only by a nose (severed, of course). Grade – B-
Genre Factor Number three: A solid cast is a must. Fortunately, the budget once again allowed for several fine character actors to step up to the plate and deliver. Michael Rooker (Cliffhanger; The Bone Collector; Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) is a genre vet whose work is never less than solid, despite whatever wrenched script he’s been handed. The only drawback is that his role is so limited.
Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Serenity) takes the lead as the woefully stereotypical small-town sheriff, but does manage to provide just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek seriousness needed to avoid complete camp.
Elizabeth Banks (The Forty Year Old Virgin) has the thankless role of lady in distress, though she does hold her own amid all the comedic slash gore-drenched chaos. Grade – B
Genre Factor Number four: What I like to call a ‘stand-out’ scene; that one sequence that lingers in the inner-mind long after the final credits roll. Think Nicholson’s infamous ‘Heeeeere’s Johnny’ in ‘The Shining’ or the ‘helicopter head-chopping’ scene from the original ‘Dawn of the Dead’. For 'Slither', such a memorable moment was no contest. Six words; big mama chained up in the barn. I’ll give nothing further away except to say it works on several levels of unadulterated grisliness, not to mention being funny as hell in a decidedly warped sort of way. Pure genius. Needless to say, you’ll know exactly of what I speak once you see it with your very own eyes. Grade- A-
Directed with workmanlike skill by first-time helmer James Gunn (who wrote the screenplay for 2004’s wonderfully grisly ‘Dawn of the Dead’ remake), ‘Slither’ is a loving homage to so many classic horror films, one almost needs a scorecard to check off as the film progress ('Night of the Living Dead, Invasion of The Body Snatchers, Rabid, and Night of the Creeps' come instantly to mind).
On the comedic side, there are several nifty one-liners (the best of which are provided by Greg Henry playing the town’s profanity-spouting mayor) and the gist of the dialogue sounds spontaneously funny, as if ad-libbed off-camera by Robin Williams and passed onto the actors on screen.
On the horror side, there is gore aplenty but nary a true scare to be had. Perhaps Gunn meant it so, but after a time the constant barrage of classic horror homage does grow a bit tiresome. The ending gross-out scene, in fact, is so similar to 1989’s cult classic ‘Society’ that I couldn’t help but ponder how a plagiarism suit was avoided. I also felt the final act seemed to drag on perhaps five minutes too long. In fact, the last half hour pales dramatically from the initial build-up.
This is not to say that on the whole ‘Slither’ wasn’t a satisfying ride, it just seemed at times to travel an all-too familiar highway.
Overall Rating - *** stars out of ****
NOTE: DVD extras will include a 'making of' featurette and deleted scenes.