Slither is refreshing because it pretends to be neither more nor less than what it is: a movie about giant slugs from outer space. In our current crop of horror films, for every well-executed gross-out comedy like Sean of the Dead , we have to suffer through ten Saws and Stay Alives - dreary variations of Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians," where the characters exist to be picked off one by one. Slither, on the other hand, is all about using creative make-up effects, and occasional computer graphics, to exact dazzlingly satisfying atrocities upon human and animal bodies. Imagine a cow stepping on a land mine, and you've got the aesthetic.
We are introduced to the vaguely Pacific Northwest-y town of Wheelsy, where the top cultural activity is deer hunting. At the season kickoff, the Deer Cheer festival, a speech by the mayor is greeted not with clinking glasses but with hunters clicking deer antlers together, which is what you do if you want to convince a doe you're in rut.
Ex-football star Grant Grant (Michael Rooker of Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, who anchors the movie) is something of a rutting buck himself. His money attracted a pretty young wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks), but he's too crass to handle her, and it's a loveless marriage. Late one night, rebuffed by Starla, Grant goes to the bar horny and mad. Brenda Gutierrez (Brenda James) laughs like a mule and clings like a leech; she and Grant go for a drunken stumble in the woods. These two would make a perfect match but Grant still loves his wife too much to follow through. Unfortunately for him, and unlike us, he hasn't seen The Blob so he doesn't know that when you're in the woods, and you come across a meteorite that looks like a cracked-open geode filled with slime, you don't poke it with a stick.
Back home, Starla is purring at the changes that have come over her husband; he's now so gentle he even cries. Curious, though, that he's put a lock on the basement door. When Starla gets suspicious, and goes down there, she discovers why all the neighborhood dogs are missing, and the meaning of the word "flense".
Slither, written and directed by James Gunn (a Troma graduate who wrote the Dawn of the Dead remake), shares an engine with Dan O'Bannon and Ron Schusett's script for Alien: since we don't know the creature's life cycle, the rules change with each new form. Grant, puppeteered by the alien worm in his brain, decides that Brenda would be the perfect female host for his offspring (best not to describe the mechanics of that). He keeps her in a barn where, as did Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby , she has an insatiable appetite for raw meat. When heroic Sheriff Bill (Nathan Fillion) finally finds the barn, Brenda has become bloated like a fifty-foot tick. "Something's wrong with me," she moans. "I'm so hungry. Can you hand me a little of that possum over there?"
Slither pays homage to '50s science fiction movies, but it would have been most at home in the 80's and early '90s, when horror/comedies like Critters , Gremlins , and the legendary Tremors were commonplace. It's reassuring to know they can still make 'em like they used to.
If Slither - or, more accurately, splatter - is your kind of thing, follow the slime trail to Showplace East. This and other theater and music reviews are available online at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.