Saturday, 27 May 2006

Slither (2006)

B-grade horror good!

There was a time when movie tickets cost less than half as much as they do today. Then, the one thing teens looked forward to each weekend was the B-grade horror movie. They’d saunter into the cinema with their posse with huge tubs of popcorn and kachang, and be entertained by 1950s flicks with titles like They Came From Outer Space or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Solidly B-grade, what these movies had going for them was a sense of exhilarating fun, kooky dialogue, and despite poor production values, imagination and creativity. That was the Golden Age of American Horror, which sadly gave way to below-par supernatural and slasher flicks, and recently, the lame-American-remake-of-Asian Horror horror genre.

Enter James Gunn, the one man who can put things right once again. Fresh out of his remake of Dawn of the Dead and his long experience as a writer at Troma Studios, Gunn knows how to blend old-school B-grade movies with modern sensibilities – with gore, gross-out effects, and plenty of humour.

Let’s take a look at the plot of Slither. A meteorite from outer space comes crashing down in a forest near a sleepy rural town with no crime, whose inhabitants feel free to walk around the streets at midnight, indulge in line dancing for fun, and get sloshed to commemorate the start of hunting season. Fortunately for the hitchhiking alien on board, Grant (Michael Rooker) is stomping through the forest to work off his disappointment from yet another bedtime rejection from his barely-legal trophy wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks). When he chances on the glowing meteorite and its cocoon-like inhabitant, the first thing he does is poke the package with a tree branch, allowing the inhabitant to invade his body and take control.

From then on, it’s a slippery slope to B-grade comic horror, with Grant mutating into a tentacle monster, spawning cute killer parasite worms that enter their victims from every orifice imaginable and turning them into flesh-eating zombies with a hive mind and ancestral memory. Plot-wise, it feels as though Gunn has raided the larder of 1950s and 1980s horror films, and thrown everything and the kitchen sink into the mixer. Looking at the visual gross-out effects, Slither feels like a cross between Alien, Species, Night of the Creeps, Tetsuo the Iron Man, and a dozen zombie flicks. The result is a surprisingly coherent, respectable, entertaining and funny creature.

It also helps that Gunn’s script is full of smart humour (even though the plot isn’t brainy in the least). Visual gags abound in the movie, as the director mines the inherent humour in rubbery slime-coated tentacles slithering up where they should not belong. Long-time horror fans will also be delighted at the many references in the script to other horror movies, including The Thing, Toxic Avenger, and Predator. I particularly liked the deadpan oneliners by the cast punctuate several gross-out set pieces. TV series like Buffy and Charmed do the same thing, but the difference is Gunn’s characters manage to sound funny and hilarious without being obnoxious smart-asses.

Slither does not set out to scare anyone in the audience. Instead, it aims to gross out the audience while making them laugh at the same time. It does not offer deep musings on the nature of the human condition and the alienation and scapegoating of the Other (we’ll leave that to film critics in universities), but delivers a fun-filled popcorn experience. While imbibing from the shock exploitation tactics of Troma films, Gunn creates a more tasteful spin on gross-out horror that easily makes Slither the best American horror film of the year, if not the decade.

First published at incinemas on 8 June 2006

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