You Need To Watch This Severely Underrated Creature Feature

Slither Creature Feature

I love a good B-movie. Nine times out of 10, I will take lighthearted silliness over a film that takes itself too seriously. And if ever there was a movie that no one could accuse of taking anything the least bit seriously, that film is SlitherThis early career effort from legendary director James Gunn is a glorious sendup of B-grade creature features. The effects are out of this world and the gross-out factor is a 10/10. 

Slither is set in a small, Southern town and finds a meteorite containing a parasitic lifeform touching down and causing chaos for the locals. The parasitic lifeform quickly finds a host in Grant Grant (Michael Rooker). With the parasite now in control of his body and mind, Grant does the bidding of the alien lifeform, despite local law enforcement’s best attempts to put a stop to the madness. What ensues is a hilariously good time not meant to be taken even a little bit seriously. 

James Gunn’s Love For B-Horror

Writer/director James Gunn shows great appreciation for the creature features of his youth via this 2006 romp. So much so that Slither has been accused of aping one of its inspirations (more on that coming). But I disagree and instead contend the film stands firmly on its own two feet. Slither sets out to introduce a new generation of movie lovers to the quirky charm of B-grade cinema and to function as a celebration of said films for those who have already been inducted. 

Slither takes inspiration from the gory excess of several beloved ‘80s horror films. But Gunn merely uses those references as a jumping-off point and then does his own thing. The similarities to Night of the Creeps are primarily skin-deep. They are noticeable, for sure, but they exist mostly at the surface level. The sluglike creatures are deliberately similar-looking to those in Night of the Creeps. And, both iterations of the respective creatures have similar functionality and designs. But Night of the Creeps follows a young cast of college-age characters. Whereas Slither diversifies by focusing on a more dynamic age range and telling a very different story.   

The Thing is easily identifiable as another point of inspiration. Slither is surely influenced by the John Carpenter classic. Some of the effects deliberately pay homage to that beloved classic. But once again, this is very much Gunn’s film. The way he weaves together bits and pieces of influential cinematic efforts before putting his own unique spin on the proceedings assures viewers get an original offering that pays tribute to the films on which an entire generation of monster kids cut their teeth. 

A Stellar Cast

Slither definitely owes some of its success to a cast that’s up for anything. Almost all films live or die by their cast. But that is especially true with a film like this. If the actors don’t understand the inspiration or can’t ascertain what type of film they are appearing in, that can quickly derail best-laid plans. But everyone here understands the assignment and seems to be having an absolute blast with the outrageous subject matter.  

Michael Rooker is a smart choice to play the hilariously named Grant Grant. Rooker is a versatile performer capable of believably selling the transformation from crappy husband to aspiring ruler of the universe. 

Brian De Palma mainstay Gregg Henry is also great here. The actor is in his element as the mayor of the small town where the action is set. He effortlessly embodies the archetypal politician who cares nothing for the people he’s stepped on to get where he is. 

Elizabeth Banks also provew why she’s enjoyed such a varied and prolific career in the years since she appeared in Slither. She is likable, accessible, and manages to stand out against a cast of truly colorful characters. 

Small Town Horrors

Impressive cast aside, I like the way Gunn pokes a bit of good-natured fun at small-town life. I was born and raised in a tourist trap on the WA coast and there are pieces of Slither that rather effectively capture what it’s like to live in the middle of nowhere. Gunn pokes some good-natured fun but never seems to be trying to depict the town’s residents as simpletons. 

The hamlet I grew up in derives most of its income from tourism. So, I can’t help but laugh at exchanges like the one where the mayor, yelling at the chief of police, says: “Nobody wants to go hunting in a town with a pet-murdering kidnapper in it.” As comical as dialogue like that is, there’s a certain truth to it. Small towns usually live or die by their tourism revenue. So, it only stands to reason the city council would be up in arms over the grotesque shenanigans afoot. Gunn leans into that aspect and yields comically grotesque results in the process.

I mean it when I say the film is grotesque. The creature design is sickening and hilarious in equal measure. Better yet, the goopy mayhem is primarily practically rendered. Although Gunn appears to make use of CG in a few scenes, the majority of the creature effects are brought to life by practical effects wizard Todd Masters. Masters does gorgeous work here, which reminds viewers why practical effects are still king.

All in, Slither is a gory sendup of the B-movies of days past that entertains and horrifies equally. The flick didn’t perform particularly well at the box office and remains somewhat underseen by the mainstream masses. But Slither surely gives moviegoers a look at James Gunn at his least restrained. And it’s such a good time.

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