Ooze and ahhs

Slither selectively pulls from the classics for a fresh look on horror

“YOU DOn’t SEE THAT EVERY DAY” <br>Some of the town-folk catch a glimpse of what’s been eating all of their buddies in <i>Slither</i>.

Some of the town-folk catch a glimpse of what’s been eating all of their buddies in Slither.

Starring Michael Rooker, Nathan Fillion and Elizabeth Banks. Directed by James Gunn. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

Ratings being the arbitrary, subjective creatures that they are, debit some popcorn if you’ve never had an affinity for those mid-'80s splatter-comedies such as Return of the Living Dead, Dead/Alive, or Night of the Creeps. What writer/director James Gunn (scripter of the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake) has pulled off here is a step beyond the current Hollywood trend of auto-cannibalizing every classic (and even not-so-classic) horror film in the vaults. Here, he remakes an entire sub-genre as one Whitman’s Sampler of dark, drippy treats.

Some of us have seen it all before: On the eve of a hoedown celebrating the start of deer-hunting season, a meteor crashes to Earth on the outskirts of some grubby little redneck town. Soon after, in the course of a late-night tryst, one of the locals stumbles across it and becomes infected by the blobby menace from outer space. Rapidly mutating into a voracious, tentacled slime creature, the redundantly monikered Grant Grant (a game Michael Rooker) takes a break from feasting on neighborhood pets to indulge in inseminating the town mattress. And before you can say, “Well, you don’t see that everyday,” phallic little slugs are darting into the townies’ mouths and turning them into shambling zombies with a hive mentality and (natch) a taste for human flesh.

It’s then up to the sheriff (an agreeably deadpan Nathan Fillion), Grant’s plucky schoolteacher wife (Elizabeth Banks) and the foul-mouthed Mayor MacReady (Gregg Henry) to stop the menace before the inherent threat of Air Supply’s “Every Woman in the World” is consummated.

Borrowing heavily from David Cronenberg’s venereal horror classic Shivers (a.k.a., They Came from Within) for his thematic framework, Gunn peppers the proceedings with samples from everything from 1958’s The Blob to last year’s wretched Dead and Breakfast. In regards to the latter, he raises the bar by showing empathy for his down-south folks by presenting them as viable characters, not just as stereotypical inbred caricatures.

The key to the success of Gunn’s script is his affinity for each of his characters (even the ostensible villain of the piece maintains aspects of his humanity), understated irony, and the indulgence of some immensely quotable lines that rely on understatement instead of ham-fisted irony. Ultimately, Gunn reveals the thematic focus of Slither to be the triumph of requited love by closing the proceedings with “The New Kid” from the Old 97’s.

Indulge in listening to the song through the closing credits for a bonus.