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I think I might enjoy the comedy/horror genre more than the actual horror films they parody. James Gunn, (yes, the man who brought us what I can only imagine are fantastic scripts for Scooby Doo 1 & 2—not sure since I would never watch them), has broken into the mix with his film Slither. It appears he understands the appeal these films have and jam-packs it with gore, camp, and humor. The audience can never wonder if what transpires is unintentionally funny because they are too busy thinking about the parts that are unintentionally scary. A comedy, through and through, Gunn gathers a nice group of actors to play up the cheese yet still make us believe they are smack in the middle of the otherworldly situation they are in.

The basic premise here is that an alien life form—not Martians as they are from Mars of course—has come to Earth to make it its next world for consumption. Our villain inhabits a local and makes him go out to either infect, impregnate, or devour all other forms of meat, human or otherwise, along his journey. This host just happens to be involved in a somewhat loveless marriage with the resident good-looking teacher, who or course is the object of our hero’s affection, the chief of police. Once the creature’s first mate unleashes his spawn of collective-consciousness worms, the town comes under attack and only the chief, the host’s wife, and the obnoxious mayor can save the day.

Amidst all the zombie-turning and the blood, acid spit, and limb jellying, we are treated with some great laughs and one-liners from people who truly know how to deliver the script deadpan for added effectiveness. The great Michael Rooker plays the host body to campy perfection. What role of his hasn’t oozed tongue-in-cheek outbursts and over-the-top facial expressions? Gregg Henry takes the unpolished politician to new heights and everything he says gets a laugh as result. Even his introduction in the film, swearing in the midst of his constituents and their children, is a tired gimmick, but still effectively funny. As for our real heroes, we are treated to some good forbidden chemistry between Nathan Fillion and Elizabeth Banks. Fillion is king of sarcasm and always stays in a realistic mode unfazed by the horrors happening around him. Someone else could have allowed the film to become unhinged if they didn’t take this role seriously; the comedy relies on this character not seeing the humor around him. With Banks, a favorite of mine who is underused in movies, I was not a big fan of the fake accent, but I guess it does fit the aesthetic of what is going on. And as the mayor says, she is hardcore—when she kills her first infected assailant, it’s priceless.

Definitely more entertaining than expected, I can still understand the lack of love at the box office. The trailers showed that there would be some subversion to the horror with humor, but didn’t quite go all the way with it. I’m sure people were confused in what to expect and those who wanted scares were disappointed as were those that wanted pure laughs. To me, Gunn masterfully mixes the two just right for an enjoyable ride in Hicksville, USA during an interstellar battle for supremacy. He gets all the little moments right, the grenade folly, the corny love scene music, and even the extras looking like they are from a backwoods/incestuous town. The look was right and the delivery just as effective as I laughed pretty much straight through.

Slither 6/10

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photography:
[1] Elizabeth Banks (Starla Grant), Nathan Fillion (Bill Pardy), and Don Thompson (Wally Whale) in Universal Pictures’ Slithers

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