Slither Blu-ray Review (originally published 2017)
Before Marvel Studios claimed him as the unlikely progenitor of the cosmic end of their cinematic universe via the Guardians of the Galaxy series (2014/2017), James Gunn was a quirky screenwriter, brought up in the Troma Entertainment tradition (his first “major” produced screenplay was a sex & violence-filled Shakespeare parody called Tromeo and Juliet, 1996). He then penned two kiddie horror flicks – Raja Gosnell’s Scooby-Doo (2002) and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004), both adaptations of the impossibly popular late ‘60s cartoon series of the same name – and Zack Snyder’s action-heavy Dawn of the Dead remake (2004). In 2006, he was given a modest budget (about $15 million) to direct an alien invasion/body-horror comedy of his own called Slither.
A small meteorite crashes outside the fictional town of Wheelsy, South Carolina. Wheelsy is a typical movie rural wasteland, populated by grotesque rednecks and oversized trucks and only its dour, rainy weather separates it from the desert hovels of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. But there is no great cabal of sinister, backwards-thinking monsters in Wheelsy, simply a collection of dopey misfits who are unprepared to deal with the oncoming alien invasion. The mayor, Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry), is a cuss-bucket who dresses like a used car salesman, tells dirty jokes, and is more worried about winning the next election than the well-being of his constituents. The police force is headed by a well-meaning, lovelorn chief named Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), who spends his days bored and pining for his childhood sweetheart, a high school teacher named Starla Grant. Sadly, Starla was raised “dirt-poor” and, in an effort to dig herself out of poverty, she married an older businessman named Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) at the age of 17 when he offered to pay her college tuition. Theirs is a loveless marriage and, one evening, a sexually frustrated Grant wanders into the forest with a barfly named Brenda (Brenda Gutierrez). They discover the meteorite, which promptly injects Grant with a needle-like parasite.
In the days that follow, the newly infected Grant goes about the business of taking over the planet – he builds a nest in the basement, hordes raw meat, begins to kidnap the neighbor’s pets, and uses his new, penis-like chest tentacles to ‘impregnate’ victims with his slug-like spawn. Presumably, this particular alien lifeform has only inhabited lower lifeforms and it is not emotionally prepared to experience the aching love that his human host feels for Starla. Confused by these feelings, the creature opts to pass its seed to Brenda instead, recognizing that its progeny will surely kill the person it chooses to impregnate. Between this scene, the ensuing birth sequence, and the non-consensual nature of almost every other sex act between Starla and Grant, Slither appears to have a consistently negative view of lovemaking and procreation. Grant then kidnaps Brenda and moves her to a shed in the woods, where she can gorge on meat and grow large with slugs. Soon after, Grant undergoes a hideous mutation and, when Starla discovers his gory basement nest, he becomes the prime suspect in Brenda’s disappearance. The parasite escapes arrest, a man/squidhunt ensues, and the police, led by Bill, find Brenda, who has swelled to the size of a sedan. She explodes, unleashing a torrent of slugs that worm their way into the mouths of Grant’s deputies, turning them into hive-minded zombies that are an extension of Grant’s will.
Most post-9/11 invading aliens represented clear and poignant political analogies – in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds (2005), the tripods were invading imperial forces; in District 9 (2009), the prawns were ghettoized minorities; and the Cloverfield monster (2008) was a mindless, building-crushing stand-in for the concept of terrorism. Gunn’s monsters represent a more intimate-scale social analogy. Their zombified victims, like the pod people of the various Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies, have had their identities stolen, yet their plight is not related to sudden and frightening real-world cultural changes. Slither is firmly rooted in nostalgia – from its simple character motivations, to its small town aesthetic and romantic spirit – and the slugs themselves might in fact be the real victims of their parasitic arrangement. Instead of violently dominating the planet, their progress is halted by Grant’s failure as a husband. The slugs are doomed by love and condemned to the mechanical, demeaning, and, most importantly, futile process of pining for Starla’s affection, when they should be gathering food and spreading the hive-mind. Starla and Bill, joined by one of Starla’s students, Kylie (Tania Saulnier), are only able to overpower and defeat the monster, because it is too incapacitated by emotional vulnerability to take the proper precaution. Gunn’s ultimate ironic joke is the idea that love, not the world’s armies or nature’s germs, conquers the invincible alien menace.
Nostalgia also led to controversy when horror fans accused Gunn of ripping off their favourite sci-fi/horror films, though the issue was mostly a misunderstanding. The writer/director was clearly acknowledging the classic creature features that inspired him. This includes soundtrack cues (selections Alan Silvestri’s Predator theme can be heard) and a number of in-movie names/titles (for example, the mayor is named MacReady after Kurt Russell’s character from John Carpenter’s The Thing, 1982). Some sequences were also designed in tributes, such as a bathtub attack that closely resembles an early scene from David Cronenberg’s Shivers (aka: They Came from Within, 1975), where ‘60s scream queen Barbara Steele is assaulted by a slug creature while taking a dip. The director was even on record stating that Cronenberg’s tale of penis-shaped parasites that turn their hosts into sex-obsessed zombies was one of Slither’s biggest influence – along with Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979) and Junji Ito’s surrealistic body-horror comic book Uzumaki (pub. 2000, adapted to film by director Higuchinsky, also in 2000). The similarities to Fred Dekker’s Night of the Creeps (1986) were the most, damning, however. Both it and Slither are referential sci-fi/horror comedies featuring alien slug creatures that turn people into zombies. When directly confronted on this issue in an online interview with CHUD.com, Gunn plainly stated that he hadn’t seen Dekker’s film until after he made Slither. Frankly, I believe him. I recommend that you see Night of the Creeps, as well.
Slither was a flop upon release, but it garnered a cult following and sold pretty well on home video. Universal produced a special edition DVDs that was released in North America, Europe, Hong Kong, and Australia. Unfortunately, soon after, the studio tied their wagon to HD DVD and Slither was one of a handful of movies that was released on the failed format, but not Blu-ray. As a result, North American fans were forced to import BDs from either Australia (via Umbrella), Germany (via Koch), or, more recently, the Netherlands (via Dutch Filmworks). To make matters worse, the Aussie disc was presented in a lackluster 1080i. I don’t have access to the Koch BD, but, based on comparisons available on caps-a-holic.com, Scream Factory appears to have used the same HD master for their 1.85:1, 1080p transfer. This is kind of a bummer, because, like many Universal-born HD masters, this one's a bit DNRy and flat. Wide-angle details lean fuzzy, the darkest warm hues appear noisy, and some of the textures are a bit smudgy. That said, it is still a significant upgrade over the DVD, which was really low on detail, even for a standard definition release. Close-ups are busy and edges are crisp without any notable enhancement. Night-shot sequences are quite dark and black levels can appear crushed, but fine details are still quite discernible (unlike the DVD). The largely brown and blue palette is well-produced, including vivid red highlights that rarely bleed into the white/lighter sections.
Slither is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound (Scream Factory has also include a 2.0 DTS-HD MA track, but I’m not sure why). Anyone who saw the film in theaters already knows that this mix is fun and aggressive, which pumps up the production values beyond the measly budget with slithering critters, booming explosions, and Grant Grant’s rumbling roars. Dialogue is consistently centered and never overwhelmed by the action, even when characters are whispering. The dynamic range is impressive, especially where the big scares are concerned, and the stereo/surround speakers are lively with squirming, squeaking worms. Composer Tyler Bates’ score is a rollicking combination of old-fashioned B-sci-fi and big, brassy A-adventure that underlines the tension and comedy in equal measure. And, just like the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Slither is teaming with amusing, ironic, and sometimes genuinely good pop tunes, all of which also sound fantastic in uncompressed digital sound.
Commentary with writer/director James Gunn and actors Nathan Fillion & Michael Rooker – This new and exclusive track isn’t entirely necessary, following the solid work Gunn did on his original DVD commentary, but it is a pleasant and funny retrospective for both the director and actors. The discussion is light, there’s not too much overlap with the old track, and Gunn is able to reframe some of the older discussion in the context of his new career as an MCU blockbuster machine.
Commentary with James Gunn and Nathan Fillion – The older track is still quite good and full of even more behind-the-scenes info/anecdotes than the new commentary.
The Genesis of Slither (29:38, HD) – In the first of the new interviews, James Gunn discusses writing and directing Slither, including his inspirations, themes shared between his other movies, casting, limited studio notes, budget limitations, good reviews, and weak box office take. There’s not a lot of new info here, but Gunn delves deeper into subject matter already mentioned in old interviews and commentary tracks.
The Other MacReady (8:08, HD) – The last of the exclusive extras is a brief chat with actor Gregg Henry, who fondly recalls his experience making the film.
Deleted/extended scenes with optional Gunn commentary (17:13, SD)
Visual Effects: Step By Step (5:04, SD) – A series of before, during, and after special effects comparisons.
Slithery Set Tour with Nathan Fillion (4:41, SD) – The actor leads a behind-the-scenes video journal.
Who is Bill Pardy? (5:14, SD) – A Fillion-based gag/outtake reel. I believe this was an Easter egg on the original DVD.
The Sick Minds and Slimy Days of Slither (10:04, SD) – A generalized, EPK-style featurette with the cast & crew.
Brewing The Blood (3:17, SD) – Special effects assistant Kurt Jackson’s how-to-guide for making stage blood.
Bringing Slither's Creatures To Life (18:38, SD) – Concerning the design and fabrication of the film’s many prosthetic creature, make-up, and gore effects.
Lloyd Kaufman's video diary (8:58, SD) – The Troma patriarch shot this behind-the-scenes footage while prepping for a single line cameo.
Gag reel (8:11, SD)
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.