By Matt Singer
[Photo: Universal Pictures, 2006]
Directed by James Gunn
The most shocking thing about “Slither” is not something onscreen, it’s how poorly it did at the box office. I hear complaints all the time especially at this time of the year from self-proclaimed horror fans bemoaning the lack of smart, scary movies outside the tired slasher formula. People, where were you when “Slither” opened last March and grossed just $7.8 million dollars? People, do you realize how difficult it is to gross that little in this day and age? “Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector” made more. “Just My Luck” made more (here half of you are probably going “What the hell was ‘Just My Luck?'”). Granted, “Slither” lacked big name stars or directors, and if it had come out in October, audiences may have been more amenable. But it didn’t lack in quality scares.
Nathan Fillion, the most underrated leading man in genre films at present, plays Bill Pardy, sheriff of a small town overrun by an alien menace equal parts zombie and The Blob. If you think there’s subtext behind a film that transforms middle America into an insatiably hungry, brainless horde of cattle, well then, good work, you’re paying attention.
“Slither” marks the promising directorial debut of James Gunn, who got his start at subterranean indie horror studio Troma Films, where he co-wrote “Tromeo & Juliet.” His first Hollywood work, writing the two live-action “Scooby-Doo”s, didn’t take advantage of his talents for a glimpse of them, you’re better off looking in his published work, co-writing Lloyd Kaufman’s memoir “All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned From the Toxic Avenger” and his own twisted novel “The Toy Collector.” Gunn helped make 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” surprisingly not terrible, and he’s applied his clear love of the genre to “Slither”; clever homages to past horror greats are nearly as frequent as the spooky stuff. He’s funny too: Gunn understands that good horror comes from a place of social satire, and exploiting our human flaws for terror rather than humor. It’s worth noting as well that Gunn’s not a snob: he loves horror movies in all their cheesy, messy, bloody, occasionally semi-nude glory, and he isn’t ashamed about appealing to our baser instincts.
Though Universal would disagree, “Slither”‘s box office thud might be the best thing that could have happened to it. So many of Gunn’s idols found their audiences and developed their cults on home video. This week he gets his chance to do the same. The DVD includes commentary by Gunn and Fillion, plus deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, and several featurettes on the production.
“Slither” is available on DVD October 24th.