Thursday, October 11, 2007

"You Don't See That Everyday"... SLITHER

If you have an affinity for those mid-'80s splatter- zomedies such as RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, DEAD/ALIVE, or NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, you might wanna drop in on this one if you haven't already. For some reason, despite being the highest ranking genre film of 2006 on Rotten Tomatoes, a lot of folks didn't. In my book, it was easily the most perplexing tanking in recent box office memory.
It was funny, it was scary... it was very lonely in the movie theater. Theaters are way overrated anymore, anyway.

What writer/director James Gunn (scripter of the 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 (aka: THEY CAME FROM WITHIN) for his narrative framework, Gunn peppers the proceedings with samples from everything from 1958's THE BLOB up to the wretched DEAD & 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.

And unlike D&B, none of his zombies break out in a rap or bust a move cribbed from the THRILLER video. Maybe that's why SLITHER didn't go over so well... it didn't pander to the lowest common denominator.

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), dryly delivered irony, and the indulgence of some immensely quotable lines that rely on understatement instead of ham-fisted mugging.

Ultimately, Gunn reveals the thematic focus of SLITHER to be the triumph of finally 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.


ARBOGAST said...

I resisted seeing this movie for a while-- I don't even remember why-- and when I caught up with it I thought it was a goddamn hoot. It had just the right balance of laughs and nastiness and the surprisingly profane quality of the dialogue (and closing song) actually worked for me. I continue to be surprised at the cool reaction SLITHER garnered.

Old Dark Housekeeper said...

Grant Granted... but I'm also surprised by the outright hostility the film seems to provoke. I figure it's either lingering resentment against Gunn for daring to rewrite Romero's DotD, or people just don't get the style of humor, and resent that.

Oh, well... I figure down the road it'll pick up the cult posse it deserves.