Regardless of writer-director James Gunn’s denials, his rambunctiously vulgar horror-comedy Slither seems suspiciously modeled after Night of the Creeps, a 1986 zombie flick spoof about alien slugs controlling humans by entering their mouths and swimming up to their brains. Yet what’s ultimately disappointing about Gunn’s directorial debut isn’t that it borders on being plagiaristic—it’s that it never quite approximates the charmingly low-budget sloppiness and devil-may-care craziness of the B-movies it seeks to emulate. Still, with its tongue planted firmly in its (increasingly mutated) cheek, the film has enough berserker energy, cheeky wit, and extreme gore to satisfy one’s hankering for good ol’ fashion sci-fi silliness.
Commencing with a through-the-woods first-person POV shot “borrowed” from The Evil Dead, Slither concerns a small Southern town—confederate flags and deer hunting rifles mandatory—invaded by a world-devouring extraterrestrial that enters the body of a rich horndog named Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) and spawns a legion of sentient slugs intent on possessing the population. The burden of saving humanity from zombification falls to Grant’s hot young wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks), cretinous mayor Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry), anonymous bathtub-bathing teen Kylie (Tania Saulnier), and laidback police chief Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion)—the latter having pined for Starla since childhood—and it’s in his humorously drawn characters’ stupefied, profane reactions to out-of-this-world madness that Gunn gets the majority of his laughs.
Despite peripherally touching on issues of matrimonial fidelity and responsibility, sexual assault, natural selection, and American gluttony, the film’s main preoccupations are lethal projectile vomit and split animal carcasses, both of which would have been better served by imperfectly hand-made, rather than professionally computer-generated, special effects. But as a Troma alum (and scripter of 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake), Gunn is nonetheless adept at blending the excessively revolting with the absurd, a trait that—when matched with a cast (especially the sharp Banks) displaying just the right mixture of fear and flippancy—allows Slither to operate as a serviceably fun, if slightly too polished, homage to creature features-gone-by.