Slither (2006), or “meat in all its forms.”
I’m going to start with a confession: The main thing that drew me into this movie was that I was told that Nathan Fillion was in it. And he is folks, he is.
That said, this is a decent little horror flick, and that’s not just due to Nathan Fillion. Low budget, on the indie side, Slither has some nice surprises for the viewer, even, I would bet, among the more jaded crowd. Heavy on the slime and gore, and light on the need for an overly complex plot, Slither is a fun one to pop into the DVD player on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or while you’re bingeing on the last of your Halloween candy (or, considering the gore factor, maybe not so much that last one).
The film starts out much like your typical alien invasion story, with a meteorite plunging into the forest near sleepy Smalltown, America, while the clueless local police conduct a stakeout consisting of napping and clocking the speed of passing birds. Not gonna lie, if I had one of those speed clocking guns, I’d use it for that kind of thing all the time.
We’re introduced to the main characters — Starla (Elizabeth Banks), a local teacher who’s married to the town’s richest fellow Grant (Michael Rooker, also known as Merl in The Walking Dead), and local sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), who’s carried a torch for Starla since they were kids.
The film doesn’t waste much time getting down to business, when Grant is out in the woods and comes across the broken open meteorite. He follows its slime trail and, of course, uses a stick to poke at the alien slug, which earns him a spine dart straight to the chest, which then wriggles inside and makes its way to his brain. Ouch.
It only gets grosser from here, I’m afraid. If you’re already feeling queasy, then I suggest you turn back now. The set and prop designers have a real eye for the ooey gooey and aren’t afraid to go there and beyond to make the alienness of this alien really hit home. For those of you who are ready to see how far they take it — onward!
As Grant returns to his daily life, the transformation from regular rich dude to alien hybrid commences, puffing up his face (“It’s just a bee sting”) and making him make weird groan sounds. Mysteriously, pets all around the neighborhood go missing, and a lock appears on the door of the Grant home leading to the basement.
All this goes either unnoticed or explained away by those around the Grant Alien until a local woman goes missing. I won’t describe it in detail (not even sure that I could) but it involves tentacles bursting from Grant’s chest and a lot of flopping around. As he changes more and more, Grant still shows feelings for Starla, but eventually he attacks her, and she is saved by Sheriff Bill and a handful of deputies. As they watch a squid-armed Grant slither off into the night, Bill finally pulls his jaw up off the floor and exclaims, “What the fuck was that?!” This may not seem like eloquent dialogue, and it isn’t, but one of the strengths of Slither is that it doesn’t hide from what it is, but rather, embraces it. And that kind of confidence is enough to take the audience along with it.
The next time the Sheriff and his posse confront Grant, it’s in a field on the edge of the woods. He’s grown more tentacles and takes out a cow — and later one posse member — with just a flick of those meaty extensions. He’s looking really nasty now too, with oozing skin lumps and a mouth that’s normal on one side and twisted into a demented sharp-toothed clownish smile on the other. Evil squid Grant leads the Sheriff’s posse to a barn in the woods, where the missing woman from earlier is found. At this point she’s basically just a face etched into the bloated meat sack that her body has become. She moans that she’s hungry, then starts to split open and explodes into bloody chunks, while a wave of foot-long meat slugs (yeah, I just typed that…) bursts out of her, overwhelming the posse.
The slugs make right for the mouths of the beleaguered humans, wriggling down the throats of everyone except Sheriff Bill, Starla, the mayor (who’s along for some reason) and one other deputy. The wave of slugs disappears into the forest, leaving the still-alive yet comatose bodies of the Sheriff’s posse and the thoroughly traumatized survivors behind.
As the Sheriff tries to radio for help (spoiler alert: he won’t get any), the slugs descend on the hapless family in a farmhouse nearby. The eldest daughter Kylie (Tania Saulnier) is taking a bath while one creeps up on her in the tub. You may recognize this from all the promos and the movie poster. She spots it, screams, and it gets partway into her mouth, but she’s got the will to live and digs into it with her fingernails. While they struggle, she gets telepathic bursts from their connection, showing the origin of the creature (definitely alien and super carnivorous) and its journey since reaching earth. Finally she rips it out of her mouth and kills it. Girlfriend then takes a few precious seconds to throw on some clothes (definite foresight that other horror movie girls have not taken advantage of) before running screaming from the bathroom, only to find that it’s too late for her family. Her mother, two younger sisters and father are taken down by the meat slugs as she screams, jumps from the roof and locks herself in the family truck.
This next scene is the most chilling of the movie. Throughout, there’s been a lot of jokes and swearing and slime and good fun, but this, right here, this is truly fucked up. As Kylie hyperventilates inside the truck, her family zombie-walks up to her and start calling out to her, with blood dripping from their mouths. They call at her to open the door, and join the family. She sits and sobs (no keys, no vroom vroom) as her zombified family presses themselves against the car and, finally, start to bash the windows in.
Luckily, Sheriff Bill comes by just then, still in search of that radio-for-help signal, and he and Kylie fight off the zombie family and make it to his car. (This is also where Kylie gets the amazing line, “The worms are in their brains!” I hope the actress relished this moment, because I can’t imagine there are all that many like it in Hollywood.)
Back at the barn, the previously comatose posse members have gotten up and started talking to Starla in Grant’s voice. They kill the remaining deputy (neon green acid spit) so Starla and the Mayor book it through the woods, eventually intersecting with Sheriff Bill and Kylie in the car. Elizabeth Banks gets a pretty sweet kill shot here as she takes out one of the zombified deputies with a metal pole to the neck/skull, causing the Mayor to exclaim, “Bitch is hardcore.” You better believe it, mister.
Sheriff Bill finally manages to radio in to his secretary, who is also Pam (Jenna Fischer) from The Office! I have to say, she does being a secretary very well. Sadly, while Sheriff Bill does ask her to call the CDC, he also neglects to mention the wave of fucking death worms headed for the town. So, obviously, she pretty much dies as soon as he hangs up. Goddammit, Sheriff.
Coming into town isn’t so much the salvation the crew believes it will be so much as it is an ambush set up by the Grant Alien, who has now zombified the entire town. The car crashes, and the slug zombies pull Starla out of the car, all moaning her name, and it’s pretty damn creepy. They also get the Mayor, but Sheriff Bill manages to get Kylie to safety and the two run off, in search of Chekhov’s grenade that we got a glimpse of earlier in the police station.
There’s some sneaking around, a fight with a mutant zombie deer and some scenes intercut between Starla getting dressed up in a white nightgown by the slug zombies (while mercifully unconscious) and the Mayor getting the much less deluxe treatment in the basement, where he becomes one of the breeder zombies, impregnated with alien eggs and overcome by a desire to consume meat. His transition as he starts to crave the body of the dead woman next to him is a nice little piece, and it’s well done by actor Gregg Henry. His stare starts as horrified, then saddened, then curious, then ravenous while still a bit disgusted. It’s perfect.
Starla, now awake, makes a weapon out of the sharpened end of her hairbrush, and follows the zombie calls downstairs, where a truly disgusting Grant Alien has, for lack of better words, taken root. He really looks like what Jabba the Hutt would look like if he got a really fast-spreading STD. Some kind of fungus-y space syphilis. (PL: Love it.)
Starla tries to appeal to the tiny human aspect left in Grant, while Sheriff Bill and Kylie do their best to sneak up, planning to blow up Grant with the grenade and hopefully end this all, since Grant acts as the hive mind for all the slug zombies. We also get an amazingly disgusting montage of slug zombies coming up to Slug Grant and merging into part of his flesh. He talks through heads on various locations on his mound of flesh. There’s plenty of slime and stretching skin to go around.
Starla goes in for the World’s Most Disgusting Kiss and makes her move with the stabby hairbrush. It only makes Jabba the Grant mad though, and he flings her away with his tentacle. Kylie gets the same treatment. Sheriff Bill rushes in all hero-like with the grenade, but a tentacle flips it out of his hand. He dives for it behind the couch, but is pushed out the window. The grenade slips from his fingers, rolls across the patio into the swimming pool and detonates in a shower of water. Whoops.
Poor Sheriff Bill is then stabbed with one of two impregnating tentacles. He fights the other off and gets it to stab a canister of gas that showed up nearby, pretty convenient, but you could argue that it came off a BBQ grill set up near the pool or something. Anyways, the tentacle sucks up the gas, and Sheriff Bill manages to wheeze “Shoot him” to Starla, who does. Cue nasty giant bloody meat explosion #2 for this film. (Also, Nasty Giant Bloody Meat Explosion would be a sweet name for a death metal band.)
It works though! All the approaching slug zombies collapse. Starla stands, Kylie crawls out of the debris she’s been knocked into and Sheriff Bill coughs, bleeds some, but is otherwise OK. The three of them stumble off into the sunrise, the symbolic “final family,” heading for the hospital in the next town over, while walking past all the face-down bodies of the other townspeople. It sounds really bleak, but it has an air of weary triumph to it.
I really like this movie, and there are a number of reasons. First of all, it’s goofy campy fun, which you just can’t beat. Like I said earlier, it knows what it is and doesn’t shy away from that and try to be gritty or serious or anything other than the campy, low-budget horror flick that it is. That said, it also is pretty decent plot-wise, as far as pacing and just getting where it needs to go without clunkiness. Not too much time is spent explaining anything, we don’t have a long scientific speech, it’s pretty clear that alien slugs = ravenously evil, and that’s about all we need to know.
Though the film does focus on the bodies of the women in it – lingering shots of Elizabeth Banks in the shower, and the highly suggestive bath tub scene with Tania Saulnier — it doesn’t sell its (main) female characters short, either. Starla is brave despite being terrified, and makes plans to save herself (stabby hairbrush isn’t the worst idea ever…), while Kylie survives even as her family is essentially mowed down before her very eyes, and even saves Sheriff Bill from that mutant deer (though he’ll tell a different story).
There’s not all that much to analyze with this one, and I’d say there’s no need to anyway. Grab some friends with strong stomachs, throw some popcorn in the microwave and enjoy it in all its goofy, slimy glory. If you stick around to the end, you get the final little clip, which I didn’t catch the first time I saw it. For whatever reason, some cat that survived the initial pet apocalypse at the beginning comes up and starts sniffing at a chunk of Alien Grant brain on the ground. The little stinger that first got into Grant’s brain rattles, and then we hear a savage meow as the screen goes black.
Damn. Cats ruin everything.