Not for the uninitiated

Posted: Apr 05, 2006 12:01 AM

Let me be clear: a movie like Slither isn’t for the uninitiated. If memories of killer tomatoes and armies of darkness claim no cherished place in your teenage memories, I can almost guarantee you won’t appreciate it. Its artfully gooey scenes of alien impregnation and the precision with which it depicts the various brands of redneck that make up the town of Wheelsy, South Carolina will only serve to offend you (I have no idea if a real Wheelsy exists or if it is really populated by tobacco-toothed inbreds, but after watching Slither I half hope that it does and is).

On the other hand, if you are one of the people who made Dawn of the Dead and 2004’s British take-off of that film, Shaun of the Dead, cult hits, I can guarantee you will clutch this campy horror to your bosom as well (Full disclosure: I was one of the few people who loved Quentin Tarantino’s vampire blood bath, From Dusk till Dawn, if that gives you any idea which side of the fence I’m on).

Reviewing Slither with any level of seriousness would be to miss its point, which is to pay tribute to the great B-rate fright-fests that came before it. As in the best of the genre, it starts out with a few stereotypes that it then savages in atrocious and unexpected ways.

This one begins with a classic local big shot, Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), who, as one might expect from a man with the same first and last name, is having a very bad day. After getting the brush off from his beautiful young wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks), he seeks to soothe his ego with the resident tavern wench.

Their midnight stroll leads them to a strange pulsating blob in a place in the woods where no strange pulsating blob should ever be. And like all the blowhardiest movie big-shots, Grant insists on investigating and thus seals his fate. Soon enough, he starts to develop an unusual rash, neighborhood pets go missing, and an unpleasant odor begins emanating from the Grants’ padlocked basement.

The way the rest of the plot unfolds isn’t particularly surprising, but the way it mines laughs and scares from a worn-out formula is. Credit for making the most sickening, sludgy setup this side of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive work (yes, even the great Lord of the Rings director has gore in his past) goes to actors who approach their material with just enough tongue (or slug, as the case may be) planted firmly in their cheeks.

Nathan Fillion, whom audiences may remember as roguish Captain Mal Reynolds in Serenity, once again hits a perfect mark between irony and seriousness. Fillion is an actor who stays with you even though he has yet to stumble upon his breakout performance. He isn’t likely to get his due from this material either, but his caustic, sexy turns in such kitsch are nothing he need ever feel ashamed of.

Then there’s Elizabeth Banks, the waspy-looking actress who made her mark playing a blueblood in Seabiscuit before showing off her comedy chops in last year’s 40-Year-Old Virgin. As the dingy, drawling love interest of the Sheriff and half the slug-infested town, Banks creates a hillbilly wife for the ages.

Raucous, raunchy, and hilarious, Slither isn’t likely to squirm its way into the hearts of most audiences (hence its poor box-office debut last weekend). But for a certain brand of movie-lover—the kind who considers names like George Romero and Bruce Campbell sacred—it’s sure to be a must-own DVD.