One of the biggest mysteries of the year was how the smart, creepy, funny and scary Slither failed to become a big box office hit. The bigger mystery is this: why was Are You Scared even made?
When I first saw Slither, I thought it was refreshing to see an old-fashioned horror-comedy where a room of hardened critics laugh only in the right places! For that matter, it's refreshing to see a horror-comedy where all the laughs are intentional – and where there is more than just a series of jump moments. James Gunn's "Slither" is creepy, scary and hilarious – simultaneously…
In an opening that is an homage to the original "The Blob" [the 1958 creepiest that introduced Steve McQueen to movie stardom], we see a meteor rumble towards the Earth, before cutting to Police Chief Bill Pardy [Nathan Filion] and Constable Wally [Don Thompson] sitting in their squad car behind a sign welcoming us to Wheelsy, North Carolina.
Wally is timing a bird with his radar gun while Pardy appears to be napping. Clearly, Wheelsy is not a thriving metropolis. As Wally laments overestimating the bird's speed, Pardy tries to get back to sleep – as the meteor flashes to ground behind them. We see the meteor, in the forest, as it cracks open…
Between Gunn's intelligent, witty script and a terrifically atmospheric score by Tyler Bates, "Slither" mixes humor, creepiness and some genuine scares to give us one of the best horror movies – comedy or not – in recent years. There's enough gore to satisfy most splatter fans and more than enough terrific dialogue and visual gags to generate laughs.
The best humor comes in weird places – like Grant's explanations for the physical changes he's undergoing. "It's a bee sting," he intones as his wife flinches from his rapidly swelling, and lumpy head. Another character tries to explain his changes Sheriff Pardy with a hopeful, "Poison ivy, maybe?"
Something else that's refreshing about "Slither:" despite the zombification of the townspeople by the monstrous Grant, this is not "Dawn of the Dead." Gunn is not trying to camouflage socio-political commentary here. The movie is all about making people laugh, shiver and jump – and not necessarily in that order.
Besides the opening shout out to "The Blob," there are other homages, as well. My personal favorite is a double-barreled shout out to two movies: a bathtub scene that recalls both David Cronenberg's "Shivers" and the scene that, in turn, homaged – the bathtub scene in Wes Craven's "Deadly Blessing." In Gunn's hands, the scene is both scary and, due to some blatant sexual innuendo, hysterically funny.
Another great thing about the film is that Gunn's script features set-ups that don't pay off in the ways you expect. When Otis Shutmeyer [William MacDonald] heads off to help a posse track down the morphed Grant, he tells his family to stay inside – but the camera cuts to his teen-aged daughter, Kylie [Tania Saulnier], as if to suggest that she will be disobeying him later that evening. The payoff to that set-up is so different that it plays a pivotal role in the story.
Nathan Filion's Sheriff Pardy shares a number of idiomatic traits with "Serenity's" Mal Reynolds, but somehow, Filion spins these traits in such a way that instead of being anything resembling heroic and commanding, Pardy comes off as being clearly inept and completely unprepared for any emergency – let alone this one. It's a bravura performance that also sets off other characters extremely well.
Saulnier's Kylie doesn't enter the story until we're well into it, but instead of being the annoying kid that no one takes seriously, she winds up being pivotal to everyone's survival. The scene that puts her in the know is one of the film's more grotesque moments.
Some of the best pure scare moments come hard on the heels of humor [and vice-versa]. One of the best of these is the fate of Brenda – and the realization that – without her even knowing it – she is being used by Grant in two equally horrifying ways. An ambush, of sorts, is one – the other is much worse.
Banks' Starla does a great job of dealing with the hideous changes to her husband. She seems, at once, smarter and tougher than Pardy – and she's definitely smarter than Grant. She also makes it possible for us to understand why Pardy's been in love with her forever.
Another cool thing about "Slither" is that Gunn has cast a number of genre veterans in small, but key roles. You may not know where you've seen them before, but you will recognize William MacDonald, Ben Cotton and Lorena Gale, for example. Troma studio head Lloyd Kaufman, and Rob Zombie also make cameo appearances.
With a horror movie, naturally effects are key. Gunn has used a mix of CG and practical effects for "Slither." We can see the CG when Grant's arm is "all bendy," for example; and when we see the hordes of evil worm/slug thingies later. Virtually all the rest of the time, Grant and Brenda are in monster make-up – the prosthetics for the movie are very good.
James Gunn is a horror movie fanboy, and here, he's made exactly the kind of movie that he likes to watch himself. In doing so, he's made a movie that the rest of us will enjoy immensely. "Slither" is grand, unpretentious horror-comedy fun. If you're a fan of the genre, then slide on through the slime and viscera, and check out this movie.
Features include: Deleted Scenes; Extended Scenes; Gag Reel; Who Is Bill Pardy? [hilarious featurette]; Visual Effects Step By Step: VFX Progressions; The Slick Minds and Slimy Days of Slither ["Making Of" Featurette]; Bringing Slither's Creatures To Life [FX Featurette]; Slithery Set Tour With Nathan Filion; The Gorehound Grill: Brewin' The Blood [for the DIY home horror fiend – also a parody of Robert Rodriguez's Ten Minute Film School]; The King of Cult: Lloyd Kaufman's Video Diary. [Note that the director's commentary is only available on the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray DVD releases – a really rotten thing to do – and costs features a full letter grade…]
Slither – Grade: B+ Features
Features – Grade: B-
Final Grade: B
Are You Scared?
A group of six young adults [early twenties] awaken to find themselves participants in a reality show called Are You Scared? The show's concept is that applicants reveal their greatest fears in their submission tapes and then are forced to face those fears on the show.
The basic problem with Are You Scared? is that it's not particularly scary. Sure the methods of the characters' deaths are clever [ingenious, even], but the script provides little in the way of character development, so it's very hard to relate to these kids. It doesn't help that actors aren't particularly good, or that the outside plot arc – involving a depressed cop and a pretty FBI profiler – is pretty hackneyed stuff.
Andy Hurst directs with all the subtlety of a blunt instrument, and we've seen all of his shots before. The cast lacks any kind of chemistry – the only positive thing that can be said about them is that they're good looking [though in a fairly generic kind of way…].
The DVD contains no special features – and that's definitely for the best!
Final Grade: D-