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Gooey slugs `Slither' amok

Gore-fest has plenty of bloody folks and hungry zombies, but take a towel to mop up the in-jokes.

March 31, 2006|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

No relation to the wacky 1973 James Caan-Peter Boyle-Sally Kellerman laugher of the same title, "Slither" is an uproarious hybrid horror-comedy about a small town visited by a rapidly evolving, unearthly organism that gives new meaning to the phrase "divide and conquer." Written and directed by James Gunn, a veteran of Lloyd Kaufman's Troma Entertainment, the film is an affectionate shout-out to low-budget 1980s gore-fests.

What at first appears to be a meteor firing through the Earth's atmosphere crash-lands in the woods near Wheelsy, S.C. It splits open like an egg and out crawls a fat, worm-like creature that leaves a gooey trail in its wake.

The unsuspecting residents of the burg, a more populated South Atlantic cousin to "Northern Exposure's" Cicely, Alaska, go about their business of preparing for deer hunting season. The town's sardonic sheriff, Bill Pardy, is played by Nathan Fillion, late of "Firefly" and "Serenity," who brings an air of cool detachment to the role, wryly observing his crazier neighbors.

Stoic, bullet-headed local businessman Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), is an overachiever in the matrimonial department, but his amorous advances are rebuffed by his beautiful blond high school science teacher wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks). Grant then sulks off to a bar, where Brenda (Brenda James), the younger sister of an ex-girlfriend, makes a pass at him. The tipsy couple wander into the woods to get cozy, and they spot the slimy creature, which promptly launches a needle-like probe into Grant's abdomen.

The next thing he knows he has an unquenchable hunger for raw meat. Neighborhood pets begin disappearing and nasty, red pustules form on his body. His metamorphosis is rapid as he turns Brenda into a repository for his feasts, and the sheriff forms a posse to hunt for Grant -- who now resembles a bipedal squid -- in the forest.

Joining Sheriff Pardy and Starla, who were childhood sweethearts, are strong-willed teen Kylie (Tania Saulnier) and the profanity-spewing Mayor Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry in a delicious parody of blowhard small-town politicians). The performances are well-balanced in relationship to the film's tone with underplayed quips playing off broad visual humor. Likewise, the music is an appropriate mix of a big, brassy score and eclectic songs. Air Supply's "Every Woman in the World" is used as a very funny recurring motif while the Old 97s sing "The New Kid" over the closing credits.

Gunn cleverly borrows from an assortment of classic horror subgenres as the Grant monster unleashes an unforeseeable arsenal of organic, virally potent weaponry. The result is a parade of multiplying, blood-red slugs and hungry zombies terrorizing the remaining humans. Just when you think things can't get worse, they do. "Slither" is a gross, disgusting, but undeniably amusing treat laden with homages and in-jokes.



MPAA rating: R for strong horror violence and gore, and language

A Universal Pictures release. Writer-director James Gunn. Producers Paul Brooks, Eric Newman. Executive producers Mark Abraham, Thomas A. Bliss, Norm Waitt, Scott Niemeyer. Director of photography Gregory Middleton. Editor John Axelrad. Costume designer Patricia Louise Hargreaves. Music Tyler Bates. Production designer Andrew Neskoromny. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

In general release.

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