Sunday, October 15, 2006

Slither (2006)

SlitherThe term 'B-movie' is often used to describe a film that isn't really up-to-standard, but when applied to some of the classic science-fiction or horror movies of the past the term can be meant as a compliment, indicating a certain kind of camp sensibility, or a roller-coaster ride of a movie that isn't taking itself too seriously. Using the term in that sense I have no hesitation in saying that Slither is one of the best B-movies I've seen in a long time.

Director/writer James Gunn takes many of the cliches of the genre, and injects enough twists and turns that you don't feel you're watching a hackneyed retread where you know exactly what's going to happen next.

The plot is fairly straightforward: an alien lands in Hicksville, USA (or is it meant to be Canada? There's something very Fargo-esque about the place) and infects the husband of the heroine of the movie, taking his body over and turning him into a flesh-consuming monster that produces acidic spit and worm-like creatures that turn anybody they find into a walking zombie.

The film is basically a massive homage to horror classics like The Thing, The Living Dead, most of Peter Jackson's work and many other films besides, updated for 2006. If you're squeamish and don't like gore then this is not the film for you, but if you like a good scare coupled with a certain camp sensibility then you'll have a ball with Slither.

The film cleverly walks the line between horror and comedy so that you often find yourself laughing out loud, just seconds after you've jumped out of your seat and found yourself viewing the screen through gaps in your fingers. Most of the quality is there in the script, but the cast certainly help give it the pizazz it needs. Nathan Fillion, best known for his work on Serenity, impresses with a note-perfect performance as the hero police chief, albeit one not overly endowed with intelligence. Elizabeth Banks wins hearts and minds as the enchanting, if rather ditzy, woman torn between her love for her husband (albeit a husband now taken over by an alien), and her old school sweetheart (Fillion's character). Micahel Rooker chews up the scenery to great comedic effect as the husband Grant, turning on the pathos when it's needed which helps give the film some emotional depth.

The budget is pretty much all visible on screen, with some amazing prosthetics and some excellent CGI. Only one scene (where a deer attacks the police chief hero) really doesn't work, and for a movie this reliant on special effects and with a budget as low as this one had that's pretty impressive.

The term 'Saturday night popcorn movie' can often be used in a derisory way, but Slither reclaims the term as one meaning a great night out at the movies. The film is great fun in a good old-fashioned way and like the best fair-ground rides, will delivers squeals of horror and delight from its audience. As such it makes a great date movie for a Saturday night.

It would have been easy, given the fact the film was not a commercial success at the box office despite enthusiastic reviews, to have skimped on the DVD, but that's not the case here and with a typical online price of under £11 this is a bargain. The anamorphic transfer is excellent and there's good use of surround sound throughout, especially useful for the big scares that are intended to make you jump out of your seat.

The advertised 'director's commentary' actually turns out to be a joint commentary with lead actor Fillion, and is the better for it. The director and actor bounce off each other wittily with anecdotes, inside stories and facts and figures that are lively and entertaining for the whole 90 minute duration. The featurettes are quirky, profuse and great fun with the usual fairly serious 'Making of' featurette here being joined by gag reels, 'behind the scenes' featurettes made by cast members and crew, and inside joke featurettes that make it clear the cast and crew had a lot of fun making the movie and working with each other.

If you've ever enjoyed the old Hammer Horror or Universal monster movies you should definitely check out Slither - it's a great value, fun DVD. Rental or purchase, this comes highly recommended.

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