Year of Release - 2006
Rating - R
Director - James Gunn
Running Time - 95 Minutes
Distributor - Universal Studios

A small, rural town is having an annual celebration when a meteorite falls nearby, bringing with it a deadly alien menace that soon infects an unfortunate passer-by. One by one, the town’s residents succumb to the alien’s control, becoming hosts to more alien beings or part of a growing hive mind. A surviving group of individuals – quirky but likable – must band together to fight the aliens, as well as the humans under their control. A heroic, but human sheriff must prove his mettle by rescuing an old flame who’s the unhappy housewife of one of the town’s wealthiest inhabitants, a man now infected by the alien host. Does any of this sound familiar to you? That should come as no surprise, because Slither is writer/director James Gunn’s genre-reference-heavy homage to 1950s alien invasion films and 1980s gore-filled comedy/horror hybrids.

Taking its cue from the likes of Tremors, Night of the Creeps, Shivers, Society, and the remakes of The Thing, The Fly, and The Blob, to name but a few of its inspirations, Slither is a knowing and heartfelt attempt to create a small-town-in-peril film with equal amounts of horror, action, gore and situational comedy. Gunn captures the mood and the characters of these earlier films perfectly, with lead Nathan Fillion (the Firefly series) and the supporting cast adding some wonderful comic touches to the mix. Neither a spoof nor a post-modern dissection of the genre, the film is very much the opposite of predecessors like Scream, and Gunn’s heart was clearly in the right place in making the film, since he has also turned out an effects-heavy, gory and fun alien flick that’s enjoyable on its own terms, even if you don’t get any of the references.

While very entertaining, however, and appreciated in its spot-on tone and mood by this horror fan (who hated the soulless and manipulative Dawn of the Dead remake, scripted by Gunn), Slither isn’t without a few problems. In addition to the basic invasion plot, Gunn also includes a “Beauty and the Beast” sub-theme, a significant, but late-entering supporting character touched but not defeated by the alien mind, and several other genre tropes. It’s just too much to pack into a 90-minute film that also wants to feature a couple of (well-executed) action set pieces.

Genre legend Michael Rooker is brilliantly cast as the emotionless husband taken over by the alien parasite, but when the plot calls for him to discover romantic meaning in his life after he’s possessed, the development feels forced and tacked onto the already-busy plot. It’s as though Gunn, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable horror fan, felt compelled to throw too many story ideas and stock genre developments into the mix, which has the result of making the movie feel bogged-down by its end. A leaner screenplay might not have had the particular emotional resonance he was aiming for, but it could have improved the film’s pacing and overall success; as scripted, the romantic angle gets short shrift, which is too bad because it’s a unique addition to this type of film.

Universal’s DVD features a typically gorgeous transfer of the film, a lively Dolby Digital 5.1 track (especially appreciated when it comes to the many fun songs featured on the soundtrack), and a generous group of special features including some deleted and extended scenes; several documentary featurettes, including two on the film’s terrific special effects; a video diary from Gunn’s old boss and Troma president Lloyd Kaufman (who has a cameo in the film); and a couple of entertaining gag reels, as well.

Also on the disc is an audio commentary track from Gunn and Fillion that features the usual play-by-play and complimentary comments, but also includes a surprising degree of honesty and openness from the director about what parts of the film he’s unhappy with (like the deer attack scene) and why he feels they don’t work, very often blaming himself for their lack of success. It, like the film itself, is additional evidence that the movie is not simply a studio attempt to create another snarky horror/comedy, but a genuine and loving homage to the films many horror fans know and love, warts and all.