Slither is a love letter to B-movie making, specifically the notoriously cheesy and comedy-charged horror flicks that production companies like Troma Entertainment have churned out over the years. Writer/director James Gunn knows something about that, too, since he also wrote and directed classics like Tromeo and Juliet and Sgt. Kabukiman Public Service Announcement. Somewhere along the way, he scripted the abysmal Scooby-Doo films, too, but Slither redeems him for that. Well, not quite. But it does remind you how much fun the horror genre can be when it’s not taking itself too seriously. After all, this is a movie about alien slugs that turn people into zombies—you can’t try to sell that via commercials with a straight face. It does help, though, when the guy trying to sell it to you is Nathan Fillion.
Fillion is this decade’s Bruce Campbell, able to act opposite rubber monsters and spit one-liners like no one else in the business except maybe his Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place co-star Ryan Reynolds, which really makes that show’s unfunniness all the more baffling. Here, Fillion plays Bill Pardy, a flip sheriff with a hankering for what his high-school crush Starla Grant (Elizabeth Banks, the masturbating chick from The 40-Year-Old Virgin) is cooking up. Unfortunately, Starla got out of the trailer park by marrying wealthy Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), so she’s not available, despite an obvious attraction that leaves both squirming. Luckily—for Bill’s chances, that is—Grant gets infected by some alien needle-bug thingy and turns into a “squid.” Well, at least that’s what Bill calls him. The squid quickly impregnates a single mom and turns her into some sort of jiggly beach-ball-shaped incubator for the zombie-making slugs previously mentioned. Once she bursts—literally—all hell breaks loose, the town is overrun, and the only folks left to stand up to this intergalactic biological plague are Bill, Starla, the requisite virginal-type, Kylie (Tania Saulnier), and Mayor MacReady (Gregg Henry).
Rather than depend entirely upon hokey CGI, Gunn uses a creative mix of old-fashioned makeup effects, reserving computers for space shots, some brief glimpses of extraterrestrial worlds, and the actual slugs that creep and crawl and dive into open mouths like bloody phallic symbols. Watching Kylie struggle to extract one that’s trying to make her swallow it will make most shiver. Gunn’s reliance on real-world effects makes Slither feel antiquated, like something out of the ’80s—but that’s the fun of it all, recalling how cool movies like this used to be. Of course, they used to be made with budgets less than a million dollars. Slither cost considerably more than that, but it was money well spent.