Slither (2006)

Horror has a new face

Writer: James Gunn
Director: James Gunn

There are basically two ways to approach a horror/SF spoof like Slither. One is to play it dead straight. It’s a risky strategy but if you can carry it off then the result is a classic like Cabin Fever (2002). The simpler approach is to play it for laughs and include plenty of good gags like Severance (2006).

The worst possible combination is to play it for laughs but not be funny. That’s the trap into which Slither slides.

The plot is appropriately 1950s. The film is set in a small Southern US town where most of the people look as if their families have been inbreeding for generations. One night a strange meteor crashes, bringing with it – of course – parasitic worms that kill people then reanimate their bodies. That’s right folks, it’s zombie time! Only these zombies have a hive mind and can spit acid.

How could something with so much potential go so badly wrong?

Basically because it’s not funny. There are a few humorous good moments, but they mostly revolve around poking fun at the local rednecks. Sometimes this is deserved, others it’s simply uncomfortable. A few genuinely funny lines aren’t enough to carry the rest of the film.

Oh, and it’s not scary either There’s gore aplenty but that’s not the same thing. Maybe it’s just that worms – even parasitic killer worms – are inherently unscary. But mainly it’s because it’s hard to be scared when the director is priming you to laugh.

To be fair the script does pick up considerably in the second half when it becomes an out and out zombie fest. Unfortunately by then the damage was done and I’d pretty much lost interest. The first 45 minutes could have usefully been trimmed to 15. The whole movie is only about 90 minutes long but there isn’t even enough decent material to fill that. Slither would have made a good episode of ”Doctor Who”.

Yes, the visuals are clever. Yes, there are numerous clever references for horror fans. Yes, there are a few clever lines. Clever is good but it’s not enough.

The overall impression is that Gunn started off trying to write something like his superb 2004 reworking of Dawn of the Dead – but decided that he just couldn’t take it seriously. The result is a tottering corpse of a film that is neither scary nor funny.