Writer and director James Gunn’s meteoric rise in Hollywood all began with his feature film debut with the 2006 horror comedy, Slither.
It’s about a small town that’s been taken over by – wait for it – an alien plague. The plague starts when a meteor falls in Wheelsy, South Carolina and infects a local car dealer Grant Grant (Michael Rooker). The alien controls his body and taking over Grant’s conscious as he spreads his influence in multiple ways from his tentacles to fast-moving slug parasites that control their hosts through their mouths.
Trying to stop him are the local sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), Grant’s wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks), local teen Kylie (Tania Saulnier) and Mayor Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry). Slither is a throwback to the B-movies where the threat is not only the slug monster Grant’s becoming, but the infected citizens as well as they all go on a feeding frenzy for all the meat in and around town much to the chagrin of the supermarkets, butcher shops, and wildlife. To top that off, they exhibit some sentience and speak as they swarm like a zombie horde. Gunn did have prior experience writing horrors and comedies before taking up directing duties with the live action Scooby Doo films and the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.
Here, the narrative seems tailor-made for Fillion, Banks and Rooker. Fillion, who knows a thing or two about being part of a cult classic as the star of Firefly, portrays the ideal everyman with no special abilities or intuition, just a desire to do his job. Banks does a commendable job as the love struck Starla who won’t give up on her man no matter what the circumstances. Rooker’s a natural as the initial victim exerting his redneck will through the alien life form. It’s no surprise how talented Rooker is and how he ended up as Merle on The Walking Dead.
While the film did bomb at the box office, it earned some critical praise and a fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. It’s also steadily earned status as a cult classic. The campiness of the horror works with the special effects and it’s a testament to the makeup, practical effects and CGI. It’s a film that never takes itself too seriously and isn’t needlessly gratuitous. It’s self-aware of the environment it’s in and never tries to be something that it’s not.
With the comedic brilliance of the film, it’s no wonder why Gunn landed Guardians of the Galaxy for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.