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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

On his way to the MCU, James Gunn infected alien-invasion horror with Troma squishiness

Illustration for article titled On his way to the MCU, James Gunn infected alien-invasion horror with Troma squishiness
Screenshot: Slither

Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: With A Quiet Place Part II postponed, check out these earlier movies about hostile alien invaders, all available to rent digitally or stream from home.


Slither (2006)

Back in 2006, James Gunn was still nearly a decade out from becoming Hollywood’s go-to guy for anti-hero ensembles and ridiculously catchy mixtapes. Back then, Gunn was still a recent graduate of the unofficial Troma school of filmmaking, where legendary goremeister Lloyd Kaufman had spent years tutoring the Tromeo And Juliet screenwriter in the finer points of cheap filmmaking paired with conceptual (and liquid) excess. So when the chance for his big directorial debut finally arrived, Gunn didn’t travel very far from his old alma mater’s wheelhouse. Although Slither is significantly slicker than anything Troma has ever produced—in terms of production values, if not overall on-set moisture levels—it’s also a deliriously gory throwback to a film culture where nasty and fun were so frequently interchangeable.

Riffing on any number of monster-from-the-sky sci-fi shockers—but Fred Dekker’s Night Of The Creeps in particular—Gunn’s love letter to the joys of exploding heads starts with a meteor crashing to the ground outside sleepy Wheelsy, South Carolina, putting it on a direct collision course with small-town asshole Grant Grant (Michael Rooker, beginning a series of Gunn collaborations that stretches all the way to the upcoming The Suicide Squad). Suddenly sporting writhing tentacles and an insatiable craving for meat, Grant proceeds to lay the seeds for a full-scale alien invasion, culminating in the moment when police chief Nathan Fillion leads a posse of deputies, local hunters, and Grant’s wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks) to the barn where Grant’s been hiding away his mistress-turned-hideously-bloated-incubator (Brenda James). In the movie’s most memorable scene, the unfortunate woman suddenly tears open at her lovingly rendered seams, unleashing a wave of writhing slugs that make a bee-line for the closest human mouth—and suddenly, the invasion is on.

Revisited 14 years after its criminally underwhelming box office debut, Slither is a surprisingly slow burn. Gunn devotes plenty of time to life in Wheelsy pre-invasion, and to tracking Grant’s steady devolution—a decision that pays off by making his semi-obsessive love for Starla the character’s last recognizable human trait. But once the ball pops, the film switches to a breakneck pace, piling on the gore, dispatching characters with wild abandon, and even taking the gloves off when it comes to animals and kids. Meanwhile, most of the traits that would make Gunn a Marvel superstar are already apparent, from the quippy dialogue to the eye for casting to even managing to slip in a few truly top-notch needle drops—most notably The Yayhoo’s “Baby I Love You,” which plays out over the film’s wearily dark denouement. But it’s the “Fuck it, go for the gross-out” Troma spirit pumping through its heart that makes Slither special. Even without the Stan Lee-style cameo for Kaufman, the film would proudly flaunt the lessons Gunn picked up from him. Slither may have failed to infect a large audience with its B-movie energy, but it’s an insidious cult success, affirming what makes Troma’s wildest work so fun.

Availability: Slither is available to rent or purchase from Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube, and VUDU.