*As always, I write these articles under the assumption that you’ve seen the movie already, so...SPOILERS.
Seeing a pre-famous Nathan Fillion wasted in Dracula 2000 led me to Slither, a much better fit for Fillion. Anyone who had already seen Firefly knew what to expect from Fillion in Slither. I was late to Firefly, so this was my first time seeing Fillion be...well, Fillion. His folksy sarcasm is expected now, but the first time you see it it’s very refreshing, especially in a gross out horror-comedy. But Slither has more than just Fillion going for it. Let me just type “Fillion” one more time here because I’m afraid I didn’t use his name enough in that intro.
If John Carpenter made The Thing a comedy
Before James Gunn got involved with Marvel and became so famous that someone looked up some old, offensive tweets in an effort to destroy him, he made Slither, his love letter to ‘80s classics like The Thing, The Fly, Gremlins, etc.
I remember not liking this movie all that much the first time I saw it. But it was one of those rare movies that I knew I should like, if that makes sense. And when I watched it again, I liked it much more. I chalk that up to two things. 1. I didn’t know what to make of Nathan Fillion’s character at first. I guess it took a little time for his typical schtick to grow on me. 2. I didn’t find it as funny as I expected it to be. This is on me, because there is plenty of humor in Slither, but the best stuff is in the dialogue, not in the gross sight gags. I think I just focused too much on the gore and whatnot the first time around. Also, I’m starting to think that I simply didn’t pay much attention to the film at all the first time I watched it, because there’s a lot of stuff going on in this film that I love.
Once I viewed this film in the same light as a John Carpenter movie, something clicked. I love Carpenter’s films, especially The Thing and They Live (guess what two movies I’m writing about next). But aside from Big Trouble in Little China, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, and They Live, his films are rarely funny (and They Live’s humor is more satirical than traditional). But Carpenter’s work, especially The Thing, can be funny in a reactionary way. When you see a dog creature sprout a cabbage-looking thing with teeth, you might laugh in a “what the fuck is going on here?” kind of way. It’s that “what the fuck?” humor that James Gunn latched onto with Slither. Instead of expecting the audience to say things like, “Well, now, that is some fucked up shit,” he has a character say it.
It’s an obvious and brilliant way to add a comedic layer to a horror film. Gunn realized, as many have before, that horror and comedy are very closely related. There is always an element of humor in scary movies, because people tend to laugh after they’ve been scared. When someone like Gunn makes a point to focus on the humor, it makes for a unique experience. But casting has a lot to do with that as well, and Gunn’s film is helped immensely by two of his regulars: Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker.
I considered this a Nathan Fillion movie, but it’s really a Michael Rooker and Gregg Henry movie.
James Gunn’s writing deserves most of the credit for his films, but casting the right characters for his dialogue is key. With Slither, I first thought that Fillion carried the film, but in hindsight that’s probably because it was the first time I got to see Fillion be Fillion (going for the record of most “Fillions” in one article!). He is still the star of the film, and he provides most of the laughs. But watching it again, I realized how great Gregg Henry and Michael Rooker are in this movie.
Gregg Henry, who I first noticed in Payback, has a blast playing the ridiculously dicky Mayor MacReady (an homage to MacReady in The Thing). Pretty much everything he says is quotable. Most actors could make the character work, but Henry has a talent for taking his crazy lines to another level. It’s not just that he yells a lot of his lines; it’s this unbelieving tone he adopts. It’s as if he truly cannot fucking believe that any person or alien would have the balls to inconvenience him, either by trying to kill him or by forgetting his Mr. Pibb. This dude does not get enough credit for his comedic work.
Fillion and Henry are great, but this is Michael Rooker’s show. Most cinephiles first came across Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (I’ve seen Henry, but I first came across Rooker in Mallrats), but it seems like he’s only gained the attention he deserves because of The Walking Dead and Guardians of the Galaxy. And that’s a shame, because the dude has been consistently awesome for a while, but this might be the funniest he’s ever been.
At first, Rooker’s character seems a bit typical for him: he’s kind of an asshole. But once he becomes the host body for an alien, he becomes very funny. The alien needs as much meat as possible, which leads to Rooker walking around saying, “Meat” over and over. Meat is funny word, especially when it’s repeated, but Rooker’s delivery makes it even funnier. And that scene with the butcher is great as he keeps upping his ribeye order.
The role then becomes more of a vocal performance as he gets covered in prosthetics (which must be a joke Gunn likes to play on him since he also cast him as the blue-skinned Yondu). He’s still pretty funny buried under that plastic, yelling for his “sugar plum.”
James Gunn has worked with all three of these actors since Slither, and it’s easy to see why. Gunn’s writing is great, but it is especially dependent on the performers, and he’s found three in Fillion, Henry, and Rooker that get it. Perhaps they can all work together again once Gunn is released from director jail.
Do I regret buying this?
No, but I have to admit I think this is the first time I’ve rewatched this since I bought it. I had forgotten the majority of this film, so I’m glad I had it to experience it again. But odds are it’ll be a long time before I watch it again. I like it a lot, but it’s just not something I want to watch over and over again. If I had only just now come across this movie, I doubt I would end up buying it.
Michael Rooker plays a sleazy fucker so well.
Why do they have so much meat in their fridge? That was like twenty pounds Rooker grabbed out of there.
Elizabeth Banks drinks Tab. Disgusting.
“Damn, girl. You are chocolate for the eyes.”
Chekhov’s grenade…which is actually another joke of Gunn’s. He introduces that grenade at the police station in such an obvious way, so we know it’s coming back. But then he subverts our expectations in a funny way by having the grenade end up being useless.
“What kind of thing wants you to eat it?”
I love the excuses for how fucked up everyone is: bee sting, poison oak…
Gregg Henry's rant about Mr. Pibb is great: “Where is the Mr. Pibb? I told your secretary to pack Mr. Pibb. It’s the only Coke I like. God damn Brenda exploding like a water balloon, works driving my friends around like they’re god damn skin-cars, people are spitting acid at me, turning you into cottage cheese, and now there’s no fucking god damn Mr. Pibb?!
I disagree. I don't think Martian is a general word for “outer space fucker.”
Gregg Henry, monsterized: “Kill me, Pardy! Please!”
Pardy shoots him without hesitation.