Hello. Welcome to an odyssey of sleepless Autumn nights.
A little bit about me: I couldn’t sleep alone until I was 12. At that time, just the name “Stephen King” would give me nightmares. When my siblings used to watch “Aladdin,” I’d hide under a desk when the Cave of Wonders came on screen. Let’s not even discuss the ending of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
I scare. I scare easily.
So you can bet I don’t really watch horror films. I appreciate them, sure, but anxiety-inducing movies just aren’t my thing. They stay with me, they fester, until I find myself awake at 2:30 a.m. jumping at shadows.
Naturally, I’ve decided to commit the coming month to watching as many horror films as I possibly can. I’ve compiled a list of utterly terrifying horror movies to watch over the course of October. Classics like “The Exorcist” or “Last House on the Left,” contemporary scares like “The Orphanage” or “V/H/S” and even a few stranger, more perverse entries along the lines of “Tromeo and Juliet” and Lucifer Valentine’s “Slow Torture Puke Chamber.” I’ve had input from fellow Yappers, coworkers, friends and my girlfriend. They know what they’re doing to me, and they’re all horrible people for it.
When I was looking over the list tonight, I thought to myself, “What am I really in the mood for?”
The answer was a good night’s sleep.
So I chose “Slither,” James Gunn’s directorial debut. Nathan Fillion, ever-god of the geek, stars as Bill Pardy, a plunky town sheriff of Wheelsy, South Carolina. Pardy is drawn into action during an invasion of alien slugs. The slug, a hive-monster, takes over the town and causes the residents to become, in essence, zombies. Michael Rooker and Elizabeth Banks play Grant Grant and Starla Grant, the quintessential troubled small-town married couple whose strife becomes key to the invasion. These three front an absurdly talented cast for what is, essentially, a B-Movie send-up.
The real star of the film, though, is writer/director Gunn. His style brings a very off-kilter vibe to the pre-invasion town. My roommate sat in during the first act and remarked on how bizarre the setting felt. And it does. I think this is because Slither uses the Small Town setting, classically a magnifying glass to the evils men do, to present all its characters in an overwhelmingly positive light. Bill, Grant Grant and Starla are all fairly straightforward, their emotional arcs built on love and positive emotion rather than hatred and jealousy. It’s a resoundingly positive film. Not even the jerk quarterback is able to cheat on his wife until he’s infected by aliens.
The use of a classic horror setting without going all the way with it — that’s odd. It’s unsettling. The sense of … abstract environmental unease was something I haven’t felt in a film very often.
That’s about where the terror stops, though. Gunn’s script is full of slapstick and deadpan humor. Naturally, Fillion’s character is given the most sardonic one-liners, including a glorious, “Well, that’s fucked up.” Gregg Henry, in a supporting role as the mayor of the town, gets a few excellent lines as well, including my personal favorite: “If this shit’s contagious and I turn into a fucking mollusk, I’m gonna sue those assholes.” I guess you could argue he’s slightly juvenile in his reliance on strong language to land a joke, but, whatever. There’s a certain amount of excess that comes along with a B-movie that —
Well. Hold on.
If anything is the matter with “Slither,” really, it’s that it lacks excess. While I enjoyed the film and found it entertaining, it feels sanitary. B-movies are generally interesting because their lack of budget and studio attention can lead to less storytelling restrictions. Those lax guidelines, coupled with inexperience, a stronger creator vision, or both, oftentimes lead to less subtle methods of getting a rise from the audience.
And we love B-movies because of it. Unfortunately, “Slither” contains few moments of truly excessive violence, profanity, sexuality or insanity. I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for something to shock or bother me. There’s one scene, with a girl, a slug and a bathtub that is horrifying in setup but mundane in execution. What you expect to happen doesn’t. Gunn ends the tension quickly, as if to say, “You remember ‘The Evil Dead’? Well, I’m not going that far.”
In a way, I wish he had. Not necessarily with that moment — for reasons not worth going into — but with any moment of the film. While there’s relief in avoiding terror, I was watching the film to be in some way disturbed. I never felt it.
Overall, I liked “Slither.” I think James Gunn has a talent for writing witty dialogue and is clever with characters. It was funny, not terribly scary, worth a watch if you’re curious to see what Gunn is capable of.
But I think I’ll sleep soundly tonight.