There are few directors with the same boisterous, frenetic energy as James Gunn, a filmmaker who has made a name for himself as an innovative, snappy and creative storyteller. Such has led to his contemporary success, heading up DC’s Suicide Squad, where producers hope he can replicate the same impact that his Marvel series Guardians of the Galaxy had on popular culture. It was his alternative filmmaking style and love for the outlandish that would attract him to the bombastic superhero project in the first place, though this energy had existed long before and was perfectly elicited in 2006s Slither, an ode to the gooey body horror of David Cronenberg.
In many ways, Slither burrowed into existence as a mutation of each of James Gunn’s previous screenplays, a mix of the goofy, handcrafted comedy of 2002s Scooby-Doo and the genuine intense horror of violent zombie flick Dawn of the Dead. Out of the ashes emerged James Gunn’s directorial debut, a lusciously disturbing horror-comedy that oozed visceral disgust and splattered the director’s unique style onto the Hollywood sign.
Born from a genuine love of the genre, Slither was an amalgamation of Cronenberg’s Shivers and Fred Dekker’s Night of the Creeps, that, despite copycat criticisms, suffuses with a unique sense of style that both satirises and celebrates sci-fi horror. Set in the small town of Wheelsy, South Carolina, the folk of the homestead are the stereotypical victims of such an alien attack, innocent, underpowered and unprepared. Middle-aged couple Starla (Elizabeth Banks) and Grant (Michael Rooker) sit at the centre of the story, with the horror ensuing once Grant becomes pricked by a gooey alien egg in the middle of the woods. Growing boils, bumps and even a tentacled appendage, Grant casts himself away from the town, turning insane from his new alien governor as he feasts on living flesh and multiplies.
Perfectly fusing intense body horror and sharp wit, Gunn creates a highly enjoyable, stomach-churning film that celebrates the freedom of genre creativity, reminiscent of the imaginative works of Peter Jackson’s excessive Braindead. Just like Jackson’s ode to the delights of bad taste, Gunn utilises a camp tone to toy with genre conventions, providing a comedic counterweight to the darker tones of sci-fi horror. Bodies become pliable materials, contorted and softened like playdough to become playthings in Gunn’s toybox, inflating like balloons to become an incubator for thousands of alien larvae or mutating into tentacled monstrosities.
In perhaps Slithers’ most iconic scene, Gunn directly harks back to his inspired source in Cronenberg’s Shivers, depicting a disturbing attack on a helpless woman relaxing in the bathtub. Whilst in Cronenberg’s 1975 classic, the scene is only short showing a slow-moving red slug shift across the base of the bathtub, in Gunn’s film, this scene explodes into a violent action set-piece between the woman and sperm-like slug. Managing to escape the bath before the lifeform can attack, she desperately leaps from her relaxation before it attacks and temporarily takes hold of her mind. Taken into a nightmarish psychological vision, the woman experiences the origins of the parasitic being, showing a ravaged, hellish land in which the creature stands dominant.
Excited and extravagant, this clip depicting the slugs origins is not entirely necessary, though is key to understanding the innovation of James Gunn, keen to push each of his creations to the very limit of their potential. The scene is an embodiment of Slither itself, a joyful, frivolous celebration of the genre, embracing the farce of science fiction to bring a liberating excursion into the weird, raw, explicit, gunky, viscous concept of alien invasion.