Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reasons to not eat meat: the biological imperatives of Slither


In the small town of Wheelsy, South Carolina, absolutely nothing goes on except for the small matter of a meteor falling from outer space carrying a pod bent on the biological takeover of all life forms on earth. After penning last year’s hit Dawn of the Dead, writer and director James Gunn drew inspiration from Alien, zombie films, Psycho, and The Blob to make the charmingly low-rent Slither.

Basically a vulgar B-movie horror-fest, Slither does not aspire to do much more than gross you out, but it splatters blood and body parts with charm and a satiric sense of humor. The story begins with the attractive blonde biology teacher Starla Grant (Elisabeth Banks) rebuffing the bedtime advances of her clearly too old husband Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) who is bald and wears ugly glasses. We learn that she married him mostly for money, but now she can’t stand his touch in the evenings, so frustrated Grant Grant heads off to a local bar to watch a fat woman singing karaoke out of tune. The town tramp, Brenda, eventually picks him up, but instead of finding love in the night, they stumble upon a slimy pod in the woods that shoots a worm-like thing inside Grant Grant’s stomach.

Before long, Grant starts to buy large amounts of meat at the local grocery store, keeps assorted dead animals in his basement, and eventually has difficulty keeping two long prong-like feelers inside his chest from assaulting various women, including his wife. Starla, by the way, feels guilty for not fulfilling her marriage vows, so she uses a cheesy Air Supply song “Every Woman in the World” to put her in the mood to sleep with her mutating beau. Meanwhile, the unsuspecting town of Wheelsy celebrates the advent of hunting season with a deer dance at the local lodge. Potty-mouthed Mayor Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry) proclaims his love for shooting a buck or two since “God gave us dominion over the beasts of the field.” Handsome Sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) has carried a torch for Starla Grant for years, and now he has to protect her from her increasingly grotesque and irrational husband who now looks like he has leprosy all over his face. As Grant tells her, “It’s only a bee sting.”

Suffice it to say that the alien presence in Grant finds ways to mutate in colorful grotesque ways, and after awhile large slugs and zombies get involved. I’ve read that zombies are a hot media property again as the national mood shifts away from vampires, serial killers, and other horrific creatures. Horror films reflect the anxieties of the age, and since 9/11, the thought that one’s neighbors could turn on you and desire to eat your flesh has somehow gained currency. The 28 Days series brought us zombies that can run. Now, we can look forward to intelligent zombies, zombies that can drive, perhaps zombies that can do your taxes? I think zombies reflect our over-populated age, and if the economy tanks some day and rising oil prices make food scarce, the possibility of starving masses of people looking to do anything to survive does sound like a plausible happenstance.

One can criticize the film for its vulgarity, its sense of disposable humanity, and its obvious thefts from other better films, but Slither never aspires to be anything more than what it is, and therein lies its cutthroat integrity. We are genetically programmed to want to survive, and life is a process of mutation. An outer space alien exaggerates biological urges we all partake in, only in a more entertaining way. And with the film's heavy emphasis on meat, Slither may do its part to turn people into vegetarians.

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