This is one of those love it or hate it films in a love it or hate it genre - comedy horror. I love comedy horror, and am unabashedly a fan of Tremors, The Evil Dead series, Shaun of the Dead, and Lake Placid. Slither is a worthy entry into the genre, and can proudly sit alongside the films I've mentioned.
Slither is from writer/director James Gunn, and it's his first major film as a director. He was responsible for writing the fantastic The Specials (in which he also appeared as Minute Man) and the excellent Dawn of the Dead remake. Gunn doesn't waste any time with this film, jumping right into the core of the story almost from the get go. A meteor (or something) crashes in a small town, and a man (Grant Grant, the town's rich businessman played by Michael Rooker) gets 'infected' by a creature from the meteorite. He begins to transform into a fleshy, tentacled beast with a craving for meat. Grant's wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks), notices the changes (who wouldn't?). Grant runs off and begins to terrorize the town, and Sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), who has a thing for Starla, is forced to hunt Grant down. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse when Grant unleashes a wave of slug like creatures that burrow into their victims' brains and turn them into zombies that carry out Grant's will!
It sounds clichéd, and it is - a small group of people up against a beast and a horde of its undead servants. As always though, it's the execution that matters. Gunn infuses the film with plenty of humour, both visual and verbal, but also deals out gore and scares just as effectively. He also manages to subvert expectations at times - I'm thinking specifically about a gag involving a grenade that is absolutely hilarious. Gunn works in several references to other horror films, many of which admittedly flew over my head - I suck at noticing these things. The characters are thin at best but are still memorable, each with their own quirks. The creature effects are absolutely disgusting - in other words, excellent and believable. There's not really a wasted scene in the film, which is fast paced throughout most of its 95 minute running time.
Which brings me to the cast - I think these films sink or swim based on the cast. These sort of performances are rarely considered noteworthy, and that's a shame, because mixing straight-faced seriousness with great comedic timing is something not every actor can pull off. One actor who can, though, is Nathan Fillion, a man who deserves more high profile work. He's simply fantastic in this - charming and funny in every scene. Also great is his verbal sparring partner Gregg Henry, who plays the obnoxious town Mayor. Michael Rooker is strangely sympathetic as the beast, and Elizabeth Banks exhibits just the right level of earnestness and hysteria to match the tone of the film.
For people who are fans of the genre, this is a great, fun film. For those who aren't, the title gives away what kind of film it is well in advance...