This is a 100 per cent gleeful fan-boy romp through the horror and sci-fi genres, a film that pays lively homage to a slew of earlier classics, notably: The Thing, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Society, Shivers and yes, even Romero zombie films (never mind lesser fare like Xtro and the sundry Alien rip-offs). And it does so with plenty of latex special effects.
"Aw, that's gross," says Brenda Gutierrez (James) when she and Grant Grant (Rooker) come across something slimy and, yes, otherworldly in the woods. Before you can say "alien invasion", Grant's been impregnated by a dart thingy and starts to mutate. Initially, his wife, Starla (Banks), is pleased, saying to a colleague, "This morning I sensed a real change in Grant" after their dry marriage (that's why he was in the woods with another woman) is reinvigorated. Then he starts getting weird - putting a padlock on the cellar door, and developing nasty rashes and swellings. "It's just a bee sting," he insists, but it ain't. He's becoming the monstrous alien overlord, and transforming others too. Brenda becomes a giant egg sack basically, and releases a torrent of slithering little red slug beasties. Cue Shivers homage, as one heads for a teenager, Kylie (Saulnier), in her bath.
Suddenly, the small town of Wheelsy is full of zombies and mutants. It's up to Starla; the local police chief who's always held a torch for her, Bill Pardy (Fillon, of 'Firefly' and Serenity fame); obnoxious mayor Jack MacReady (Henry); and plucky young Kylie to try and fight back. But how can you battle a flesh-eating, body-absorbing, hive-mind alien? Suffice to say, the whole endeavour involves even more lashings of silicone and latex.
As well as paying homage to the horror he grew up with - Carpenter, early Cronenberg - Gunn also revisits the special effects techniques that made 1980s horror so distinct. Latex, silicone and physical prosthetics reached their aesthetic prime with such films as The Thing and Brian Yuzna's Society, with its unforgettable body-melding climax.
Techniques and technology have come along since then, and Slither further augments them with CGI, but it's marvellous to see latex body horror making a return here. The effects team supposedly used so much silicone that they depleted the US national supply which should give you some idea of what to expect. Poor Michael Rooker gets the brunt of it, rapidly disappearing under layers of prosthetics as he turns into a red, be-tentacled thing. Yep, that's gross, and Slither's all the more fun for it.