Sunday, October 29, 2006

Film Notes: Slither (2005)

James Gunn has made a career out of reworking other people's material. As a screenwriter, he penned the archly bizarre Tromeo & Juliet, reworking the Shakespeare original, and then broke into the mainstream with the screenplays for the Scooby Doo movie and its sequel, and the remake of Dawn of the Dead. It's not exactly surprising then that his directorial debut is an homage to the latex monster movies of the 1980s. It is surprising, though, how enjoyable Slither actually is.

Anyway, it should be remembered that Gunn is essentially paying homage to remakes. David Cronenberg's The Fly, John Carpenter's The Thing, Tobe Hooper's Invaders From Mars, and Chuck Russel's The Blob were all remakes of 50s monster movies, and Stuart Gordon's From Beyond was based on an H.P. Lovecraft story. These filmmakers took advantage of the advances in prosthetic latex effects of the era to update and completely rework the 50s monster films that they saw as children. So, Gunn is paying tribute to films that were homages and remakes.

On the other hand, those 80s films drastically updated the storylines as well. Cronenberg's The Fly is a bizarre and disgusting, and actually heartbreaking film that deals with love in the age of AIDS. Carpenter's The Thing was seen as an FX extravaganza, and it is; but it's also oddly enough a chamber drama about group loyalty under crisis. Gordon's From Beyond is a totally bizarre and kinky story that is hard to even classify as a horror movie, like all of Gordon's other movies. These 80s monster movies are nothing if not unique takes on the material by directors with their own singluar voices and visions.

These are qualities that seem to be lacking these days. As great a director as Quentin Tarantino is, he's also very limited by the fact that he seems to have no other influences but the films he's seen. When he pays homage to Godard or Truffaut, for instance, he's just paying homage to the style of Godard; when Godard paid tribute to the 50s American gangster films, he brought in the style of the films and added his own politics, and philosophical views and understanding of art. Both Truffaut and Godard were great readers as well as film-goers. Frustrating as Godard can still be, he's also well-rounded. Today's filmmakers, by comparison seemed trapped in a circle of references to other films. The idea of a completely original movie is probably impossible; but couldn't they be a little more original?

Slither is not going to win any awards for originality, but it has some clever ideas of its own. The film is basically another horror movie in which a meteorite lands on earth and aliens emerge, ready to take over people's minds and destroy earth. The first person invaded by the aliens, played by Michael Rooker, becomes the chief alien, merging mentally with an ancient alien who has colonized the universe. However, in a nice twist, the alien experiences the man's troubled relationship with his wife, and so all of the alien-zombies in town are trying to kill everyone else and get the wife back.

Does this all sound silly? Well, I think the reason the film works is that Gunn takes the romantic aspect seriously, and makes the scary scenes scary, and plays the rest for laughs. There is a fine-line between witty horror (see Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and cheesy horror (See, well, Tromeo and Juliet), and surprisingly enough, Gunn has made a witty horror film. Granted, it borrows a bit too much (I was particuarly annoyed that its poster is a direct rip-off... er, homage to Cronenberg's They Came From Within), but it also suggests that Gunn might be creative enough to keep watching.


The Pagan Temple said...

You got all that from "The Fly"? Hell, all I got from it was it's not exactly a good make-out flick, or it wasn't for me anyway.

Rufus said...

Well, I probably read it in Fangoria! But, yeah, that was what they were trying to evoke. It totally changes how you watch the movie, especially since it came out at the height of the epidemic.

But, yeah, I guess it wasn't a good make-out flick.