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Before he was helming Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn was playing in a low-budget B-Movie sandbox. Slither is a sci-fi/horror comedy that makes great use of bugs, slugs, and meteors from outer space.
It’s A Bird, it’s a Plane – it’s a Phallic-Shaped Slug on an Asteroid
The creature feature is a genre staple; as integral to horror as the slasher or haunted house story. It’s often a mix of science fiction, with alien invasions, radioactive waste, and other irradiated baddies taking over Earth. In the case of Slither, it’s your basic interplanetary slug. A slug that looks a hell of a lot like a penis.
If you’ve been briefed on Carol Clover (why haven’t you picked up your copy of Men, Women, and Chainsaws by now?) then you know phallic symbols are the hallmark of traditional Hollywood horror. Knives, bullets, and in this case, extra appendages that may or not belong to a squid, penetrate victims to their deaths. The phallus is the crux upon which real terror is built.
In the case of our outer space slug infestation, phalli are everywhere. In gardens, in sheds, in the pregnant bellies of unsuspecting women. But they all really just want one thing – an empty mouth to crawl into.
Horror Comedy and Gender Play
Now before you think I’m just trying to be terribly crass (this movie is, though), let me chat a bit about why this is such a fantastic spoof on your typical genre fare.
For one, horror films notoriously punish their victims for sexual deviance. Safe to say, a blow job is pretty standard fare in an R-rated film geared toward an audience of adolescent boys and twenty something males (your typical horror audience, per Hollywood thinking – do they not read my blog?).
Slither’s slugs – birthed by a woman infected by a man so repulsive and hyper-masculinized in his regular old human form that his infection simply emphasizes his existing less human qualities (phew!) – infect their hosts by jumping into any oraface available. With their red, veiny appearance, and a slither that’s, well… see for yourself:
It’s borderline pornographic, and it’s pretty damn funny.
One moment in particular that gets my genre obsession all tickled is this tub scene. In a direct reference to the infamous Nightmare on Elm Street scene – final girl Nancy in the tub, Freddy Krueger’s razor-fingered glove emerging from the water beneath her legs – our slug hops in the water and plunks to the bottom. Only to begin his slow, sperm-like swim toward, well, you know where. In Nightmare it’s the threat of violation, mutiliation, and rape that horrifies. In Slither, that slug’s silliness takes all the power away from such phallic terror. It flips the old trope on its head and says, hey – penises are silly looking. And sometimes, that’s kind of what we need to hear, isn’t it?
Final Girls Got Teeth
Mid-2000s was clearly a time for this reconsideration of gender, and especially how sex holds the power, in horror. Genre creeps like myself will remember the Mitchell Lichtenstein movie Teeth that premiered the year after Slither.
Heralded at the time as a quasi-feminist horror film, it’s centerpiece was a final girl and monster in one: A vagina with teeth. A fantastic and horrifying nightmare for sexually active boys everywhere, this was an immediate cult favorite. Is it feminist? Not really. Mostly just another reason for men to view women as strangely and threateningly other.
Slither, on the other hand – with its alien penis slugs on the loose might be closer to the feminist ideal I had in mind. If you can keep your mouth closed, they might not be able to penetrate. Even better, in a reality where the penis slugs are controlled by one hyper masculine, asshole of a man who’s really concerned about his ever depreciating looks – the person most capable of bringing about a solution happens to be his wife.
Starla Grant, (standard beautiful, kind, sexualized blonde) remains the one person our alien monster is uninterested in harming. Even after the world’s worst skin infection has taken over his body and invaded his mind, she reminds the love of his life, every woman in the world* to him and his army of phalli. Therefore, her final answer of “no means no” takes away all their monstrous power. Granted, she does it with a knife to his boil covered neck, but it gets the job done. As the other atrocious (and totally human) male in the film, Mayor Jack MacReady says, “Bitch is hardcore.”
*Yeah, that Air Supply song.
The Fun Stuff
I spoke a bit in the last post about my distaste for zombie movies. This could qualify, as our slug infiltrators do cause a strong taste for animal and human flesh. But I’m far more interested in the space slug element (couldn’t you tell?)
Guardians of the Galaxy fans will recognize Grant Grant, played by frequent Gunn player Michael Rooker, aka Yondu. Rooker seems to enjoy the heavily made-up parts – or perhaps Gunn just likes putting him through that hell. Either way, he’s a hell of a character.
Deer. Cheer. Deer Cheer. Slither really offers a fantastic critique on gun culture and its close association with masculinity. As Nathan Fillion’s Sheriff puts it “why you wanna shoot the face off a cute little dear?”
If You Like It, Watch:
Fiend Without a Face – One of the very best examples of B-movie science fiction/horror from their heyday. Arthur Crabtree directs a strange, funny, and sometimes legitimately unsettling movie about radioactive human brains with spinal cords – that fly. Read my review from last year’s #31DaysofHorror.
The Fly (1986) – If it’s goopey gore and super bug transformations you’re looking for, there is no better option than David Cronenberg’s remake of the1958 sci-fi classic. His is a little bit science fiction, a lot more body horror. Enjoy.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil – I haven’t laughed so hard at a movie in a long, long time. If you’re a fan of horror and need a good laugh, Tucker and Dale are your new best friends. Dumb teenagers, misunderstood hillbillies, and a dilapidated cabin in the woods – violent slapstick ensues. Currently available on instant with an Amazon Prime or Netflix subscription.
Creep (Click for trailer)