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‘Slither’ is a wickedly fun horror flick

Director Gunn revels in of horror film absurdities but clearly loves them
/ Source: The Associated Press

In a world of brain-dead horror remakes, writer-director James Gunn didn’t just set out to redo any old fright flick. In the body-snatchers-from-space tale “Slither,” he aimed to remake them all — and more.

With the gore-minded glee of a fan attuned to every cinematic scare tactic, Gunn also knows how silly they are, infusing “Slither” with a wicked sense of parody while still crafting a clever, maniacally paced twist on B-movie slimefests.

The first-time director, who wrote the screenplay for the 2004 remake “Dawn of the Dead,” also has assembled a far finer cast than the genre typically presents, led by Nathan Fillion of the cult TV series “Firefly” and its big-screen spinoff “Serenity.”

As Bill Pardy, the police chief in a hillbilly town overrun by killer slugs and flesh-munching zombies, Fillion expands on the droll flair he mastered as skipper of the rickety spaceship Serenity.

“Slither” also lets Fillion cut loose and get really goofy, all the while maintaining his boyish rogue’s charm. This guy deserves to be a major star.

Gunn nicely establishes the story in a quick opening segment as a meteor hurtles toward Earth. Cut to the Southern burgh of Wheelsy, where a bored Pardy and a deputy fritter away time in a patrol car by checking the speed of a whippoorwill with their radar gun.

They’re so benumbed by the snail’s pace of their town that they never notice the fiery flash behind them as the meteor crashes in the woods.

Things quickly speed up, though, as lunk-headed businessman Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) stumbles on the meteorite and the giant, oozy slug that crawls out of it. Grant becomes host for a parasite that prompts him to hilariously — and gruesomely — stockpile raw meat and the carcasses of neighborhood pets in his basement.

He’s also gradually transformed into a freakish, tentacled predator whose activities unleash hordes of slimy worms that turn the townsfolk into meat-hungry zombies.

Pardy and Grant’s wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks), with whom the police chief shares an unrequited romantic history, race through a rip-roaring night of the living dead as they try to put down Grant and his zombie army.

The grisly creature effects and themes of parasitic possession pay respect to “The Thing,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the “Alien” franchise, the George Romero zombie flicks and countless other creature features.

Gunn revels in the absurdities of horror conventions but also clearly loves them. He’s a real student of the stuff, piling on moments that embrace and spoof not only fright films but other movies.

When the alien infestation threatens to undermine Wheelsy’s annual deer-hunting festival, the mayor (Gregg Henry in an outrageously over-the-top comic performance) callously hopes to salvage the event, a la the mayor in “Jaws” who hoped to save his island’s tourist season despite the killer shark.

A close encounter with one of the alien parasites gives spunky teenager Kylie (Tania Saulnier) extraterrestrial insight, allowing her to explicate the creatures’ nature and purpose the way Bill Pullman did in “Independence Day.”

And a scene where zombies do “A Streetcar Named Desire,” coming after Starla uttering her name instead of Marlon Brando’s “Stella,” is just priceless.

Hollywood has hit on a dependable little gold mine churning out shoddy horror remakes and other bad scary movies. Here’s hoping someone like Gunn, who has a truly creative vision for the genre, can find the same commercial success.