After seeing Slither I understand why it’s getting such positive reviews. There’s a special kind of high that comes only from a well-executed genre film, especially if it’s in a genre you grew up with. You want to like this romantic comedy or that horror film, because you grew up loving romantic comedies or horror films. But as you see more and more films you realize just how few and far between well-crafted, inoffensive films in these forms can be. So when you do find one it’s like finding a needle in a haystack, like finding Mission of Burma in a used records store. You feel like a kid again.
I’m something of a Johnny-come-lately to the horror genre. I was a bit skittish as a child (I forced my mother to excise the Large Marge scene from our taped-off-TV copy of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure because it scared me too much), so I did not grow up watching midnight movies or gore fests at the drive-in. If I had, though, I think that I might have liked Slither much more than I did. It’s derivative, but not self-referential like Cabin Fever (which I just didn’t dig). It’s high-spirited, but genuinely frightening. It’s gory, but it’s a stylized gore.
Like many horror films Slither skews puritanical. A bathtub scene with a blood-sucking alien slug resembles nothing more than a sperm en route to an egg, and the slug’s subsequent attempt to swim down the throat of the teen bathing beauty (Tania Saulnier) clearly, clearly invokes fellatio. But at this point that’s part and parcel of the form, and it is complicated enough (the bathing beauty, for instance, survives) that it’s not problematic.
But enough of that. What I really want to talk about is Nathan Fillion’s star-turn as Chief of Police Bill Pardy. Pardy is essentially the same character as Fillion’s Malcolm Reynolds from the television series Firefly and the film Serenity. This is good news for those of us who were aficionados of both. Fillion is a latter day Gary Cooper. There is a bedrock of authority and competence under his quiet, liltingly “aw shucks” delivery. These characters are decisive but democratic, competent but modest, simultaneously cold and warm. I note with dismay that Fillion is currently filming White Noise 2. Won’t someone cast this man in a real film?
I’ve been thinking about the two recent articles in Newsweek (Devin Gordon’s “Horror Movies: U.S. Audiences Hungry for Blood” and David Ansen’s “Bloody Good Flicks”) about what The IFC Blog calls “the new horror wave.” Films like Slither remind me how little I know about my own body. Gordon writes, “It’s practically a cliché that you can tease out a generation’s subconscious fears just by watching its horror movies.”
Well, what kinds of fears might this generation have? AIDS is a wasting disease. Ebola and anthrax are much faster wasting diseases. Every bump, scrape, bruise might portend the beginning of the end, might be the first sign that our body is about to turn against us. Perhaps that’s what all this dismemberment and dissection is about – we’re taking ourselves apart to see how we work.