Dir: James Gunn. US. 2006. 94mins.

A loving homage to B-movie horror films, James Gunn'sSlither supplies gross-out scares aswell as some self-mocking humour. But while the filmwill please genre fans, others may find the presentation over-familiar.

Slither opens on March 31 in the US - following its appearance at the SXSW FilmFestival in Austin - before working its way across Europe and otherterritories. The R rating at home will doubtless hurt its chances with youngerteen males, who would seem an ideal target for its sci-fi/horrormixture, although prospects look decent given the relative lack of similar fareat this time of year.

With neithermajor stars nor an established brand name (which the Dawn Of The Dead remake, written by Gunn, enjoyed), returns might mirrorthe box-office of another tongue-in-cheek horror offering, Shaun Of The Dead, which grossed $13.5m domestically and $15.5 overseasbut did much better on ancillary.

Debut directorJames Gunn, who also wrote the Scooby-Doo films, opens Slitheron an ominous note as a meteor crash-lands into the woods outside Wheelsy, a sleepy Southern town.

An alien parasiteembedded in the rock soon implants itself into local Grant (Rooker),turning him into its personal base of operations to begin the overthrow ofEarth. Only Bill (Nathan Fillion), Wheelsy's police chief, can stop the alien, which quicklyturns the townspeople into zombies lusting for human flesh.

After a slow,drawn-out opening - during which we are introduced to Bill, Grant and Grant'spretty wife Starla (Banks), object of Bill's crush - Slither finds its rhythm. The alien sendsout slimy sentinels to enter humans and control their minds, before an almostmerciless series of zombie attacks, desperate getaways and gut-wrenching shotsof disgusting mutant blobs and creepy slug creatures.

With ample good humour, Gunn's script treats this battle between man andextra-terrestrial with drive-in movie playfulness. From his portrayal of thetownsfolk as goofy country hicks to his cheerful enthusiasm for his scarescenes' copious amounts of gore, Gunn wants the audience to relish the horrorconventions as much as he does.

Despite Gunn'sadoration for the cheesiness of monster movies' cheap effects and woodencharacters, he does take the conventions seriously enough so that Slither never slides into stale parody.

But although hedoes hit all the right story beats, Slitherdoes not offer many surprises and Gunn seems happier recycling zombie-moviecliches than bringing anything new to them. Also, by attempting to be bothfrightening and funny, the feature falls into an unsatisfying middle ground.

Thankfully, theterrifically understated Nathan Fillion does greatwork as the stone-jawed lawman who must save his cityand finally win the girl of his dreams. Much as he did on Joss Whedon's cult TV show Firefly- and its feature spin-off Serenity -he subverts the standard hero archetypes, offering a sly wink to the audiencewithout coming across as smug or bored. For fans of Sam Raimi'sEvil Dead trilogy, he fits the BruceCampbell mould quite nicely, ironic and dashing at the same time.

Fillion's perfect comic timing, not to mention hisability to anchor the few moments of tenderness, make you wish that Gunn hadbeen willing to craft a more memorable plot for his protagonist instead ofsimply orchestrating a diverting romp through familiar formulas.

Strike Entertainment
Gold Circle Films
Universal Pictures

US distribution
Universal Pictures


Marc Abraham
Thomas A Bliss
Norm Waitt
Scott Niemeyer

Paul Brooks
Eric Newman

James Gunn

Gregory Middleton

John Axelrad

Production design
Andrew Neskoromny

Tyler Bates

Main cast
Nathan Fillion
Elizabeth Banks
Gregg Henry
Michael Rooker
Tania Saulnier
Brenda James
Don Thompson