Monday, April 02, 2007

Close But No Cigar

2 Weeks? Has it really been more than 2 weeks since my last blog post? Of course, I'm being facetious; no one is more aware of how long it's been since my last post than me. It bothers me daily that I haven't updated this thing, and I wish I had a good excuse for my absence. I haven't been too busy at work, I haven't been ill, depressed, or otherwise preoccupied in a way that would interrupt my writing habits, I just haven't been able to write anything. It may be due to the movie I've been attempting to write about; Slither. It's not that I don't have things to say about this film, I do. And it's not that I haven't tried, I have. I've tried almost daily to write about this film, and then my interest just shuts off and I can't continue. It's probably due to the fact that I'm a bit disappointed with this film, and I wish I could give a good reason as to why. My friend Karena(shout out to my homie in lock up, can I get a what what) suggested that I might actually be growing out of my love for silly, cheesy horror films. I can assure you this is categorically false, because silly, cheesy horror movies are something that I enjoy on a regular basis. Just, not really this one. Bear with me as I try to discover why that is.

As a concept, the 2006 horror movie Slither has a slightly convoluted genesis. It draws it's inspiration from the nastiness, craziness, and yes, fun of splatter flicks from the 80s, which themselves drew much of their inspiration of sci-fi/horror flicks from he 50's and early 60's. Go back and take a look, and you'll see that films like Night of the Creeps, Re-Animator and The Evil Dead seem to have much more in common with 50's horror films(with their exaggerated dialog and over the top dramatic punctuations) than they do with the much more recent and obvious progenitors like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the burgeoning slasher genre. And to give it credit, Slither realizes this debt, and pays homage to it by setting the proceedings in an anachronistically quaint Midwestern town that could have been stuck in a time warp the past 5 decades.

That's one of the things that Slither got right, and to give credit where credit is due, a lot of this film is a pretty spot-on homage, hitting most of the marks it aims for. The dialog is more in-line with the current Hollywood vogue for realism, but reaches some nice melodramatic highs("it's a conscious disease!") that recall some great B-Movies, and the score in particular is a great throwback. However, it doesn't quite hit the bulls eye on everything, when all is said and done. I think it has something to do with writer/director James Gunn's background as a writer/star/producer/slave for Troma studios. If you haven't seen a Troma film, well, I can't truly say whether you're lucky or culturally deprived. I myself have a fondness for The Toxic Avenger, but I can't really call any of their films good in a traditional sense. The films are pretty much typified by a 'throw it at a wall, see if it sticks' attitude, veering wildly from joke to joke, gore scene to gore scene in an attempt to offend as many people as possible, with little attention paid to things like plot, acting, or style. And I really do enjoy that sometimes, but for the most part I like things a little more... cohesive in my movies.

To be honest, I wasn't too thrilled with this film in theatres, and re-watching it last week only slightly raised my opinion. I still don't consider it to be a great film, but I was able to appreciate the ride a bit more the second time around. I'm still somewhat at a loss as to exactly why I don't really like this movie, especially since it seems perfect for me. I love this type of movie, and I'm always game for a good monster flick. Too much of today's horror is preoccupied with bland slasher films or knock offs of Asian flicks, so it's refreshing when someone does an honest-to-goodness monster movie. Still, this movie doesn't quite cut it with me, which is a bit of a mystery, since the film seems to do pretty much what it set out to do, and it is fairly enjoyable. I even tried watching the commentary in an attempt to determine what was lacking in the film.

The film throws a liberal amount of comedy into the proceedings, which, by and large, are fairly grim. In this aspect it attempts to be more American Werewolf in London than Scary Movie. The problem is, the non-comedic bits are highly disturbing, making the mix a little uneasy. Take the scene where the recently infected-by-alien-slugs Grant Grant impregnates Brenda, a realistically pitiful, white trash, stay-at-home mom. Brenda's depiction, the fact that it happens in front of her baby, and the overall atmosphere of this scene, draw the disturbing elements out of the field of horror and into the realm of drama. That's not always a bad thing, but it is upsetting to see such a graphic rape scene treated so lightly. But is that enough to make me dislike the entire movie? It's certainly not as upsetting as any of David Cronenberg's films, and I'm a huge fan of most of those.

The main similarity here would be the uncomfortable sexually deviant undertones(and, often, overtones) prevalent in Cronenberg's horror films, most importantly(for our purposes), Shivers. The sexuality and overall unease in that film are light years beyond anything in Slither, so that alone can't be the reason I don't like it. But then again, James Gunn is no David Cronenberg. Cronenberg is pretty much a genius when it comes to how sex is dealt with in his films, making the sexuality such an integral part of the story that it doesn't seem exploitative even in it's most explicit forms. Take A History of Violence, the sex scenes of which leave quite an impression in a very explicit, non-Hollywood way. However, these scenes aren't just fitting, but crucial; they provide a telling glimpse into the inner lives of these two people, and how they've changed throughout the movie. But I digress, we're talking about Slither here, and contrasted with the example I just gave, Slither comes off as crass and a bit unsure of itself. Comedy, horror or drama? James Gunn had the same problem with his remake of Dawn of the Dead(he wrote, but didn't direct). In the middle of an otherwise solid zombie film, there's a scene with a woman giving birth to a baby that may or may not be alive. It's a pretty distressing scene, and fairly effective, until it's ruined by a cheap joke that MAY have been more easily digestible had it not looked so cheesy. This serves as another example of not knowing how to meld tones.

Coming after what I've just explained, the following complaint is going to seem very hypocritical; I don't think Slither goes far enough. The level Slither is trying to reach is a very sick, disgusting, and outrageous one. And I will admit that there's some pretty enjoyably nauseating stuff in there, but when you compare it to Society, Re-Animator, or any of the other splatter films this one tries to evoke, Slither comes off as the most hardcore PG-13 horror movie ever. It feels too slick in it's presentation(however uneven the tone), it doesn't capture the insanity inherent in most of the films it emulates. Slither feels a bit reigned in, as if Mr. Gunn, outside of the protective umbrella afforded by Troma, didn't trust the audience to go along with whatever sick thought entered his mind.

I guess my complaints are a bit vague, and seem a bit unformed to my own eyes, and I suppose I could spend another two weeks trying to pin this down, but really, who cares? In the end my main problem with this movie is probably one I try to avoid; that of expectations. I always try to enter the theatre fresh; I may hype a movie up before I see it, but once those lights go down I'm ready for whatever the filmmaker chooses to throw at me. In this case I guess I couldn't avoid it. It's a genre I love, from a filmmaker who's work showed promise, and the film was promising to go all out in it's attempts to disgust and amuse you, but in the end it was unfortunately middle of the road. I can't say this is a bad movie, and by all means you should go and check it out, it's worth it, but it's not something I think will find a lasting place in my collection.

One of the better sight gags in the movie.

The use of prosthetics, not CGI, is very much appreciated.