The Daily Stream: Slither Is The Alien Horror-Romance That Invaded My Heart

The Movie: "Slither"

Where You Can Stream It: STARZ

The Pitch: Before he was making big-budget blockbusters like "The Suicide Squad" and "Guardians of the Galaxy," writer and director James Gunn made a couple of smaller, personal films that reflected his beginnings working at shock exploitation movie studio Troma. His directorial debut in film was 2006's "Slither," a romantic horror-comedy about an invading alien life-form that possesses and transforms its hosts in order to take over the town of Wheelsy, South Carolina. The alien's first host is Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), who stumbles upon it in the forest while on a walk with Brenda, a woman he picked up at a bar (played by Brenda James). Grant is going through some marriage troubles with his wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks), a local schoolteacher who married him when they were young because he's the richest man in town and she grew up extremely poor. The two just don't feel a spark anymore, and Starla's long-held crush on her high school sweetheart, Sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), isn't helping things. The morning after Grant and the alien merge, Starla tries to make up for a fight the previous night with sex. The alien, who has never felt love before, discovers affection for Starla, and then things start getting really weird. Before long most of the town are alien-possessed zombies and a handful of survivors have to try to stop Grant before he takes over more than just sleepy Wheelsy. Is Starla's love enough to tame the extraterrestrial monster, or will everyone eventually be part worm?

Why It's Essential Viewing

I'm a sucker for really unconventional romances, and "Slither" is one of the strangest of them all. Sure, there's an alien invasion and a whole town turned into worm-zombies, but the main conflict at the heart of "Slither" is the crumbling marriage of Grant and Starla. Much like the rest of Gunn's work, "Slither" is a character-driven ensemble story that just happens to take place during a potential intergalactic catastrophe. The Grant alien is a lot like Starro, and can communicate through any of his possessed posse, who try to convince Starla that he just wants to talk after she discovers his basement nest made of animal corpses and is understandably freaked. Grant has more to apologize for than a few dead neighborhood dogs and raccoons, though, including cheating on Starla with Brenda as both Grant and Alien Grant. While Starla is out dancing with Bill at the local bar for a start of deer season celebration, Alien Grant impregnates Brenda with worm babies, leading to one of the film's most memorable (and disgusting) scenes, in which Brenda blows up like a giant balloon full of worms. 

"Slither" is a twisted twist on the beauty and the beast trope that even sees Starla dressed like Fay Wray in "King Kong" for her climactic confrontation with her possessed partner. While Grant may not have been the man of her dreams, there was some kind of love between him and Starla, and that love teaches an extinction-happy extraterrestrial something other than hatred and hunger. Bill and Starla's love for one another is similarly inspiring, forcing them to do insane things in the name of protecting one another. They have the bond of their lifelong friendship and a shared longing that's been there for years — we find out that Starla asked Bill to run away with her to Hollywood when they were teens and he talked her out of it. If he hadn't, maybe they would have been off together somewhere, having a happy life. The only problem is that Starla wouldn't have been around to romance the alien, and it might have taken over the entire planet. Love is messy, folks. 

On top of being a perfect Valentine's Day watch, "Slither" is just a lot of fun. There are some incredible practical special effects, some deliciously disgusting gross-out moments, and loads of quotable dialogue. Basically, it has everything you know and love about James Gunn's oeuvre, including some next-level needle-drops. (Air Supply's "Every Woman in the World" gets a lot of play, and it's perfect.) In addition to Fillion, Banks, and Rooker, who are all clearly having a blast, the rest of the stellar cast includes Jenna Fischer ("The Office") as Bill's secretary, Gregg Henry ("Payback") as the foul-mouthed mayor who loves Mr. Pibb, and Tania Saulnier ("Cheaters") as Kylie, a local teen who helps Bill and Starla survive. Gunn makes a cameo as one of Starla's fellow schoolteachers, and even Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman shows up for a brief cameo as an unruly drunk. If you've ever wanted to see where Gunn's greatness all began, "Slither" is a great place to start. It's riotously funny, gleefully gross, and has a whole lotta heart.