If you've ever wondered what a Troma film would look like if it had a big budget and real actors, check out James Gunn's gross-out creepfest Slither. A Z-movie veteran, Gunn broke into Hollywood as a writer, penning both Scooby-Doo movies and the Dawn of the Dead remake.

Stepping into the director's chair for the first time, Gunn returns to his roots to deliver an entertaining mash-up of various popcorn horror flicks. If you're a fan of John Carpenter's The Thing, the original version of The Blob or Tremors, you'll love this homage to schlock cinema. Mixed in with all the cheesy guts and gore are plenty of laughs and some surprisingly good performances from the cast of B-list actors.

A meteor lands near a small Southern town, and when local bigwig Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), sexually rejected by his wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks), ties one on at the local bar and stumbles into the woods, he's stung by a slimy extraterrestrial. It isn't long before his body starts to mutate and a ravenous craving for meat sets in. Possessed by an ancient alien organism, he impregnates his neighbors with slug-like beasties, turning them into flesh-eating zombies. Still, beneath his oozy exterior beats the heart of an adoring husband. Desperate to reclaim his wife, he must fight off Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), the town's sheriff. Carnage and mayhem ensue.

What elevates Slither above its lowbrow predilections is a sly sense of irony. Rooker and Banks get past the silliness of their situation to sell their girl-loses-boy-to-alien-mutation love story. Fillion has an uncanny ability to play the straight-faced hero while mining the ridiculous for a perfectly timed one-liner. Gregg Henry rounds out the cast with a scene-stealing performance as the town's shithead mayor.

While Gunn throws in plenty of laughs (the name of the high school sports team is the Cooters), his main goal is to gross you out. From bursting bodies to a basement filled with dismembered pets to a character split open like an oyster, Slither is all about the splatter. The mixture of elaborate makeup and CGI effects create a triumph in disgusting stickiness.

Surprisingly, Hollywood makes very few movies like this anymore. The last few years have seen an avalanche of J-horror imitators and sadistic torture films, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before the goofy, grisly '80s got tapped.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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