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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment

March 10, 2006

Old school horror camp meets modern movie magic in Slither, a gory sci-fi comedy full of sick, twisted, gruesome fun. When a relentless extraterrestrial force infects redundantly-named local Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), the sleepy little town of Wheelsy becomes ground zero for a squirmy and squishy alien invasion. It's suddenly up to Grant's wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks), hapless Chief of Police Bill Pardy (Serenity's Nathan Fillion), and a profane and angry mayor (Gregg Henry) to battle the insane threat.

Written and directed by James Gunn (2004's Dawn of the Dead remake), Slither delivers a raucous barrage of laughs and gasps. In this interview, James, Elizabeth, Nathan, Michael, and Gregg all get together to discuss working on this entertaining flick that echoes the fun of horror yesteryear.

The Interview

MEDIA: James, did you enjoy getting to create your own monsters and "set of rules" about them?

JAMES: Yeah. I had to map out the whole biology of the creature, which I did pretty early on. But I still think it's something that only I understand. [laughs] In fact, Elizabeth used to make fun of me on set all the time, because I'm like, "No, you can't do that because the guy doesn't think that because he doesn't have that knowledge because he's got this guy's brain, he doesn't have this guy's brain, and you don't know that." And [she's] like, "This only makes sense to you."

ELIZABETH: [laughs] I know! But then he gave me an entire exposition line about [how] the disease is conscious, or has a consciousness, or has a conscience...I still don't think it makes any sense, even in the movie!

What were some of Slither's influences?

JAMES: Well, the biggest single influence would be Cronenberg, who I grew up with, loving his movies. And one of the things I like about Cronenberg [is that] his movies aren't always scary, but they're creepy as hell. And so I just wanted to bring some of that creepiness back. And then movies like The Fly are actually quite humorous, and the characters are great...So it's Cronenberg and then all those movies of the '80s--you know, Re-Animator, Basket Case, all Frank Henenlotter's films...the movies of John Carpenter. The Thing was a huge, huge influence. And then also, in some ways, the movies of the '30s and '40s, the Universal horror films, because they were movies in which the monster had a heart and he was in love. And it was a creature from the Black Lagoon, or Frankenstein and his bride. And that's what Grant Grant is. He's really in that tradition of Universal horror creatures that are destroyed because they love, which I think is sort of the message of the movie. "If you love, you will be destroyed."

MICHAEL: If you love enough. If you can't give it up...That was definitely the through-line. I mean, when I first read it, I thought, "You know what? This is a really wonderful love story." And if you know anything about my career, you know this is as close as I'm ever f*cking going to get to a love story!

JAMES: You kiss two girls! Nobody gets to kiss a girl in the movie except for you! You kiss two!

MICHAEL: I know! I kiss two and I don't even kill them! Well, the one...

ELIZABETH: One you kill.

Michael, what was it like dealing with the extensive makeup?

MICHAEL: Well, I didn't have to do it every morning. They gave me a break. They really scheduled it quite well. I was very pleased by that. But there were some times when I got in about four hours, five hours before any of these other schmucks even cracked an eyelid. And I'm there literally in the middle of the night. It's like 3:00 a.m. and I'm all coming in there, and I sit down, and we're working for five hours before anybody else gets on set. [laughs] It could be rough...But we had varying levels of the makeup, and some of them weren't so bad. Taking it off ended up being the worst part, because if you go too fast, it'll rip your skin off, and you go too slow, you're like, "Come on! I want to get the hell out of here!"

JAMES: But he put up with a lot of pain. I mean...He's truly amazing because not too many people would have put up with what he had to put up with. He really deserves props.

ELIZABETH: Very impressive professionalism.

MICHAEL: It was a little bit painful at times. My neck hurt a little bit...My shoulder was dislocated because I had to hold the arm back all day long when I had to swing the prosthetic arm around, and I swung my shoulder out of place. [laughs] One time I went so hard that I heard something go [crack], and I broke my shoulder.

JAMES: He worked for another four hours after that!

MICHAEL: But it's all better. I can do all kinds of stuff with it now.

How much of the comedy was scripted, and how much was improvised by the actors?

NATHAN: Whatever you liked and thought was the funniest, those were mine.

MICHAEL: And I wrote them for him!

JAMES: You know, most of the lines are scripted, but there is quite a bit of improv. And then there was quite a bit of stuff where we would do back and forth on set...Nathan and I did this a lot, where we would yell lines back and forth. Like when he's looking at the monster and he goes, "That is some f*cked up sh*t," you can hear me two seconds beforehand saying that because it was something that we had thought of. A lot of those lines we would just make up. And so we would do what was scripted, and then we would kind of throw out a bunch of other ideas. "Fell off my d*ck during the war"...I told that actor to say that like five minutes before we were shooting. He didn't have a line in the movie, either, so he was really happy!

ELIZABETH: [laughs] It's a great line.

MICHAEL: It really fit him very well.

ELIZABETH: A lot of it is also just...You get there, and suddenly you have a visual, and you have a situation, and you just have a lot more information. So you can discover something really fun to say.

GREGG: Almost all of my lines are written. Almost every one.

MICHAEL: You had the best lines!

GREGG: I have some great lines, and they're all scripted. It's all James.

ELIZABETH: Yeah. James Gunn...funny man.

How did you feel about the audience reaction to the film at last night's screening?

MICHAEL: Oh, I thought it was great, man!...I heard a lot of hoots and hollers and screams and laughter, and I saw some eye-covering.

NATHAN: My mom...

JAMES: I got to sit behind Nathan's mom, and she was hilarious. All I did was watch her the whole time. She was so scared, I was seriously afraid...

NATHAN: Me, too! I'm thinking, "Man, she's going to drop dead from a heart attack." She wasn't feeling well earlier in the day. She said she was light-headed. So every time something scary was coming up, I'd squeeze her hand and say, "Okay, here comes one. Something's going to drop down and fall in front of her face." And actually, I got scared one time. I jumped. I felt like an ass--it was during one of my scenes!

MICHAEL: When did you jump?

NATHAN: When the deer moves in front...

MICHAEL: That's when I jump, every single time!

James, what was your experience with the MPAA regarding Slither's gore and violence?

JAMES: My experience was very good because we didn't have any problems with them. [Writer/director] Eli Roth, who's a friend and a great guy, gave the MPAA Hostel right before we gave them this movie, and I'm eternally grateful...Because if you watch the actual amount of gore, we actually have more gore. But because we're more surreal, we get away with a lot more.

What kind of extra material should we expect on the DVD?

JAMES: [jokes] We have ton and tons of extra material because I tried to cut Rooker out of the film as much as I possibly could. So we have tons of Rooker scenes.

Elizabeth, of all the disgusting things you had to put up with in this movie, is there something that really stands out?

ELIZABETH: [jokes, deadpan] Rooker.

JAMES: [laughs]

MICHAEL: You know what? You forced me to step into this!

JAMES: [to Elizabeth] You got scraped up a couple times.

ELIZABETH: Yeah. [laughs] We shot this movie at night in the winter in Vancouver, and it rained all the time and it was freezing. And somehow...it was so much fun. It was just a great environment to work in. So it really didn't matter what was being thrown at me or the KY Jelly that was being smeared on me. My main thing, to be honest with you, is I had to walk around on that set with bare feet. And I was very nervous about having bare feet because the whole floor was covered in fake glass and wood and blood and splinters. My feet would just be caked with a whole layer of things on the bottom for days.

MICHAEL: That was intentional! That was for your protection!

ELIZABETH: It did actually protect my feet after a while. [But] that was my main concern--ripping up the bottom of my feet.

What do you think of the potential for life on other planets?

JAMES: You know, they talk about life being created in water, and that's where life originally came from on this planet. But they're [saying] now that there was water on Mars many millions of years ago, and that probably if life is created in water, life was initially created on Mars, which could have...

NATHAN: [laughs]

ELIZABETH: [laughs]

NATHAN: Here he goes again!

JAMES: ...which could have gotten stuck to a meteor [that came to] earth. And so we are, in fact, all Martians. And I love that [theory] because, as a little kid, I used to draw Martians all the time. I love the fact that I might be a Martian.

MICHAEL: Is a Martian an alien?


JAMES: Yeah!

ELIZABETH: All Martians are aliens, not all aliens are Martians.

Anyone else believe in the possibility of extraterrestrial life?

ELIZABETH: [laughs] I have no idea. I'm open to it. Sure.

NATHAN: Yeah, I say, for real, it's out there. The odds of it not happening more than once...

ELIZABETH: That's what I think. I love science, and to me, the odds are...

GREGG: Something's out there.

MICHAEL: Oh God, yeah.

GREGG: [Whether] they've been here yet or not, I don't know.

MICHAEL: My cousin Earl is a Martian. You talked to him...As you know, he's an alien. I mean, he truly is. He's got the accent to prove it, and he has a ray gun. He carries it with him all the time.

JAMES: Oh, Rooker, you're crazy.

Nathan, how would you say your anti-hero characters Malcolm Reynolds in Serenity and Bill Pardy in Slither compare to each other?

NATHAN: Malcolm Reynolds was the kind of hero who didn't want to be a hero. He kind of refused that role and was kind of thrust into it. But Malcolm Reynolds had seen enough and experienced enough that he could handle that kind of stuff. Bill Pardy, I don't think could handle regular police work, never mind these extreme circumstances. He's not only irresponsible, he's not only a little lazy and ill-prepared, he's just...He's calm. He's a calm guy. And through the movie, he's really just, "Let me think a second, let me just stay calm. Just give me a..." He's trying to hold on and he's trying to do it in front of the girl he's got the big crush on. He's trying not to look stupid in front of the girl all the time. It just doesn't happen for him. He's not the cool guy. That's what I love about him--he's a real person.

JAMES: Yeah, I think Bill has dealt with a life in which the bar has been extremely low for him. [laughs] And so suddenly the bar is much higher...But I mean, he's excelled. He's Chief of Police. But it's only because everybody around him is just [worse].

ELIZABETH: Yeah, Chief of Police of Wheelsy isn't saying much! [laughs]

Elizabeth, will your Spider-Man character Betty Brant have a bigger role in the third installment?

ELIZABETH: You know, I learned my lesson a long time ago that everything can be cut. So I don't know.

JAMES: [to Elizabeth] Tell them how you become Venom.

ELIZABETH: Yeah...exactly. I'm actually Venom.

JAMES: What? Was I supposed to say that?

MICHAEL: Oh, sh*t!

ELIZABETH: Start spreading the rumors, kids!

What are some of your favorite horror movies? Have any had a profound impact on you?

NATHAN: Jaws changed my life. I can't go into a pool by myself and be comfortable. It's ridiculous. I look for reasons to hate sharks.

ELIZABETH: For me, it was Poltergeist and clowns. I don't like anything under my bed. [laughs] [I also liked] Alien for the female ass-kicking.

GREGG: I'm a big Carrie fan. The end of that movie gets me every time. Every time.

ELIZABETH: Yeah, Carrie is a really good movie.

MICHAEL: I don't go to these things. I'm more of a musical guy. I like musicals. I don't really have any favorite horror movies at all. I remember a lot because they would drop me off at the theater and make me watch them and not pick me up until they were over. And so I was forced to watch as a child, and it sort of affected me in some other weird ways I don't know. They're scary to me. I can't deal with them. I like "Climb Every Mountain" kind of things.

JAMES: Rooker, no one in this room knows if you're being serious. I've known you, I talk to you every day, [and] I have no idea what you're talking about.

ELIZABETH: I think he's saying he loves The Sound of Music.

JAMES: My actual favorite horror movie is Rosemary's Baby.

ELIZABETH: Oh, me too...That's one of my [favorites].

MICHAEL: I love those slow tracks down the hallway. Awesome!

ELIZABETH: Yeah. The tension is amazing.

MICHAEL: Hardwood floors, bare feet...

ELIZABETH: And the environment!

So can we expect a Slither sequel?

JAMES: I don't know.

GREGG: [referring to his character's fate] I'd prefer a prequel!

Related Material

Movie Coverage: Slither


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