When the trailer for Slither came out, Internet boards about the movie suddenly lit up with protests from a legion of fans of the 1986 film Night of the Creeps. “Alien slugs that turn people into zombies!” they cried. “What a rip-off!”
I bring this up not because I think Slither–which is a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of at least a dozen ’80s horror films–could really be considered a rip-off of any one of them. I bring this up because, c’mon, who knew Night of the Creeps had a legion of fans? It hasn’t even been released on DVD! I also bring it up because people made so much noise about this supposed slugjacking that it got back to Slither‘s director, James Gunn, who defended his film by saying he never saw Night of the Creeps until after his movie was made. He said his main inspiration was David Cronenberg’s first film, 1975’s Shivers. Still, Creeps lovers were not buying it. It’s tough for any cult-movie fan when an underdog film that you feel never got its due appears to be looted by a bigger-budget Hollywood movie. But it’s only fair to give the three films some attempt at an impartial comparison.
‘Shivers’ Also known as They Came from Within, the vibe of this movie about outbreak in a high-rise apartment building can only be described as “’70s swank.” Though it starts strong with a brainy and fascinating premise (this is surely the only horror movie to have a subplot about organ-transplant-research underwriting), its static camerawork and amateurish acting make it one of a great director’s least enduring efforts. No aliens or real zombies; the slugs are man-made parasites that make people horny and violent. There’s a scene that pays tribute to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and a cool ending that will keep you from ever fantasizing about orgies again.
‘Night of the Creeps’ The funny thing is that writer-director Fred Dekker’s odd, almost cute little movie is itself a bit of an homage to Shivers; the main kid’s love interest is named “Cynthia Cronenberg,” in case anyone missed the connection. Other than that, it’s pretty much Revenge of the Nerds with zombies, a weird idea that probably explains why it was a flop even for a low-budget horror film when it first came out, but also helps explain why it seems to have found a following years later. The slugs come from outer space, and there’s no sexually-transmitted-disease angle. This also has a Night of the Living Dead tribute, set in a tool shed.
‘Slither’ Remarkably, the best of the three films. Definitely not a remake of Night of the Creeps, but it does have some parallels: It starts in outer space, then moves to an alien meteorite scene, has a similarly jokey tone and, of course, there are the slugs in the brain. If you really want to see where Slither came from, though, see Shivers, Basket Case (1982), Return of the Alien’s Deadly Spawn (1983), Xtro (1983) and Society (1989). Actually, if you like ’80s creepozoid movies, you should see all of those anyway. Slither doesn’t even become a zombie movie until the second half. Gunn (who also directed the Dawn of the Dead remake) puts an original spin on the goop-monster concept, delivers a lot of hilarious lines and even tops Cronenberg’s orgy ending.
The main thing all three of these movies in question share is the passing of the slug creatures from mouth to mouth. It’s a powerful image that originated with Cronenberg, and has been swiped for several mainstream flicks. In fact, Dan O’Bannon admits he saw Shivers before writing Alien, and Cronenberg thinks his own film was a huge influence on Ridley Scott’s classic. If you’ve gotta complain about alien-parasite rip-offs, that would probably be the best place to start.
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