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Snakes in a Bathtub 

The poster is a lie: There aren't dozens of dreadful little red squirmy creatures parading into a bathtub in the film. There's only one. The preview trailer is very misleading: Those same creatures, which seem to be at the center of the plot, don't even make an appearance till the 50-minute mark (of this 90-minute film).

But anyone who's a fan of that peculiar genre known as horror-comedy is not going to want to miss this one. It's easily the best blend of high comedy and full-out horror since Evil Dead 2.

This is one of those small-town movies where nothing much happens. The cops are bored, the mayor likes to hear himself talk, a flaming asteroid comes tumbling down from space and lands in the woods.

Well, OK, now there's something.

And it's a signal that writer-director James Gunn is unafraid to borrow an idea (or two, or three) and make them his own. The whole beginning is right out of The Blob, including the film's first victim poking a slimy alien creature with a stick. Later on, the small town is teeming with lurching zombies a la Night of the Living Dead. And the film's gore content and ickiness quotient make it very similar to almost every film made at Troma, the company that gave us The Toxic Avenger. So it's no surprise to find out that Gunn has spent some filmmaking time at that company, or that one of the characters in this film is watching Toxic on TV. Look closely in a crowded police station sequence, and you'll see Lloyd Kaufman, president and head director of Troma, sitting around looking goofy.

Nothing is to be taken seriously in this ridiculous, disgusting and very funny movie. The guy in the woods with the stick is named Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), and if his name isn't odd enough, wait till you see what happens when the squishy thing he pokes attacks him. He, ummm, changes. He develops a special interest in raw meat. In fact, the word "meat" becomes his mantra. He gets the sweats, he starts shaking and, oh yeah, a couple of tentacles come squirming out of his torso, ever ready to attack some innocent victim. Do you think they'll attack the attractive but sleazy Brenda, who comes on to Grant after his wife develops a headache one night?

But enough with Grant Grant (for now). The town's new police chief Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) wants to know 1) why dogs are disappearing, and 2) why pieces of dogs are being found. He and the loud, demanding, foul-mouthed, crass, full-of-himself mayor (beautifully overacted by Gregg Henry, who gives one of the most un-PC performances in years) want to know what the hell is with Grant's right arm. Oops, we're back to Grant.

It's safe to say that the film eventually develops a kind of tentacle-in-cheek sense of humor. They're everywhere, as are victims who, upon contact with the thing that Grant has become, join him in spirit and mind -- they literally become him.

And then there are those little red creatures, and they're fast little buggers. They scurry more than they slither, but "Scurry" wouldn't be a very scary name for a horror movie. They indirectly come from Grant, who somehow has impregnated one of his victims with them. By the time they're released among the general public -- where they do icky things -- Grant has become known to the posse hunting him as the Squid Man, and you don't want to mess with him, er, it.

For the record, they are terrifically realized creatures. In a film that couldn't have much of a budget to begin with, these things are very impressive-looking.

And everyone acting in it gives it whatever they've got. Many of the background people are reduced to walking around with bloodied faces and clothing, exaggerated limps and one word of dialogue: "Meat." But Fillion, who exuded square-jawed humor in Serenity and put a comic spin on a tough guy image in Blast from the Past plays the chief with a cool and calm earnestness. And Henry is simply hilarious as the out-of-control mayor.

But you won't have much time to appreciate the acting in Slither, though. You'll be too busy laughing, screaming and spilling popcorn onto the person next to you.

Slither; Rated: R; Written and directed by James Gunn; Starring Michael Rooker, Nathon Fillion

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