Ink & Pixel: Slither

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I’m always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has been granted permission to broaden its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy genres. I hope that you enjoy this bold new direction for the column. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

The year was 1895, and inside the walls of Edison Laboratories - located in West Orange, New Jersey, USA - a man by the name of Alfred Clarke was shooting what would come to be known as the first cinematic special effect for his film THE EXECUTION OF MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS. Now, since special effects were then an entirely foreign concept, audience members who came to view the silent, black and white picture were left feeling aghast upon viewing the film's reproduction of Mary's famed beheading.

The idea of special effects was, at the time, so inconceivable that some folks left the theater with the impression that a woman willingly gave her life for the filming of that scene. Little did moviegoers know that Clarke would be just the first in a long line of visionaries to fool his audience into seeing something on screen that wasn't quite what it appeared to be.

Today, we've got specialized computer programs, green screens, digital effects makeup artists, puppeteers, and thoroughly trained demolitions experts to execute and deliver our movie magic. In fact, some of these filmmakers have gotten so good at what they do that often times it's difficult to tell the difference between real and CGI generated sets and effects. Here's the thing, though: as a special effects engineer, you'd better be real good at what you do, because the moment it looks fake, we movie fans will call you out on it. This is not a joke. The moment your creature, landscape, or clone loses quality, or doesn't look like it's actually there, the audience can experience what is commonly referred to as a “disconnect”, and suddenly all of your effort and hard work is for naught.

The fear of this disconnect is largely responsible for motivating James Gunn and his team of effects artists and engineers to make their film SLITHER feel like a blast from the special effects past. Using the state of the art technology that we have available to us now - in conjunction with the methods of puppetry, monster makeup, practical effects, and gallons upon gallons of blood - SLITHER weaved its way into our science fiction and horror loving hearts, one blood-colored slug at a time.

Released in the year 2006, the science fiction-horror-comedy SLITHER was filmmaker James Gunn's directorial debut. Known as the man behind the camera for the dark and off-beat super hero film, SUPER, and most recently Marvel's next money making juggernaut, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, Gunn is a brand new visionary in the land of big budget Hollywood. My prediction is that - after GOTG hits theaters - everyone will know his name and want him for their next big picture. That said, everyone's got to start somewhere, right?

Fun Fact: Before SLITHER, Gunn could be found cutting his teeth in the film making business by running with Llyod Kaufman and his family of imaginatively wacky creators of D-movie's elite - Tromaville Pictures. Who are they? Oh man! Well, they're the production company responsible for such unforgettable shock and gore pictures as THE TOXIC AVENGER, NUKE EM' HIGH, POULTRYGEIST, and so many more. If you ask me, this all makes perfect sense. Tromaville was the the perfect springboard for a director such as Gunn. Let's dig a bit deeper into SLITHER to find out why, shall we?

Produced by Paul Brooks, Eric Newman, and Thomas Bliss, and written and directed by James Gunn, SLITHER features a classic sci-fi horror set up that presents a story featuring alien parasites, invasion, and all things terrible and strange. The film begins when the character of Grant (Michael Rooker) - a local used car salesman residing in the state of Wheelsy, South Carolina - is attacked and infected by an alien parasite able to absorb its host's consciousness and memories. Shortly thereafter, Grant's wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks), begins to suspect that all is not well with her husband as he starts to exhibit bizarre abrasions on his skin and becomes subject to erratic changes to his personality. Before long, the whole town of Wheelsy is under attack by an alarmingly increasing infestation of slug-like parasites, out to rule the planet by controlling the bodies of their human hosts, swelling their alien ranks one small town yokel at a time.

Sounds pretty dire, doesn't it? Well, the one thing these parasites didn't count on is the cunning and fortitude of Wheelsy's local (and often hilarious) police chief Bill Pardy, as portrayed by Nathan Fillion! Pardy, along with the few folk who have yet to become alien hosts and be absorbed into Grant's parasitic hive mind: Starla, Mayor Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry), and a teenage girl named Kylie (Tania Saulnier), must bring the fight for all of humankind to Grant's door and reclaim what is rightfully ours: our planet.

Yeah Steve, that's all great, but what about the effects, man? Okay, okay, Frankie says relax. Under the expertise of Visual Effects Supervisor John Gajdecki, Special Effects technician Todd Masters (ELYSIUM, RED STATE, FIDO), and the crew of MastersFX, the creature design process - in addition to extensive visual effects testing for SLITHER - began a whole 5 months before the film shot its first scene. Having this extra time allowed for the effects team to craft and fine tune the film's creatures and the effects said critters would have on the victims throughout the story. For starters, let's talk about the slugs for a moment, as they are the carriers of the alien infection that transform the citizens of Wheelsy into harbingers of death and disease.

The slugs you see in the film were made using a combination of practical effects, puppetry, animatronics, and CGI techniques. In the case of the “real” or practical slugs, the crew at MastersFX used a thermal gel to construct the creatures. As mentioned in the film's special features (which I highly recommend that you check out), the gel is “made of a strong and elastic material originally developed for the adult novelty industry”. First, each slug was outfitted with a remote controlled mechanism (imagine the spine of the creature was actually a series of tiny rods, screws, bolts, and electronics manipulated by a technician), this mechanism was then placed inside of a mold into which the gel is then applied/poured. After having been given the time to settle around the mechanism, the slug is then painted/dyed and ready for filming.

What's particularly awesome about this whole process is the manner in which the practical slugs are controlled. All of that wiring I mentioned just before is then linked to special suit worn by one of the film's effects masters. Using a series of hand gestures and body movements the technician is able to make the creature squirm, wriggle, and crawl in any number of directions, giving it a lifelike appearance that's easily captured and able to be used on screen with very little CGI necessary during post-production. Nearly 500 different prosthetic parasites were made for SLITHER, however, most of slugs you see on-screen are computer-generated.

Right on. So we've established that the slugs featured in SLITHER were pretty special, though perhaps it's the “Brenda Monster” that is by far the most unforgettable creature set piece of the film. In what is truly an unfortunate set of circumstances for the character of Brenda James (Brenda Gutierrez), this small town barmaid goes to bed, where she is begrudgingly “impregnated” by the already infected Grant – the result of which is almost unspeakable. Okay, scratch that, we'll talk about it. After being inseminated by Grant's unique brand of lovin', Brenda gradually balloons out to an impossible size, and ultimately finds that she's about to give birth to an escargatoire of alien slugs. It's all very gruesome, and the effects team did one hell of a job making it look believable – for something as absurd as what I've just described.

On set, the “Brenda Monster” stood at a total of 9-feet-tall and was precariously positioned over a lightweight, spring steel frame. Seeing as it was only the actress' face and upper body that was affixed with a series of prosthetic applications and makeup - while essentially being placed inside of a giant flesh-colored balloon – Ms. Gutierrez was able to lunge, shimmy, and gyrate without the use of special equipment. Positioned around Brenda was lead puppeteer Nicholas Podbrey and his team of effects technicians working a complicated series of levers, pressure gauges, and moving platforms to add to the appearance that her body was home to thousands of blood-colored alien slugs writhing about within her stretched, globe-like flesh.

Lastly, actor Micheal Rooker endured a 3-hour-long makeup application process to complete the look of his final form as the “Grant Monster”. The weight of the makeup is unclear, but it was speculated by Nathan Fillion himself that all of those prosthetics could have weighed up to 80lbs atop Rooker's head. Not only were additional actors incorporated into the growing mass of the "Grant Monster" (serving as the victims he'd absorbed throughout the course of the film), but also attached to this monstrosity were innumerable tentacles - both practical and CGI - to complete the look. If you ask me, the "Grant Monster" is one of the sickest movie monsters in recent history. For real, this is G-R-O-S-S, and yet beautiful in its complexity and execution.

Now, after everything we've learned here today, would you believe me when I tell you that SLITHER performed abysmally at the box office? I know, right?! Sadly, the film managed to wriggle away from theaters with only $12,834,936 of its $15 million dollar budget. However disappointing those numbers might be, I sill love the hell out of this film. It's got spunk, spirit, comedy, and balls, folks! You really don't see too many movies taking risks like this one did, and I applaud Gunn and everyone involved for making it happen. If you're a fan of gross-out horror, or perhaps you simply love yourself some Nathan Fillion, I highly recommend this gory, slug-infested, science fiction adventure filled with blood, hostile parasitic alien takeover, and oh yeah, a whole lot more blood! Cheers!

Extra Tidbit: Three hundred gallons of methylcellulose slime was used during the making of SLITHER.
Source: joblo.com



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