Why Aren't Audiences Dying To See "Slither"?
I just don't get it. What the heck is wrong with people?!? Moviegoers complain there's nothing new out there and the constant barrage of remakes are just blatant attempts to separate audiences from their money - I know I've said that at least once or twice. Horror fans, in particular, shudder at the thought of their classics being remade. I am definitely one of these people.
Fine. Good. Great. So why aren't these same people going to see "Slither"?!? I just don't get it. Here we have a "big" movie that tries to be "different" and it makes a measly $3.8 million its opening weekend. This is especially confounding when just a few weeks earlier the lame remake of the classic "When A Stranger Calls" opened with $21.6 million. Why? There were probably 30 people total in the theater with me when I saw it opening weekend. Sure, it was a congenial crowd - more like watching a video with a group of friends - but I knew then and there that it wouldn't bode well for the movie's box office numbers.
Despite getting consistently high ratings on review megasites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic (one of the "best-reviewed horror movies in years" according to The Hollywood Reporter), audiences just aren't taking the space-slug bait.
I get why people who don't like horror films wouldn't go see it. It's gory, gooey, goopy and gross. It's filled with more than 27,000 alien slug parasite things, a mutating alien overlord and hordes of zombies. My friends who don't like gore-horror would never go see this - and they shouldn't.
So what about all those folks who like that stuff? There's a whole lot of us out here! Horror movies are doing better and better at the box office all the time. Audiences are tired of the same old hackneyed romantic comedies and sports hero/team-saves-the-day drivel. They're looking for a little more bang for their buck. Thank god. It's about time.
Then we're back to the original question of why even horror fans aren't streaming into theaters. Is Nathan Fillion cursed? Doomed to a life of canceled TV series and disappointing box office numbers? No way. If you've actually seen his work on Joss Whedon's "Firefly" and it's big screen follow-up "Serenity," his stint as the evil preacher Caleb on the last season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," or even his role on the series "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place," you'll know that his consistently excellent performances and subtle, spot-on delivery could ward off any bad mojo.
Is it the rest of the cast, then? Nope. We've got Michael Rooker ("Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer"), Elizabeth Banks ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin") and Gregg Henry (TV's "24"). All accomplished and solid actors.
Then what's the deal? The only "satisfying" answer I've found (meaning, one that makes any sense) is that modern audiences are very resistant to films that walk the line between horror and comedy. Think about it. "Shaun of the Dead" is well-loved by everyone now, but it only made $3.3 million its opening weekend and grossed a whopping $13.5 million in total domestic gross ($29 million worldwide). Home video is where it made its mark. Folks were more willing to pay a rental fee than the average $19.50 for a movie date night - $200 if you throw in popcorn and drink.
It hasn't always been this way. In 1981, John Landis scored big with "An American Werewolf in London," grossing a total of $30.5 million - solid numbers back then. In 1984, Joe Dante made a huge smash with "Gremlins," grossing $148 million and ranking 4th in top domestic gross for that year.
Now - more than twenty years later - what's happened? The tide seemed to turn in the late 80's. In 1990, "Tremors," opened to just $3.7 million and grossed $15.5 million domestically. In 1993, Sam Raimi's classic cult favorite "Army of Darkness," staring Bruce Campbell, opened to $4.4 million with a total domestic gross of $11.5 million. In 1996, Peter Jackson's "The Frighteners" opened with $5.5 million and grossed $16.7 million domestically. In 2002, "Eight Legged Freaks" had an opening weekend of only $6.5 million and a $17.3 million domestic gross. I could go on and on.
"Hard-core horror" director Eli Roth ("Cabin Fever" and "Hostel") hypothesized about the sluggish reception of "Slither." "Horror-comedies are a tough sell," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "There are core groups of fans that love them, but it seems like that the majority of people, when they want to go see a scary movie, they don't want to laugh, they just want to be straight up scared and horrified." Roth added that the negative responses he has received for his movies have mostly been directed at their humorous elements. One reason he made "Hostel" as hard-core as he did, he said, was that modern audiences seem to want to push themselves to see how much horror they can stand.
"Slither" is not scary in a "traditional" sense - hence the comedy part. It's bizarre and cheesy and plays on lots of themes you've seen in other horror flicks over the years. That's part of the fun (the great cast and all the gross bits make up the rest). At Fangoria's Chicago Weekend of Horrors convention just before the release of the film, writer/director James Gunn disclosed that many of his influences for "Slither" included the remakes of "The Fly" and "The Thing," along with "Re-Animator," "Basket Case" and particularly David Cronenberg's "Shivers" (a.k.a.) "They Came From Within." (He denied having seen or been influenced by the 1986 horror comedy "Night of the Creeps," though it's one of the first things I thought of when I saw the slimy slugs.)
Aside from its many laugh-out-loud moments (that make you feel so dirty & wrong), the film is also very satisfying to the "initiated" horror fan who is treated to a slew of obscure references to spot throughout the film. Two big cameos include Troma Entertainment king Lloyd Kaufman as "Sad Drunk" and Rob Zombie as the voice of Dr. Karl. In the background, look for things like Henenlotter's Saddle Ranch (a nod to the creator of "Basket Case") and the Earl Bassett Junior High School, where Starla teaches (named after Fred Ward's character in "Tremors"). Of course, there's also the "Toxic Avenger" (the Troma classic film) playing on every TV set shown in the background (Gunn's early career included several Troma projects). I'm sure there are plenty more that will take multiple viewings for me to pick up on. That means I'm sure to buy the DVD when it comes out.
That's probably where the film's strongest following will come from anyway. If "Tremors" can become a minifranchise - spawning a series of direct-to-video sequels and a TV series - then maybe there's hope. Since "Slither" was distributed by Universal (produced by Gold Circle Films), the studio could easily roll it over to the NBC/Universal owned SciFi Channel for some telefilms at least. Who knows. Maybe Fillion can make a career out of his Wheelsy Chief-of-Police Bill Pardy character instead of Captain Malcolm Reynolds from "Firefly." (Kidding! We need both more installments of "Firefly" and Fillion as our beloved Mal.)
In the end, I guess I "get" why the movie isn't scaring up big bucks at the theater - and probably isn't going to. I'm just hoping it doesn't deter filmmakers (particularly horror filmmakers) from trying new things. Universal President of Marketing Adam Fogelson told The Hollywood Reporter that "[T]his was a conscious attempt on everyone's part not to simply put another entry into the horror category but to try something different." Kudos to everyone involved for that! Let's stop the wretched trend of remaking old films and keep pushing forward with new ideas, creating new genres and redefining old ones.
So what can you do to help avoid another remake of "When a Stranger Calls?" Well, if you don't go see "Slither" in the theater (even when it hits the bargain theaters), at least add it to your Netflix queue. You'll have a good time - and make sure you watch to the end of the credits for the zinger.
Despite a great cast, a solid script and lots of creepy crawly things, people just aren't lining up to see this horror comedy - and it bugs me.