The seed for SLiTHER was planted about seven years ago, when my brother Brian and I were out eating dinner. I had just moved to L.A. We were discussing how much we loved horror movies, and how I wanted to make one. Brian asked me what the scariest thing I could think of was. A vision flashed through my mind: A woman, on her knees, going into convulsions with her eyes rolling into the back of her head as a foot-long red parasite burrowed through her mouth and into the back of her throat, flapping its tail like a docked trout.
That’s all it was, just an image, not a story. I didn’t do anything with it then, nor over the next six years.
No one wanted me to write a horror film anyway. The success of SCOOBY-DOO was a double-edged sword. I bought a house and had a lot of money. But I was creatively trapped. Studios wanted me to do the JABBERJAW movie and the MAGILLA GORILLA movie and the HONG KONG FOOEY movie and a thousand other film adaptations of crappy cartoon shows I had no interest in. And the darker ideas that truly intrigued me weren’t coming my way.
Fortunately, a producer friend of mine, Eric Newman, gave me the chance to write the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD. It was finally the type of script I was able to dig my teeth into.
When DAWN OF THE DEAD opened to 27 million dollars everything changed. They all wanted me to write another horror script.
I didn’t do what most people do in that situation. I didn’t take on another horror remake assignment, although dozens were coming my way. And I didn’t go sell a big horror pitch to a studio. Instead, I sat down at my computer and wrote a script on spec (that is, without selling it beforehand). I wanted to have complete control over the process, without a producer’s or a studio’s ideas getting in the way.
I went back to the idea of the woman with the parasite in her mouth. And I came up with a title: SLiTHER. I didn’t know anything else about the story, but I used that image and that title to fuel the screenplay. They were my touchstones.
As I wrote the screenplay, I rediscovered some of the joy of the over-the-top, gory, humorous horror films I grew up with in the 1980’s: films like BASKET CASE and RE-ANIMATOR, THE FLY and THE THING. I felt that kind of brutal, colorful fun was missing from the current palette of horror films. I felt as if I was filling a pop-cultural hole by writing SLiTHER.
The screenplay took a couple months to write. My manager and agents took the script out to various studios and production companies on a Thursday night. That Friday morning, Paul Brooks of Gold Circle Films called and said he wanted to make the movie. This was consistent with my usual experience when it comes to films getting greenlit: things usually happen quickly or not at all. Universal became involved as distributor a few days later.
At first I didn’t plan on directing SLiTHER. I was attached to direct another movie at the time, a low-budget dark comedy. But as I worked with Paul Brooks and our other producer, Eric Newman, I began to fall in love with the characters and their story. I thought the unusual blend of horror and humor wouldn’t be understood by another director. So, because Paul and Eric were open to the idea, I jumped on to SLiTHER as a director as well as a writer.
I’m glad I did. SLiTHER has been the best professional experience of my life. My cast down the line, from Elizabeth Banks to Nathan Fillion to Michael Rooker to Gregg Henry are all truly good people, who treat everyone, no matter whether a producer or a P.A. as if they’re equals. I went in to the movie not knowing anyone I was working with, and came out with a dozen close friends.
Neither Gold Circle nor Universal fucked with me at all during the process of making the film. In fact, I’m certain I got fucked with less than any first time director in the history of Hollywood. For the first time, I made a movie, SLiTHER, which is truly mine. Its faults are my faults. Whether one loves it or not, it is what it is, and what you see on screen is the movie I intended to make. It’s risky and ugly and in your face. And I can only hope you enjoy it one iota as much as we enjoyed making it.
1) ALTHOUGH 80’S MOVIES were a great inspiration for SLiTHER, I was also inspired by a horror manga by Junji Ito called UZUMAKI (The Spiral). The three volume comic is the story of an evil spiral that invades a small town in Japan. SLiTHER is basically the biological version of the evil spiral.
2) FILMS I DREW THE MOST INSPIRATION from while writing SLiTHER: SHIVERS, RE-ANIMATOR, THE THING (remake), THE FLY (remake), TREMORS, THE BROOD, THE BLOB (original and remake), BASKET CASE, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (original and remake), RABID, EVIL DEAD II, DEAD/ALIVE, BRAIN DAMAGE, and FROM DUSK ‘TIL DAWN.
3) Yes, it’s true: I never saw NIGHT OF THE CREEPS until after I shot SLiTHER.
4) I WAS ALSO INSPIRED by the Universal horror films of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. I wanted Grant Grant to long for Starla in the same way Frankenstein did for his Bride, or the Creature from the Black Lagoon did for Kay.
5) THROUGH MUCH OF MY script-writing process, I looked at Grant Grant as the protagonist. I wanted to see the world from his point of view. I also related to his tale as one of ambition gone mad.
6) WE SHOT the movie in Vancouver, British Columbia.
7) BECAUSE OUR PRE-PRODUCTION period was short, most of the creatures were not finished when we started shooting – the Brenda Blob, the 2nd two stages of Grant, and the deer had to be finished after we started shooting.
8) BECAUSE OF THIS, we shot most of the special effect sequences near the end of the shoot.
9) THE SHOOT was 47 days.
10) WE ORIGINALLY INTENDED to put the movie out on Halloween, ’06, but it wasn’t possible to finish the effects in time.
11) THE FIRST PERSON cast in the film was Haig Sutherland, as Trevor Carpenter.
12) THE SECOND PERSON cast in the film was Elizabeth Banks, as Starla Grant.
13) Elizabeth Banks shot 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN at the same time as SLiTHER.
14) MICHAEL ROOKER, who plays Grant Grant, has been one of my favorite actors ever since I saw him in HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER. He’s the only actor I considered while I was still in the script-writing stage.
15) ROOKER AND ELIZABETH auditioned on the same day, about an hour apart.
16) WE ORIGINALLY thought we were going to have to change Grant Grant’s name to something else. To legally use a character name in a movie, there either have to be NO examples of that name in the national phone directory, or there have to be over five examples. We could only find four Grant Grants nationwide. Eventually, we tracked down a fifth Grant Grant and the world was right again.
17) FOR THE ROLE OF JACK MACREADY, we auditioned over a hundred actors in L.A. and Vancouver. The very last actor to come in and audition was Gregg Henry, who nailed it.
18) IN THE FIRST DRAFT of the script, Jack MacReady died halfway through. But I loved the character, and was sorry to see him go. In the rewrites I kept him alive.
19) YES, JACK MACREADY is named after R.J. MacReady, the protagonist of THE THING, played by Kurt Russell.
20) IN FACT, THERE ARE DOZENS OF horror references in SLiTHER, but I think it’s more fun to discover them on your own. Some of them are very difficult to find. For instance, it’s nearly impossible to see that Wally is using a “Yuzna 3000” radar gun at the beginning of the film (named after the great horror producer/director Brian Yuzna).
21) I CAST LLOYD KAUFMAN, my old boss and the President of Troma Entertaiment, in a cameo as the “Sad Drunk.”
22) BRENDA JAMES, who plays Brenda Gutierrez, didn’t know what kind of movie SLiTHER was when she auditioned. She had only received sides from one scene, in the bar between her and Grant, and the film read like a darkly comic independent film. After she got the part, she was immediately shuttled on a plane down to L.A. to have a body mold made. She read the script for the first time on the plane down, realizing that her character becomes a huge blobby womb who explodes. She, literally, wept.
23) BRENDA was the female lead of an MTV show called 2GETHER, about a fictional boy band, created by my brother Brian and my cousin Mark. I didn’t know this until after she was cast.
24) BRENDA JAMES is meat-phobic. Even though the meat she eats was made of a gelatin substance, she gagged through most of her takes.
25) NATHAN FILLION was the last actor cast in the movie, about a week before we started shooting.
26) Our producer Paul Brooks wasn’t sure Nathan could pull off the comedic aspects of the role, even though he had seen the first couple episodes of FIREFLY. What convinced him? Nathan’s reel, which had scenes from TWO GUYS, A GIRL, AND A PIZZA PLACE.
27) LIKE NATHAN, Joss Whedon was important to my career. My first job in Hollywood was creating a TV pilot for Fox with Joss executive producing.
28) OUR PRODUCTION DESIGNER was Andrew Neskoromny, who also designed DAWN OF THE DEAD.
29) OUR COMPOSER was Tyler Bates, who also scored DAWN OF THE DEAD.
30) OUR FIRST DAY of shooting was in the Henenlotter Saddle Lodge, with the Corb Lund band playing and Jack MacReady giving his speech about deer hunting season.
31) THE CORB LUND BAND also played at the cast and crew wrap party.
32) I HAD A COLD on the first day of shooting, but didn’t tell anyone.
33) OUR SLiTHER CREW MOVED QUICKLY: many days we would do over 30 set-ups.
34) MY FAVORITE MOMENT on set was when Kylie’s Mom (Iris Quinn) vomited blood onto Tania Saulnier’s face. I’d playback the moment on set for any folks who came to visit.
35) One of the silicone plastics we used to make our creatures was originally invented for the sex toy industry to make life-like penises and vaginas. At one point, the production of SLiTHER was using the entire world’s supply of that same silicone.
36) THE SCENE WHERE GRANT is infected was inspired by the old man getting infected by the blob in the original BLOB.
37) THE SLUM-LIKE HOME of Brenda Gutierrez in the film had almost no set dressing in it. We shot the scene in a poor section of Surrey, British Columbia.
38) THAT SAME HOME SMELLED so bad I could only stay in it for a few minutes on the location scout without gagging. Part of the smell was cat piss all over the floor, and part of it was God knows what. Even after our production team aired out, cleaned, and sanitized the home, it still smelled. None of the crew would enter the set unless absolutely necessary.
39) BRENDA’S ONE-YEAR-OLD SON was played by twins in the movie.
40) BRENDA’S BABY, at one point, is playing with a tomato in his crib. A few people have asked me what the fuck he’s doing with a tomato. Well, at one point Brenda had a line of dialogue where she says, “It’s a lot cheaper than all these newfangled toys, plus he tenders ‘em up real good which makes ‘em more better to eat.” The line was cut before we shot the scene, but I threw the tomato in there anyway.
41) The role of the police dispatcher Shelby Cunningham, played by my wife, Jenna Fischer, was originally supposed to be played by a man, but he dropped out two days before shooting. My wife was visiting that weekend so we cast her on the spot.
42) The best dialogue between Shelby and Bill Pardy – about his mother’s toilet being backed up – was all written the night before shooting. The previous dialogue was male-centric.
43) THE LAST DAY of shooting we shot the scene in the car with Tania, Nathan, Elizabeth, and Gregg. Although it’s pretty much just an exposition scene, it’s one of my favorites in the movie.
44) MY ASSISTANT on the film was Dan Lee West. We had a very similar aesthetic, so I made him the 2nd Unit Director.
45) ORIGINALLY THE TENTACLES at the end of the film were primarily practical. We had giant tentacles on rods worked by puppeteers. They ended up looking like crap, so we had to replace almost all of them with CGI tentacles.
46) Although we have a shitload of prosthetic work in SLiTHER, we also have over 250 visual effect shots (i.e. CGI, composites, puppeteer removal).
47) SLiTHER FEATURES TWO SONGS by Jane Jensen, who was the star of my first film, TROMEO & JULIET.
48) ROB ZOMBIE does a cameo in SLiTHER as the voice of Dr. Carl, on the phone with Starla Grant.
49) THE FIRST EVER PUBLIC SCREENING of SLiTHER was at the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors in Chicago on March 4, 2006.
50) At the L.A. premiere of SLiTHER I sat across from Judith O’Dea, who played Barbara in the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. She laughed her ass off the whole time; I have had few more meaningful moments in my life.