(director/writer: James Gunn; cinematographer: Gregory Middleton; editor: John Axelrad; music: Tyler Bates; cast: Nathan Fillion (Bill Pardy), Elizabeth Banks (Starla Grant), Gregg Henry (Jack MacReady, mayor), Michael Rooker (Grant Grant), Tania Saulnier (Kylie Strutemyer, teen beauty), Brenda James (Brenda Gutierrez), Don Thompson (Wally, deputy), Jennifer Copping (Margaret), Jenna Fischer (Shelby, police switchboard operator), Haig Sutherland (Trevor); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Paul Brooks/Eric Newman; Universal; 2006)

“It wows us with the expertise way Gunn has in how he handles the creepy hokum and keeps a good balance between the chills and the laughs.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The directorial debut of screenwriter James Gunn (writer of the ‘Dawn of the Dead’ remake) is a derivative, creepy and tongue-in-cheek B-movie homage to low-budget horror/sci-fi monster movies. It wows us with the expertise way Gunn has in how he handles the creepy hokum and keeps a good balance between the chills and the laughs.

A meteor lands in the rural town of Wheelsy, South Carolina during deer season. Local hotshot but oafish wealthy businessman Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) is upset that his sexy teacher wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks), whom he adores more than anything in the world, is not in the mood for sex and storms out of the house to get drunk in the local pub. Grant meets a married acquaintance named Brenda Gutierrez (Brenda James), who had the hots for him when she was a teen and still does. While the two are in the woods trying to get it on, they come across the meteor after it splits open and a fat slug-like creature crawls out leaving a gooey trail. Grant is infected by having the creature shoot a needle-like object into his abdomen. Grant then imprisons Brenda in a barn and infects her so that she turns into a fat monster with alien worms in her brain. But since he can’t bear leaving his hot wife with the million dollar smile, he returns home trying to calm her fears by claiming that he’s alright even though he changes over the next few days into an alien monster with tentacles and starts devouring dogs, cattle and enormous amounts of raw meat.

When the local farmers report their animals butchered and Grant, looking like a monster squid, is spotted in his home pleading with a frightened Starla not to forsake their marriage vows, the Chief of Police Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), who still loves Starla and dated her during their teen days, gets up a posse to hunt the monster after he escapes and goes on a seemingly unstoppable killing spree for flesh. The area is now overrun with slugs who crawl along the ground to enter either the vic’s mouth or stomach, which infects them to become obese and another form of Grant Grant. Only the image conscious and politically motivated good guy Bill, the hometown beauty Starla, the strong-willed blue nail-polished teen Kylie (Tania Saulnier) and the profanity-spewing blowhard Mayor Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry) are not turned into aliens, and must use their wits to overcome this menacing zombie attack on their sleepy all-American country-bred town.

The zombie movie has staying power as a good parody on America’s thirst for blood, unchecked gluttony, its obsessive need for the preservation of its hearty sporting image and its questionable family values. We’ve seen something like this before with George A. Romero’s images, and this zombie film also seems to be inspired in the same vein and is worth a look if you are interested in this B-film genre at its most entertainingly gross, twisted and mirthful.