Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Warner Archive Instant Cult Picks - SLITHER (1973) ""

Friday, April 18, 2014

Warner Archive Instant Cult Picks - SLITHER (1973)

Howard Zieff's SLITHER (not to be confused with James Gunn's film of the same name) opens on character actor extraordinaire Richard B. Schull singin "Happy Days Are Here Again" as James Caan looks on. We come to learn that Caan's character has just gotten out of prison. Richard B. Schull looks and feels a great deal like a poor man's version of Walter Matthau. They have very similar faces and manners of speech. Anyway, in this story he picks up James Caan from prison and immediately ends up entangling him in a quest to find the man who knows where some stashed loot is from a old heist he was a part of. From there springs one of those "freewheelin'" 70s narratives, part road picture and part Hitchcock/comedy thriller. Caan meets up with an odd woman played by Sally Kellerman on the side of the road and he's sort of swept off onto a small adventure. I find that Kellerman is at her best playing this sort of bohemian, off-center kind of gal. She has an extemporaneous charm about her and a certain sexiness to her in this sorta role (moreso when she was a brunette than a blonde in my opinion). Even the timbre of her voice can be pretty sexy. She sometimes feels like the antecendent to the "manic pixie dreamgirl" type that we've become accustomed to seeing in films today. Kellerman has this energy about her as if she always about to say, "Do you wanna do something crazy?" and that works well with a character like this. There are certain times when her energy can be a bit too much for me, (a bit overly dramatic I guess) but here she fits in well. This character seems just bi-polar enough to turn on Caan at any minute and it keeps him uneasy. Kellerman rounds out an amazing cast of oddballs which also includes Peter Boyle, Louise Lasser, Allen Garfield and Alex Rocco. If you are fans of all these actors (as I am) the film should please you on that level if nothing else.
This movie has an interesting lineage in that it was written by W.D. Richter - he of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA and BUCKAROO BANZAI fame. SLITHER can't stack up against those cult classics, but there's a certain offbeat sensibility that shines through I think. There are just a lot of nutty characters running around in this film. It feels like a less comedic AFTER HOURS-y kind of universe and I like that. It's also a somewhat meandering narrative, the kind that were more prevalent in the 1970s, and I miss them. They had a sense of unpredictability and of a story unfolding that seems antiquated now. Not to rant too much, but movies today aren't given this kind of breathing room or time to gently find their way. Seems films now need to be a bit more direct in their approach to narrative in general. Thankfully there are still lots from this period like SLITHER to revisit. 
 As mentioned above, it is currently streaming via Warner Archive Instant:
(which has a 2 week free trial if you haven't jumped on board yet)

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