There's the schoolyard joke that begins with the question "What's gross?" and continues with "What's grosser than gross?" and progresses to the nastiest things imaginable. Somewhere pretty far down the gross line, you'll find James Gunn's splatter comedy "Slither."
Naturally, actor Nathan Fillion thought the "Slither" premiere was the perfect opportunity to take his mother to the movies.
"I thought she was going to drop dead from a heart attack," Fillion ("Serenity") says with a rueful chuckle. "She wasn't feeling well earlier in the day, she said she was light-headed and dizzy, so every time something scary was coming up I would squeeze her hand and say, 'Okay, here comes one.'"
Only a few directors make films with the expressed purpose of making their stars into orphans, but Gunn doesn't have a typical background. The Troma alum cut his teeth working on low-budget exploitation classics like "Tromeo and Juliet."
"I didn't go to film school, but I was able to start work at Troma and I was able to learn how to make a movie from pre-production, how to learn how to location scout, how to cast, how to actually produce the film, how to release it in the theaters, how to deal with the MPAA, all of this stuff that was just a very practical education," Gunn says.
That last bit of knowledge -- dealing with the MPAA -- came in handy on "Slither," which tells an unsavory story of an alien race invading a small town with the help of nasty leech thingies, zombies and other biological warfare best watched through the cracks in your fingers as you cover your eyes.
"Eli Roth who is a friend and a great guy gave the MPAA 'Hostel' right before we gave them this movie," says Gunn, explaining the film's generous R rating. "And I am eternally grateful because if you watch the actual amount of gore -- we actually have more gore -- but because we're more surreal we get away with a lot more."
The combination of gore, a low budget and a Vancouver winter could have made the "Slither" set into an unpleasant place, but the cast seems to have enjoyed every grotesque second.
"Our film was physically, extremely rigorous, very, very difficult stuff and yet it was so pleasant and it was 100 percent because of the people," says Gunn, previously best known for scripting the "Scooby-Doo" movies.
"Michael Rooker adds, "You've heard of the avian flu, right? Well, we ended up having the actor flu. We were all together breathing on each other's faces. It's freezing cold up there. You know what, it's deceiving up there because it's like, 'Oh, it's not so cold.' But after about six hours of being out there in the rain, man, it sneaks up on your ass."
"It was just a great environment to work in," says Elizabeth Banks ("Seabiscuit"). "It really didn't matter what was being thrown at me or the KY Jelly that was being smeared on me."
"Slither" opens on Friday, March 31.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times