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The Thing Reference You Missed In James Gunn's Slither

James Gunn is the misfit king of the superhero world. His enormous success covers two "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies, and, in the not-so-distant future, we'll see his directorial talents stretched to DC's "The Suicide Squad". And, even further out, there's a third "Guardians" movie on the way.

However, long before Gunn found mastery over B-squad comic book characters like Groot or Polka-Dot Man, he was cutting his teeth in a very different genre — horror. By now, with all the promotion for Zack Snyder's upcoming "Army of the Dead" Netflix film, you've heard of Snyder and Gunn's partnership on the 2004 remake of "Dawn of the Dead," but that's just one feather in Gunn's horror cap. Long before he re-envisioned George Romero's zombies, he was working with Lloyd Kaufman and the team at Troma studio, making B-horror movies like "Tromeo and Juliet."

In addition to the grimier horror he'd do later, Gunn also worked on the horror-for-kids franchise that is "Scooby-Doo." He actually scripted the two live-action Scooby-Doo movies from the 2000s — films wherein he utilized his love of the franchise to include as many references to Scooby-Doo's past as possible.

And relevant to that is the place all this horror work led for Gunn — "Slither." The 2006 film stars the likes of Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, and future Guardian of the Galaxy, Yondu himself — Michael Rooker. It turns out that, just like with "Scooby-Doo," "Slither" is jam-packed with references to horror's greatest hits.

Who knew zombie slugs from space were so popular?

Zombie and zombie-adjacent movies take a lot of forms. They're usually about the undead shambling around in search of human flesh, but some movies strafe from the typical. And there are a few times where zombies aren't so much the corpses of the living brought back to life as they are possessed cadavers controlled by an unseen force. And in the case of James Gunn's film "Slither," that force is evil slugs from space — yes, really.

The thing about space slugs enacting their will on a potentially doomed human race is that it's actually not as original a concept as you might think. When "Slither" was first released in 2006, some longtime horror fans immediately noticed a striking similarity between elements of the film's plot and that of Fred Dekker's 1986 horror-comedy classic "Night of the Creeps." Gunn himself responded to the comparisons, eventually saying that it wasn't "Night of the Creeps" he drew his inspiration from but rather two films from horror legend David Cronenberg. He said the 1975 film "Shivers", as well as Cronenberg's 1979 ode to divorce "The Brood," were the stories he was most influenced by (via Chud).

But that doesn't mean there aren't a metric ton of shout-outs and Easter eggs throughout "Slither" that reference other horror masters. In fact, in addition to Cronenberg, one of Gunn's other influences was John Carpenter. In "Slither," Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) is taken over by the alien parasites, and, in addition to all the slugs we see, he also turns into a horrifying tentacle monster — not entirely unreminiscent of a certain Carpenter classic, "The Thing." Unsurprisingly, Gunn was influenced by both Carpenter in general and "The Thing," specifically.

Dogs, and mayors, and bathtubs, oh my!

John Carpenter's "The Thing," set in the Antarctic, tells the story of a group of American researchers trapped in the frozen tundra with a recently unearthed alien parasite. And it all starts when the researchers witness a helicopter explode while seemingly flying after a stray dog. The dog (spoilers) is actually the alien life form shape-shifted to look harmless.

You can tell right away where the similarities with "Slither" can (and do) present themselves. The dog eventually transforms into a tentacle beast, not until Rooker's character Grant in "Slither." But that's not the only "The Thing" Easter egg to be found. There's even a bathtub scene in "Slither" where another character named Kylie (Tania Saulnier) is attacked and experiences a vision where she sees the alien parasite taking over different creatures, including dogs.

The lead of "The Thing" is legendary actor Kurt Russell, who plays hardened, bearded researcher R.J. MacReady. In "Slither," an actor named Gregg Henry plays the mayor — whose name just so happens to be Jack MacReady. The last name is an obvious reference to "The Thing," and "Jack" is likely in reference to Jack Burton, Russell's character from another Carpenter film, "Big Trouble in Little China."

"Slither" is an homage to a lot of horror movies, but undoubtedly, it is proof that James Gunn is a massive fan of Carpenter and one of his most famous films.