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The Tremors Reference You Missed In Slither

These days, James Gunn is best known as a tentpole filmmaker who's brought a unique sensibility to blockbuster offerings from Marvel (the "Guardians of the Galaxy" franchise) and DC (the upcoming "The Suicide Squad"). But the current A-list director actually broke into showbiz working on the grindhousey gorefests of Troma Studios, earning one of his first screen credits for scripting their 1996 romantic shocker "Tromeo and Juliet." Gunn would go on to make his directorial debut for a major studio a decade later, but it's impossible not to see the Troma stamp all over his campy 2006 fright-fest "Slither." 

Set in a sleepy Southern town, "Slither" finds Nathan Fillion portraying a kindly sheriff desperate to protect his citizens from invasion by a parasitic, slug-like alien which inhabits human hosts before transforming them into ghastly creatures and/or incubators for its slithering minions. In telling that story, Gunn conjures a film boasting gory thrills, schlocky chills, and hearty laughs beyond even Troma's wildest dreams.

Fans of Gunn's alien invasion comedy turned body horror nightmare continue to hail it as one of the greatest b-movies ever made, with many noting "Slither" also boasts several nods towards films cut from a similar cloth. Some of those nods are obvious (i.e. the bathtub scene is almost a shot-for-shot homage to 1984's "A Nightmare on Elm Street"), and others not so much with the director dropping a seriously sly nod toward a classic film with an equally devoted cult following early in the "Slither" action. That film is Ron Underwood's legendary creature feature, "Tremors." And one of the central characters in that flick indeed earned a clever name drop in "Slither."

Tremors' Earl Bassett gets a clever name drop in James Gunn's Slither

If you've never seen "Tremors," the film stars Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward as Valentine McKee and Earl Bassett, handymen who make their living working go-nowhere odd jobs for the residents who call the isolated town of Perfection, Nevada home. When Perfection unexpectedly finds itself besieged by giant, blood-thirsty subterranean beasts (AKA Graboids), Val and Earl become the town's unlikely protectors, eventually helping to save the lives of most of its residents.

It seems their various acts of bravery were not lost on James Gunn. In a clever bit of Easter-egging, Gunn paid loving homage to "Tremors" in "Slither." More eagle-eyed "Slither" fans would point out Gunn pays specific respects to Fred Ward's salty everyman Earl Bassett, doing so by naming the high school in his film's fictional town the Earl Bassett Community School. Sweet, and supremely clever as that name drop is, Earl's is not the only name Gunn drops in the film, as he also references Kurt Russell's R.J. MacReady and makes several other nods to "The Thing".

Now, does that mean "Slither" is set in a shared universe along with other genre classics from John Carpenter and Ron Underwood? That seems unlikely — but who's to say? It does not, however, seem entirely impossible. And for all we really know, Graboids and the vile parasite from "The Thing" could be merely distant relatives, or even wild mutations of whatever the heck those things in "Slither" are. As for Earl, he hasn't appeared in the "Tremors" franchise since 1996's straight-to-video gem, "Aftershocks." But it's nice to think the cinematic world in which he inhibited might honor his heroic deeds by naming a school or two after him. And yes, it'd be pretty cool if Gunn's "Slither" was also set in that world.