The 2006 horror flick Slither is an excellent mash-up of VHS horror influences and it relishes the monstrous, parasitic lifestyle of its central alien menace.
I’m not gong to lay out the life cycle of the Long One as I think the Alien Species Wiki does a pretty fine job of it. But what you have here is your typical biomass-consuming world breaker, with certain similarities to terrestrial slugs and snails. In its primary form, the organism infects its primary host via a needle or dart—perhaps inspired by the “love dart” used by some slug and snail species to flood hormones into a mate. And when the primary decides to reproduce, it uses a pair of tentacle-like organs to impregnate a host.
Those twin chest-protruding tentacles are key. Like the terrestrial slug, the Long One is a hermaphrodite. It possesses both male and female reproductive systems and since it’s the only one of its kind, it’s luckily capable of asexual reproduction. Some terrestrial snails and slugs can do this as well, but according to mollusk expert Robert Nordsieck many species have built-in safeguards against asexual reproduction—such as non-overlapping cycles of sperm/egg production and protective tissue.
So one of the monster’s tentacles pumps egg into a host’s body cavity and the other tentacle pumps in alien slug sperm to fertilize it. The host then bloats to grotesque proportions as the young slugs grow to adulthood. In the film’s climax, Nathan Fillion narrowly avoids this ghastly fate when he stops the Long One from sinking its second tentacle into his abdomen. Whether Fillion prevented the injection of sperm or egg, we’ll never know—but he certainly took a heft dose of one or the other.
As grotesque as all of this alien reproduction sounds, it’s all rather tame compared to the sex lives of real-world slugs and snails. We’re talking about creatures that stow their penis, genital opening, anus and mouth all in their head. No wonder they keep their eyes on stalks. For more on their peculiar ways, be sure to check out our episode My Slimy Valentine: The Slug Life when it publishes Feb. 14.
Monster of the Week is a — you guessed it — regular look at the denizens of our monster-haunted world. In some of these, we’ll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend. Other times, we”ll just wax philosophic about the monster’s underlying meaning. After all, the word “monstrosity” originates from the Latin monstrare, which meant to show or illustrate a point.
Originally Published at HSW: Monster of the Week: The Long One (‘Slither’)
Robert Lamb is a senior writer at HowStuffWorks.com and co-host of the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast and blog. He is also a regular contributor to Discovery News. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr. If you’re into that sort of thing.