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Ticks
(1993)
 

Director:Tony Randel                                      
Cast:
Rosalind Allen, Ami Dolenz, Seth Green


An affectionate homage of the "big monster" movies of the 1950s, Ticks takes what made those movies irresistible, and adds the choice ingredients that make 1990s horror movies so popular - which mainly consist of blood, slime, and all-out grossness. It's obvious the filmmakers (including executive producer Brian Yuzna) were having a hoot making Ticks, and were at heart making it for themselves. It's not just for them, because there's something to please everyone in this movie. It's nice sometimes to see a familiar plot line, especially if it's done with energy and a big desire to please. This bloodsucker is much better that the mediocre Skeeter released the same year. (There was also Mosquito released in 1996, which I haven't seen, but I've heard is not very good at all.)

Seems in some small town in the wilderness, impoverished residents have started to grow marijuana, in order to raise money to pay off those pesky bill collectors. One of these farmers (played by B movie regular Clint Howard) takes his inspiration from Olympic athletes - he fertilizes his plants with a mixture of steroids and other chemicals, via a machine that seems to be mouse driven. The sloppy workmanship of this machine causes some of the formula to leak out, and drip below the floorboards below - right where there are several tick eggs. Meanwhile, youth workers Charles and Holly are driving to a cabin near the village, with a van full of various troubled teens - there's nerdy Tyler (Green), gangbanger Panic, and other stereotypical teenagers. None of the teens is enthusiastic, of course, by Charles assures them that they'll have a lot of fun during their vacation slash baring soul getaway.

Of course they won't. And of course this movie is silly and predictable. But you can't expect to make something serious out of a plot line like that, nor can you convince anyone to take the story seriously. For example, there are countless shots of the actors walking unknowingly past multiple giant tick eggs that are wiggling wildly. There's the stereotypical estranged bitchy daughter of one of the adult leaders, and a stereotypical teenage couple that sneak away to have sex, not knowing that nearby... The actors may be acting these scenes and their roles straight, but when you look in their eyes, you know they are having a great time in this movie. You can imagine what the youthful cast is thinking when they deadpan a line like, "Great. Classic case of adults not believing kids." Most everyone here in this movie is great, including Green, who inevitably has to become the hero later in the movie. We alternately root for him, and find humor in his actions and his words (in the beginning of the movie, he has several funny encounters with Panic.) The best performance in the movie is by Barry Lynch, who plays a no good farmer named "Sir". He starts the movie by being a comic book like villain, then as his character becomes more insane as the crisis escalates, he enters the B movie actor's hall of fame. Howard also makes a mark in his extended cameo as the farmer, who quickly finds himself in an unrelenting awful situation when the ticks start attacking, transforming him into the unluckiest S.O.B. in the world, which is shown to us with no restraint.

Speaking of which, the gore and the slime really flies in this movie! There are countless shots of feet stamping down hard on the gigantic ticks, calling in the required loud CRUNCH and SPLAT sounds we constantly hear on the soundtrack, and the constant blood and slime flying out from under the stampers' soles. We also learn that ticks explode when exposed to intense heat, and we are treated to numerous examples of this scientific fact when the heroes make torches. Instead of becoming disgusting, the intense gore level actually becomes comical. It's not just because it's unrelenting, but because the F/X crew wisely gave many of the special effects a slightly cheesy look; seeing such goofy looking giant ticks exploding into gallons of blood and tick slime is hilarious. The other production values are good too, so we have a comfortable marriage between effects that are slick when they have to be, and cheesy when it's appropriate. Who cares if a close-up of Panic's leg wound looks like a piece of leather with a bloody hole? Or if a forest fire looks like a one foot tall model of a forest set ablaze?

One problem I had with this movie is that it seems that it's a shorter version of what seems to have originally been longer. Evidence for this points out the running time (only 85 minutes), the fact that it's from a distributor who is known to cut movies for the U.S. market (Overseas Group), and the fact that there are some scenes where things aren't properly explained. What exactly happened to the sheriff? Where is the scene where Tyler and Melissa meet before taking a walk in the woods? How did Tyler suddenly find himself alone in the woods later? How does Tyler get from halfway down a bed sheet rope to the front seat of a van in less than 2 seconds? (And why wasn't someone else from the group waiting in the driver's seat?) True, the movie moves swiftly at this running time, and there aren't any real diversions from the main story, so you'll be able to follow the story. But viewers will be puzzled by these quite obvious gaps. Fortunately, these things don't damage Ticks seriously enough to make it less than a bloody good time, though you'll still sense that there's a better movie waiting on the distributor's shelf.


UPDATE: I received this e-mail from Dennis Fischer:

"I interviewed Brian Yuzna years ago while he was tinkering with Ticks. Basically, he was brought in to punch up the movie, which was lacking in thrills. It was his input that added the scenes with Clint Howard as a marijuana crop farmer whose supergrowth formula is what creates the giant ticks. So the film was extensively tinkered with during postproduction trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

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See also: Nightmare At Noon, The Last Shark, Elves

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