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The Carrier
(1988)

Director: Nathan J. White 
Cast:
Gregory Fortescue, Stevie Lee, Steve Dixon


When the subject of politics comes up in my life, I always hope that it is the politics found in the motion picture industry. While obviously I enjoy watching all kinds of movies, I also have an interest in what goes behind the scenes. Quite often I find that the trials and tribulations of what went on at various production companies and studios to be quite informative and entertaining, sometimes capturing my interest more than the movies themselves. However, when it comes to other kinds of politics, my usual reaction is a simple "no thanks". For the most part, politics simply don't interest or engage me. To date, I have never voted in any municipal, provincial, or federal election - the politicians who are always in charge never seem to promise anything that personally interests me or promises to make my life better. (However, if there was a politician who agreed to kick out the idiots who are currently running Telefilm - the government film funding agency that year after year funds Canadian movies no one wants to see - you can bet that I would finally register to vote.) Still, even though I have shown very little interest in politics over the years, I have learned a few lessons about various kinds of government. For example, I have learned that a political system that puts all or the majority of power in one person, or even a few more, is not a good system. If you look at various governments all over the world for thousands of years, you will see that governments like these usually aren't good news for the people. There have been various brutal dictators, and there were those jerks at school who, when choosing the people they wanted on their sports teams, always picked me last out of everyone in my class.

Fortunately, there are other kinds of government out there in the world. One of them is democracy, where the people decide who will be their leaders. What do I think of the democratic process? Well, I am reminded by a line of dialogue in the Dirty Harry movie Magnum Force, a line that I live by and remind myself of constantly: "Nothing wrong with shooting, as long as the right people get shot!" Whoops, that's another line of dialogue from the movie that I live by. The line of dialogue I really meant to say was, "But until someone comes along with changes that make sense, I'll stick with it." When I read or hear about reports from countries like North Korea, I realize I am very fortunate to live in a democratic country. Yet at the same time, I will freely admit that sometimes there can be problems with certain kinds of democracy. One problem is that sometimes the majority simply isn't correct. Sometimes the majority of people will work in a way that places the unfortunate minority in an unenviable position. This illustrates one of the weaknesses of the human race, human greed. But the human race has other weaknesses that can often conflict with the democratic process. One of those things is mass panic, and when a group of people are all equally afraid there is often a tendency for the wrong decision to be made. And that leads to the problem of mob rule, where despite a sizable group of people working together, they can often act in a way that can be considered violent or primitive. While you may feel safe and have a voice in the democratic society you are living in, if a major problem should ever come up, you could very well find yourself in a newly changed society where the rules have all gone out the window.

In the past, I have reviewed several movies where a peaceful and democratic slice of society is suddenly hit by a major problem, and all of a sudden it's every man for himself. I often find these movies interesting, because I wonder while watching them what I would do if I was in the same situation. Would I be one of the fittest and survive? I would like to think so, because I consider The Carriermyself intelligent. But on the other hand, I am not physically strong or combat trained, so I have weaknesses. My interest in crumbing societies is one reason why I picked up The Carrier, because it promised another cinematic example of this. But I was also interested in it because prior to watching it, I did some extensive research on it and found that reviewers were extremely split on it - people either seemed to really enjoy it or really hate it. This split intrigued me, and I felt I had to see the movie myself. The events of The Carrier take place in and around the small and isolated town of Sleepy Rock. At the beginning, we meet several of the inhabitants of the town, but it doesn't take long to determine that a youth named Jake (Fortescue) will be the movie's focus. Jake is the town outcast, since he is blamed for a fire that took the lives of his parents several years earlier. But the subject of Jake in recent days has been put on the backburner, since several town citizens have sighted what appears to be a mysterious creature of sorts wandering in the area. Jake finds out for himself that the rumors are true when one day the creature breaks into his cabin and attacks him. Jake manages to kill the creature (which dissolves into nothing seconds afterwards), but is wounded defending himself. The wound appears to be not that serious, so Jake immediately gets back into his routine. But he doesn't know that he's become infected. Like the real-life Typhoid Mary, his infection does not affect his health, but everything he touches becomes infected. And if someone should touch the infected areas of the objects that Jake has touched, well, let's say they find themselves instantly suffering a great deal. The townspeople soon figure out there's an infection of sorts circulating the area, but with the one bridge to the outside world washed out and the telephone lines cut, they soon realize it's up to them to maintain order and protect themselves from infection. And some of these townspeople clearly have unsteady minds...

As you can see from that plot description, the major plot elements to be found in The Carrier aren't exactly original. There have been plenty of movies focusing around town outcasts, and there have been a lot of movies concerning small towns that are struck by a deadly disease such as the movies Outbreak and the Steven Seagal turkey The Patriot. But while the major plot elements may not be that original, The Carrier does have a few original touches when it comes to showing how the disease is portrayed, and how these particular townspeople deal with the problem at hand. The disease is first introduced to the town when someone picks up an infected copy of Dr. Seuss' One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, and when his flesh starts smoking and melting seconds afterwards, he runs onto Main Street screaming with the book firmly stuck into his hand. It's a very strange sight, and one of the signs that this movie is not to be taken completely seriously. When the town doctor subsequently starts testing the book, he doesn't take samples or use a microscope. Instead, he brings some baby chickens and places them on the book, and we get to see the sight of those adorable chicks melting in front of us. After that, the doctor advises the townspeople not to let their naked flesh touch anything in town, so that leads to people wrapping their hands and arms in protective material such as plastic wrap. But when the danger increases, soon all the townspeople are wrapped up head to toe in plastic and fabric, which is a bizarre sight to behold, especially during the movie's crowd sequences. Maybe sights like these are kind of silly, but I have to admit that I've never seen such sights in a movie before, so kudos to the filmmakers for bringing in some originality. I'll certainly never forget when the townspeople start chanting, "Is it cats or death?" - something that's only understandable if you see the movie for yourself.

While The Carrier may have a number of touches that many people would consider to be bizarre, don't get me wrong - the majority of the movie comes across in a serious manner. But that's not to say that the seriousness comes across at flat or routine in comparison to the strangeness. Some of the seriousness is really interesting or entertaining. For example, some other reviewers of the movie have theorized that the movie is an allegory to the AIDS epidemic that was starting to rise around the time this movie was made, and I think they are on to something there. There are scenes showing the small town residents to be bigoted and lashing out at something they don't understand, sort of what happened in the case of Ryan White. Also, the infected Jake cannot consummate the relationship he has with a sympathetic woman in his community. But don't get me wrong - The Carrier is not really a message film. Its main purpose is to entertain the horror crowd, and there's a lot about it that is genuinely entertaining. Writer/director Nathan J. White, instead of going for easy shocks, concentrates mostly on a slow but steady rise in the feeling of tension and suspense. Piece by piece, a feeling of law and order slowly erodes (the town sheriff is one of the first to die), and it soon becomes clear that something big and awful will happen, not might happen. The sight of seeing these townspeople turn into savages is pretty unsettling. You get the feeling that there is not going to be a happy ending. While I won't reveal exactly what happens at the end, I will say that it's a pretty believable ending that doesn't believe that in a situation like this that things can be neatly tidied up when the crisis is over. Although it's not an ending that many horror movie fans would want, all the same it has power and will stick with you long after the movie is over.

Before you start thinking that The Carrier is some kind of lost horror classic, let me mention that as much as I admired parts of the movie, I still had several issues with it. A number of the flaws to be found in the movie come with the movie's low budget. When it comes to special effects, the movie more often than not disappoints. The "black thing" creature that attacks Jake in the opening minutes is well-named, because the way it's photographed makes it come across as a blink-and-you'll miss-it black blob with no real detail visible at any moment. One brief stop-motion sequence isn't that badly executed, but there are couple of uses of matte paintings that look real phony. And when various citizens get infected, we see precious little of their melting and letting off smoke, because more often than writer/director Nathan J. White immediately cuts away to another shot, or has the actors move out of camera range. While I'm speaking of the actors, I might as well mention that I had a problem with most of the no-name cast. A few of the actors are competent enough (Steve Dixon gives the best performance as the town doctor), but for the most part the performers clearly illustrate why they never broke into the mainstream. And some of the movie's effectiveness is ruined by the low-tech and cheesy electronic score by Joseph LoDuca, which drags the movie further towards a feeling of cheapness. Still, despite setbacks like those, I personally did find The Carrier to be a fairly compelling exercise with touches of originality. However, at the same time I feel that it's not for everybody, even for die hard horror fans. If you have the taste for something different, and you are tolerant of filmmaking that in a number of aspects is not much more advanced than backyard, you might enjoy it. This movie really depends on your personal tastes to work. If you agree with my reviews most of the time, you might want to give the movie a chance. If not, well, I've warned you what to expect.

(Posted March 26, 2014)

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See also: Mutant, Nightmare At Noon, Night Of The Creeps

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