Friday, January 25, 2013

Ticks (1993) dir. Tony Randel

Logline: The careless leaking of chemical growth enhancers in California's forest region by illegal marijuana growers has mutated the local ticks into oversize, gooey bloodsuckers. These voracious insects will force a group of troubled misfit teens from the city-- who are participating in a wilderness program-- to take their survival expedition a little more seriously.

Animal of Choice: A forest full of ticks, "the vampires of the insect world," pumped up on chemical steroids and thirstier than ever.

Thinking Ecologically: The mutant tick menace has been created by (who else) Clint Howard. His character is an illegal marijuana grower with a hydroponic shack deep in a Californian forest outside of Los Angeles. He's constructed a Rube Goldberg-esque steampunk fertilizer machine that sprays his crops with "chemical enhancements," an herbal steroid that resembles thick green sludge. His machine springs a leak which drips a steady stream of the chemical sludge onto a tick egg sac, encouraging the sickening and unnatural growth of the insects inside. Somehow, the mutated tick eggs then wind up spreading all over the forest (from rocks to trees to cabin closets), presenting a threat for the film's characters in any location.

The main characters, most of whom are teenaged participants in an Inner City Wilderness Project expedition, characterize the forest as a terrible place to be in compared to the relative urban splendor of their Los Angeles home. The project leader's daughter asks of her comrade what others could possibly find to be so inspiring and poetic about the wilderness, and then describes her own impression of it being "suffocating, vile, and full of rot." The film doesn't exactly prove her wrong. Early on, the project leader notes to himself that the teens have been infected with "urban living" and its "every man for himself instinct," making it unlikely for any bonding to take place among them. However, nature does change them: they bond and unite through mutual hatred of the "vile rot" that natures throws at them, resulting in them going so far as to burn most of the forest down in order to destroy the dangers that lurk within. The film's closing shots are gorgeous overhead views of the city (Los Angeles has rarely looked so pretty) as the characters return home to their comfortable urban existences. There's nothing like a death-filled jaunt through the woods to make you appreciate all that you have back in civilization!

Thinking About Animals: With the spread of Lyme disease in recent years, ticks have scuttled their way to the top of many personal Least Liked Insects lists, but concerns over them were clearly less specific in the early 1990s so Ticks primarily plays off the natural ick factor of hard-to-squish bugs that suck your blood. To make them a good deal more threatening, the film increases their size to that of a rat or large toad, grants them the ability to burrow and scurry around under their victims' skin, and makes them more active blood hunters, no longer waiting patiently in tall grass but pursuing over distances and dropping from ceilings. Another added aspect to the mutant tick physiology (though one not explored nearly enough) is that the strengthened neurotoxin that their bite imparts causes hallucinations in their victims. Like in most other Mutant Animal Terror films, playing the mutant card allows the filmmakers to avoid the reality of ticks and create purebred monsters that merely bear the same name. But one of the creepiest moments of tick action is also the most realistic: one of the characters, when attempting to pull a mutant tick off of himself, ends up pulling the body off but leaving the hungry head still latched on with its mandibles' death grip. Sure, the head then proceeds to crawl around under the flesh of this character and eventually (through the aid of oral steroids) emerge from the shell of his body as a even bigger MegaTick, but for a moment the horror was vaguely grounded.

Evaluation in Brief: Though a product of the early '90s, Tony Randel's Ticks is fundamentally similar to its forebears in its general approach to Animal Terror (ecological disaster --> change in animal behavior --> mysterious animal/human deaths --> all out human war against the affected creatures). The most significant differences between Ticks and similar films from the '70s and '80s would be a) its vibrant Nickelodeon color palette, and b) a plethora of slimy, icky, putrid, oozy gore. The film's eponymous creatures are birthed out of leaky, puss-filled egg sacs, and when they bite their victims the disgusting results fall somewhere just shy of the Body Horror realm. Ticks is not complex horror filmmaking, but it entertains and grosses out at precisely the levels it intends to. With Seth Green, Alfonso Ribeiro, Mickey Dolenz's daughter, and the rest of the cast giving likeable performances, the film neglects to kill most of them off and this doesn't bother us, enjoying as we have been their lighthearted bonding through adversity. For a horror film, that's a sign of a certain quality. It was released this past week on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with a rather vibrant transfer and director commentary. It comes recommended.

1 comment:

  1. They really should make billions of the Body Mutations to Insect Mutations special makeup effects horror films.