Alfonso Ribeiro of Fresh Prince, Rosalind Allen of SeaQuest DSV, Seth Green, and Peter Scolari of Bosom Buddies star in a movie about mutant ticks.
It’s California and it’s the 90s and the greatest threat to the world is Marihuana (Spelled that way at one point in the movie, no joke), followed by Steroids, apparently. Drug grower Jarvis Tanner (Clint Howard) is using steroids to grow stronger cannabis, but it turns out that the runoff has made the ticks in the area gigantic and given them a neurotoxin that’s akin to LSD.
In Los Angeles, Tyler Burns (Seth Green), a boy whose father once abandoned him in the woods for two days, is forced by that same father to go on a wilderness retreat in order to cure him of his fear of the woods and being alone… that he got from when his dad got drunk and abandoned, alone, him in the woods. And no, no one ever goes “wait, your dad got drunk and left you in the woods and HE’S telling YOU to just get over it?” Oh, and he drops him off under an overpass in downtown LA. In the early 90s. When violent crime peaked and roughly at the time of the Rodney King riots. I assume that his father wants him to die, is what I’m saying.
The wilderness retreat is run by Holly Lambert (Rosalind Allen) and Charles Danson (Peter Scolari), and includes several fellow campers: “Thug” Darrel “Panic” Lumley (Alfonso Ribeiro), Rich girl Dee Dee Davenport (Ami “my dad was in the Monkees” Dolenz), Dee Dee’s boyfriend her parents hate for being Hispanic Rome Hernandez (Ray Oriel), mostly mute rape-survivor Kelly Mishimoto (Sina Dayrit), and Charles’ daughter, Melissa (Virginya Keeyne). While stopping on the way into the woods, the group meets local pot growers Redneck Jerry (Barry Lynch) and a British cross between Gary Busey and Gilderoy Lockhart called Sir (Michael Medeiros).
At camp, Tyler discovers a giant tick egg in the cabin and destroys it. Later, in the woods, he finds a giant tick on Melissa’s back and kills it, but when they report it Charles dismisses it as normal. Panic’s dog Brutus is attacked by a tick, leading Panic to quit the retreat and head off into the woods. Tyler and Charles take Brutus to a vet (Judy Jean Berns), where a giant tick pops out of him, killing the dog before the vet kills the tick. Panic gets lost in the woods until he’s attacked by a tick that burrows inside him and makes him hallucinate. He ends up finding Jerry and Sir’s pot farm, leading Sir to shoot him and also accidentally start a forest fire. To survive the shooting, Panic downs a bag of steroids he stole from Rome.
Dee Dee finds Jarvis in the woods, infested with ticks, before he dies. She gets bitten by a tick and is rescued by Rome back to the cabin. Melissa and Kelly go fishing and find that the local Sheriff (Rance Howard) has been killed by Sir and Jerry. Everyone ends up back in the cabin as the fire that Sir started forces the ticks towards them. Charles lets Sir and Jerry in, but Panic arrives and tells them Sir shot him before dying. Sir shoots Charles and forces Jerry to go and get the van so they can escape. A tick kills Jerry and he crashes the van into the cabin. Sir forces everyone to hide by trying to shoot them, before a man-sized Tick bursts out and kills Sir. Tyler manages to fight off the ticks, get to the van, and rescue everyone, before the supertick attacks Rome. Tyler sets it on fire and drives off with everyone. Back in the city, a giant tick egg falls out of the van.
This movie is so very, very bad in all the best ways, bringing it right back to awesome.
First of all, this movie clearly tried to make sure that none of the characters were in the same social group. In the ‘90s everyone was trying to make sure that diversity was in every film and this one goes above and beyond. We have a protagonist group made up of almost every race, class, and background, none of which really has any impact on the movie. We have a kid with trauma who frequently shows no signs of it. A rape victim who stays silent until the movie decides “okay, she can talk now” and then NOTHING IS EVER SAID ABOUT IT AGAIN. Then we have Panic, who is supposedly an inner-city tough guy who still goes on retreats with these yuppies, with no explanation as to how that happened. The fact that he’s played by Alfonso Ribeiro makes it ambiguous as to whether he was actually just a softy, or that Alfonso Ribeiro just isn’t capable of playing a tough guy. Hell, even the villains are a dirty redneck and an English guy who’s obsessed with his appearance, two groups that just don’t seem to mesh without some sort of explanation. This part of the 90s really focused on saying “these people totally hang out, but we don’t want to explain anything about how that happened.” I’m not saying diversity is bad, I would advocate the opposite, but, screenwriters, it’s actually interesting to hear how groups like this come together, or at least see signs of it, rather than just going “we made this character Asian, are you happy now?”
The special effects in this movie are actually not as bad as I would have expected. Sure, none of the ticks look real, but they all look sufficiently gross and alien to get the point across. They also squish in a disgusting way that makes me kind of squeamish. The “fake blood and guts” budget was pretty sizable, is what I mean. The final scene of the tick bursting out of Alfonso Ribeiro looks simultaneously fake and satisfyingly unnerving.
The performances in the film are all cheesy, but they’re above what you’d expect for a low-budget horror movie. Given that Clint and Rance Howard, Ron Howard’s brother and father, respectively, are in the movie, I’m assuming that someone on the film had enough clout to get the other people on the film as a favor. I mean, most of these people peaked in the 80s and 90s, aside from Seth Green, but that means this film happened when they all actually could have gotten other work.
However, the MVP for this film is the person that did the closed captions. This is only half a movie if you have them off. First of all, whoever did it does not know what a car horn is, because whenever one goes off, it’s just called “background noise.” Second, it inconsistently goes between describing sounds and doing onomatopoetic renderings of them. Some of the best ones include “Terk-er-Terk-er-Terk-er,” “Chucka-Chucka-Chucka,” and “simple engine chugging” all for the sound of an engine, “thick liquid splatting” and “ploop” for the sounds of tick eggs falling, and the absolute, uncontested, best sound effect description in the history of cinema:
The weirdest thing about this movie is that it clearly suggests that everything that happens is as a result of steroids and marijuana. The application of steroids to cannabis is what makes the ticks in the first place, then the man-sized tick comes from Panic’s body being filled with steroids. Now, I’m not saying that steroid abuse isn’t bad, but… it’s still freaking ridiculous to make a monster movie with that as the cause. I mean, people on steroids don’t suddenly get 20 times larger and they certainly don’t get more fertile. Pot doesn’t make people aggressive and I don’t believe it has that effect on any animals, either. It’s just such a sign of when this movie was made that those things could be the source of the monster.
Overall, I will say, this is a must-see for fans of bad monster movies. Really, you’ve got to check it out, if only for Alfonso Ribeiro trying to be a thug. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen. And make sure to keep the captions on, because they are just a treat.
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