The 1950’s, the Atomic Era, was the ‘Golden Age’ of mutated horrors. This was the decade that gave us Godzilla, The Deadly Mantis, Them, and The Blob. It was a time of drive-in theatres and B-movies. Flashforward to the 1990’s, the era of Blockbuster and straight-to-video movies. Many of these movies tried to emulate the B-movie sensibilities of the drive-in era, with mixed results. One of these movies, Ticks, tried to re-capture the same drive-in vibe with its mutated, giant insects angle. Was it a ‘so bad, it’s good’ B-flick, or just a bad movie?
Well-meaning social workers take a group of troubled inner-city youth camping to connect with nature. Unfortunately, not far from their campsite, local marijuana farmers have been using illegal steroids to yield bigger crops. But it’s not just the weed that’s getting it bigger. The steroids have mutated local wood ticks, increasing their size … and their appetite for blood.
Ticks Has Alfonso Ribeiro …No, He Doesn’t Dance
Old horror fans will quickly notice all the hallmarks of Tick’s straight-to-video aesthetics. Most of the cast are unknowns. If you grew in the 1980’s, you may recognize Ami Dolenz from so small roles in family sitcoms. Fresh Prince of Bel Air fans may get a kick out of watching Alfonso Ribeiro playing against type. Here, in Ticks, Ribeiro is the tough, streetwise kid. That works out about as well as you could imagine. Maybe he should have broke out the ‘Carlton Dance’. Genre regular, Clint Howard, turns up for a small role. Regardless of screentime, Howard gets what kind of movie he’s playing in, and has fun with the role.
Also along for the infestation is a young, pre-Buffy Seth Green. Though he doesn’t necessarily light up the screen, Seth is easily the best performer in the movie. You can see hints of some talent in the performance. Two local backwoods folks attempt to bring some intentional humour to the movie. They fail. In fact, the characters don’t even work as unintentional humour.
Ticks Features Better Than Expected Effects
For horror fans who grown up with SyFy movies, you may be mildly impressed with Tick’s titular creatures. In fact, the ‘creepy crawlies’ don’t look to bad in their close-up shots. Don’t expect Ticks to rival the shivers that movies like Arachnophobia triggered. Nevertheless, there’s still enough oozing and bug-bites to elicit a few screams of disgust. Ticks delivers lots of gross close-ups of characters prying large ticks from their bodies. And director Tony Randel actually teases out a few suspenseful moments early in the movie. Yes, some scenes – like wideshots of a forest fire – look cheap. Just consider it a part of the B-movie vibe.
Fails To Fully Embrace the Stupidity of Its Premise
Perhaps what keeps Ticks from reaching full-on drive-in movie fun is its tonal inconsistency. That is, Ticks can’t seem to make up its mind as to whether it’s a B-movie or a serious horror film. Clint Howard and the movie’s backwoods locals ham it up appropriately. But the movie’s pacing in the early-going is far too slow. No one is watching a movie about giant ticks for stirring character moments. Add to this problem that the death scenes don’t really mine the absurdity of the movie’s concept. Too many of the movie’s characters also make it out alive. Subsequent send-up’s of the subgenre, like Eight-Legged Freaks and Feast, more fully embraced the over-top concept.
Ticks Just Isn’t Bad Enough
Okay, so it’s a rather strange criticism to make of a movie. But Ticks just isn’t bad enough to warrant a recommendation. It’s pseudo-seriousness won’t prompt the unintentional laughs of 70’s eco-horror movies. Conversely, there’s too many lulls and not enough intentional gross-out humor to earn cult status. As it stands, Evilspeak is still Clint Howard’s best movie. And if you’re a real big Alfonso Ribeiro fan, YouTube has lots of clips of the ‘Carlton Dance’.