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B-Movie of the Week: Ticks

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While most horror fans are awaiting the long-overdue DVD release of Night of the Comet, Night of the Creeps, and Fred Dekker's cult favorite Monster Squad, yours truly is impatiently tapping his narrow foot on the film industry's shifty hardwood floor in anticipation of something else entirely. Now, if I had a chance to speak one-on-one with the Lords of DVD Distribution, I would humbly request that they immediately release Tony Randel's 1993 direct-to-video classic Ticks some time before I die. You can have your college zombies and your deadly comets, my friends. I'd personally rather waste my time with a film dedicated to overgrown ticks created by an herbal steroid used in the growth of marijuana. Oh, and Ami Dolenz's midriff. Can't forget that, now can we? Of course not. We don't judge people here. Just the movies they make.

Before I belly flop into how impossibly enjoyable this stupid flick is, let me give you the low down on what's what and who's who. A pair of counselors for troubled teens (Rosalind Allen and Peter Scolari) take a group of ill-tempered kids into the countryside for a little tough love and rehabilitation. Though their game plan may seem a bit lackadaisical to some, their intentions are good and pure and quite stupid. You see, instead of taking them to a nice, clean campground with proper outhouses and running water, they've decided to dump them right in the middle of cash crop territory, an area of the nation most of us would probably like to avoid. Those of us who value our lives, anyway.

That's not to say that marijuana farmers are inhospitable skidmarks with bad teeth, mind you. Heavens, no. They're actually kind of sweet and more than willing to shoot anyone who happens to come within a few feet of their territory. To make matters worse, a chemical used to enhance the dope has mutated the local wildlife, in particular the hundreds of thousands of ticks that freely roam the landscape. Soon those lovely pulsating sacks you see dangling from nearby trees are unleashing a horde of blood-thirsty creatures on our heroes, forcing them to run for shelter. Who will live? Who will die? More importantly, will Alfonso Ribeiro ever stop whining about his dead dog? Enough, already. I haven't seen that much overacting since his turn in a very special episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air which finds Carlton overdosing on speed. Sheesh.

I remember renting Ticks years and years and oh-so many years ago, hoping that I'd finally stumbled across a film that allows the flirty Ms. Dolenz to shed her pesky clothing in favor of an au naturale wardrobe. What can I say? I was a lonely horny teenager, she a nubile cinematic blonde who wasn't afraid to give you a fleeting glimpse of her goodies. Though the object of my misplaced desire never reveals her best assets to the world, Ticks remains one of the most memorable straight-to-video horror movies I rented during the '90s. Why this picture continues to lurk in obscurity is rather confusing, especially when you take into consideration those who chose to lend their talents to the production.

For starters, you've got Seth Green doing his adorable teenage moppet shtick, complete with a faux-tough guy attitude peppered with mild heroic undertones. The guy does his best with Brent Friedman's silly script, giving you an early glimpse of the talent we all know and love today. Well, most of us, anyway. But if Seth's not enough to make you investigate this title on your own, surely the inclusion of Alfonso Ribeiro (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air), the aforementioned Ami Dolenz (Pumpkinhead II), Rance Howard (Toolbox Murders), and his cult-icon offspring Clint Howard will do the trick. It's a veritable who's who of has-beens and never-weres. Though some may be a bit more gifted than others, all involved do a fine job of bringing this nonsense to life on the small screen. Good job? Of course!

Director Tony Randel, who also helmed Hellbound: Hellraiser II and the live-action Gary Daniels epic Fist of the North Star, is a name that is often overlooked when horror fans sit down to discuss those talented filmmakers who have served the genre well. Hellbound is easily the best Hellraiser sequel to-date, far surpassing Clive Barker's creepy original feature. Randel's films are often quite visceral, relying more on icky imagery than a strong narrative to get you through till the end. Ticks is certainly no exception to the rule, giving you plenty of squishy thrills at the expense of a coherent, well-rounded story. Sound good to you? Well, it certainly sounds good to me.

Finally, the special effects are actually quite nifty. The ticks themselves look hideously freakish, especially when someone decides to stomp them into the ground. My favorite scene involving these crafty critters takes place inside a local veterinarian's office after Ribeiro's poor dog Brutus has been savaged by some unseen force. The ensuing chaos is quite lovely, and still stands as a true gross-out moment in horror history.

Will we ever see this blood-soaked Brian Yuzna-produced horror extravaganza on that glorious device known as the digital video disc anytime soon? Your guess is as good as mine. There's a wonky Region 2 release by Contender Entertainment Group available on the market as of 2006, but it doesn't help those fans who remain stuck in the Region 1 universe. Until Ticks is given the proper DVD treatment it desperately deserves, the flick will remain in obscurity, discussed behind closed doors by those who think they're too hip for what passes as mainstream horror these days. Its praises will be sung from majestic mountaintops by jaded genre geeks and fans of low-budget, B-grade cinema, it's legacy cemented in the hopes and dreams of losers the world over.

In other words, morons like me.

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