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Crossing Over: “RICK AND MORTY”

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Welcome, FANGORIA Readers, to CROSSING OVER, our newest column that highlights the films, series and content out there outside of horror that is fashioned towards or pays tribute to our beloved genre. By shining a light onto these projects, FANGORIA hopes to open a world of entertainment perfect for fright fans that lies just beyond the borders of the horror community. So without further ado…

Regardless of whether or not you hold any kind of faith in a higher being, there’s one sentiment we can all agree on: Adult Swim. Since its inception back in 2001, the late night tv block has functioned as Cartoon Network’s cooler older sibling, exposing an entire generation of stoners and insomniacs to some surreal and truly cutting edge TV (and lots of Seth MacFarlane fare, but nobody’s perfect).

From early efforts like SPACE GHOST COAST TO COAST to old standbys like ROBOT CHICKEN and AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE (which is entering its final season this summer), Adult Swim has a growing arsenal of great programming thanks to its willingness to take chances on subversive comedy from creators like Tim Heidecker & Eric Wareheim and Brendon Small. This legacy was only reinforced on the evening of December 2nd 2013, when the superlative sci-fi comedy RICK AND MORTY hit the airwaves.

Brought into existence by creators Dan Harmon (whose nerd cred is already well established with prior credits that include creating COMMUNITY and co-writing the underrated MONSTER HOUSE), and Justin Roiland (whose voice will be instantly recognizable to fans of ADVENTURE TIME and the criminally short-lived HOUSE OF COSBYS), RICK AND MORTY concerns the insane, reality-bending adventures of alcoholic super scientist Rick Sanchez, and his simple minded but well meaning grandson, Morty Smith. Roiland voices both characters with a frenzied improvisation that lends them an extra level of depth and also simply makes them sound like real people. But beyond creating three-dimensional characters, one of the show’s successes is the way it manages to squeeze in existential dread and terror into its gonzo plots, as well as clever tributes to iconic horror characters.

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Episode 2, “LAWNMOWER DOG”, features an explicit homage to Freddy Krueger in the form of Scary Terry (“Now this is how you dream, bitch”) who chases Rick and Morty through the multiple dream worlds of Morty’s seriously disturbed math teacher. Every detail, from the satanic boiler room and creepy children’s song to the clawed glove and heavy use of the word “bitch” is employed, and it’s a treat to watch the duo ultimately befriend Terry and help him get the root of his nightmares.

This reference is only eclipsed by the greatness of “RICK POTION #9”, in which a simple chemical mix up in a serum Morty tries to use on his high school crush Jessica results in a pandemic that causes people to mutate into monstrous human-grasshopper-octopus-slime hybrids, or as Rick dubs them “Cronenbergs.”  Not only does the episode get major points for making a verb out of a body-horror icon’s name, it stands as one of the series’ best for its mindfuck of an ending, in which (Big ol’ SPOILER ALERT comin’ at ya) Rick and Morty are forced to travel to a parallel dimension where they have recently died in order to escape the world that they totally “Cronenberg’d.”

The episode’s final sequence features a completely mortified Morty (pun intended) burying his and his grandfather’s corpses and assuming the lives of the versions of themselves that existed on that dimensional plane. It is all done with no audio, save for the haunting song “Look On Down From The Bridge”  by Mazzy Star playing over the soundtrack. It’s a truly disturbing moment in which the show’s young protagonist is forced to face the tenuous nature of mortality, as well as the inherent chaos of the universe at large, one that is put to a fine point via a monologue from Morty himself in “RIXTY MINUTES” (“Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”).

Oh, did I mention that the aforementioned episode also features some interdimensional TV channels, one of which shows an ad for breakfast cereal where two dead-eyed children cut open the stomach of a Lucky Charms/Trix hybrid character and get his special cereal by eating handfuls of his intestines? Well I did now, and regardless of whether or not you ever watch the show, you can never get that image out of your mind. You’re welcome.

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The list of horrific stuff only gets longer. “MEESEEKS AND DESTROY” features a race of problem-solving creatures who, upon finding a problem they can’t find a solution for, slowly grow insane until they threaten to slaughter Morty’s father, Jerry, for his inability to get two strokes off his golf game. It’s yet another example of the show’s ability to make the concept of life having or not having a meaning truly dreadful and disquieting.

Interested in more horror movie references? Check out “SOMETHING RICKED THIS WAY COMES”, which manages to humorously subvert the plot of Stephen King’s NEEDFUL THINGS (with a cameo from genre vet Alfred Molina as Mr. Needful) when Rick decides to open up a store that removes the curses from The Devil’s cursed items store.

Did the idea of horrifying multiple realities intrigue you? Season one’s penultimate episode “CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE RICK KIND” explores the concept further by placing the titular duo at the center of a murder mystery involving the Rick Sanchez’s of numerous dimensions banding together to accuse the Rick we’ve come to know of systematically executing other Ricks (R.I.P. The Scientist Formerly Known As Rick). By the end of the episode, the default Rick and Morty have been exonerated, but a sinister conspiracy has been revealed, one that will definitely pop up again in season two.

The craziest thing about all of this is that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface here, and I binged watched the whole season twice over as I wrote this. If you’re a horror fan looking for some genre-crossing fun, or a non-horror fan looking for a friendly but completely guano space to dip your toes into the cesspool, you need to watch RICK AND MORTY. WUBBA LUBBA DUB DUB!

Season One of RICK AND MORTY can be streamed in its entirety on Hulu. It can also be purchased on Blu-ray. Season 2 will begin airing on Adult Swim on July 26th.

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About the author
Christopher La Vigna
Christopher La Vigna is a writer, filmmaker, and the newest batch of blood to be welcomed into the haunted halls of FANGORIA. He’s a graduate of Hunter College*, and can be found lurking around any movie theater or comic shop near his person. You can argue about movies with him on Twitter: @Chris_LaVigna
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