FANGO Flashback: “TICKS”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Out of all the longtime genre filmmakers who have soldiered on year after year in the face of jaded audiences, changing marketplaces and plummeting budgets, there’s few that are as underappreciated as Brian Yuzna. An impressive director in his own right, Yuzna’s productions are completely representative of his reckless imagination, maniacal tonal shifts and unadulterated love for practical effects, and not nearly enough of his films are given the retrospective love that they deserve. And while sometimes the quality of his productions may be questionable, there’s no denying that his films are technically competent and a complete blast from start to finish, which is more than some can say about the half-baked efforts of more lauded horror masters.
Case-in-point: Tony (HELLRAISER II) Randel’s TICKS, a mid-’90s Yuzna insect attack production that wears those aesthetics on its sleeve while providing one of the most insane and gooey monster movies of the decade. While the film runs low on logic (and really, what insect attack film doesn’t?), TICKS makes up for it with pure creature feature madness, including practical monsters, explosive splatter effects, bizarre hallucination sequences and chaotic cinematography. In fact, considering how dumb as the film’s script may be, TICKS generally has no business being as fun as it is, but with Yuzna and Randel’s shockingly collaborative cinematic voices, the film is a campy and crazy ride into familiar territory but with shockingly effective results.
In fact, it’s that familiar territory that makes the film oh-so-great: as soon as we learn one character is on steroids, the wait is on for the film’s grand climax with the survivors facing off against a super-tick. Likewise, some of the film’s most predictable moments do create this sense of giddy anticipation, whether it be the mutated-tick-on-the-loose scene in a veterinarian’s office, the barn visit gone bad moment or the film’s resident idiot (played by Clint Howard, of course) getting it bad first and foremost. Sure, it’s not new, but it’s so much fun, especially once you’ve jumped headfirst into the weird, reality-adjacent world that the film supposedly exists within where the logic of avoiding giant tick eggs is too much to comprehend.
Speaking of, let’s take a moment to applaud Doug Beswick’s genuinely astounding SFX, which brilliantly brings these giant ticks to life with the lean use of CGI and a wealth of practical effects. Are these super-ticks at all realistic? No way in hell! But are they monstrous and stunningly detailed? You bet your ass they are. The creations in TICKS put the giant spider in ARACHNAPHOBIA (a film this movie was definitely a response to) to shame, and look even more impressive when covered in blood and various insectoid goo.
And then there’s the cast of TICKS, an eclectic mix of up-and-coming young actors and TV favorites, all of whom completely understand exactly what kind of film they’re in. In the former category, we have Seth Green (shortly before his memorable turn in IDLE HANDS but after his role in Stephen King’s IT), Ami Dolenz (of WITCHBOARD II and PUMPKINHEAD II) and Alfonso Ribeiro (yes, Carlton from THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR), each playing surprisingly against type in a low budget monster movie. Meanwhile, in the latter camp we have BOSOM BUDDIES alum Peter Scolari, seaQuest DSV actress Rosalind Allen and both Clint Howard and his father Rance, each playing a fun, determined spin on somewhat generic roles.
Above all, TICKS is a great time capsule of a shining light in a period of darkness for genre films, as SCREAM was still two years away from reinvigorating horror and practical effects were beginning to realize the threat of CGI following JURASSIC PARK the year before. TICKS is a B-grade killer insect movie that is treated by its filmmakers like horror royalty, and it absolutely shows from the performances to the FX to the admittedly impressive lensing. And while the film is somewhat hard-to-find (with the cheapest Blu-rays going for $60 MINIMUM on Amazon), TICKS is a fantastic horror oddity that will be difficult to squash from your psyche.