The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: TICKS (1993)

Damon Swindall

by: Damon Swindall
May 5th, 2011

After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. GATW’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!


Well, if this doesn’t help steer you away from camping, then I don’t know what will. There was a time when I enjoyed camping. I was much younger and not as bright. Now that I know the beauty of things like air conditioning, ceiling fans, electricity, and the city why would I want to leave all of the comforts behind to be outside in the - gasp - sun? Not only is it hot and disgusting but there are tons and tons of creepy crawly bugs, and that’s never fun. In my camping days I remember having to scour my body for ticks and, in some cases, finding them in very uncomfortable and hard-to-reach places. These were just regular-sized ticks, mind you, and not the hormone altered mutant bloodsuckers from the film TICKS that are the size of a softball! Imagine having one of those feasting on your bathing suit area.

The film opens with a father dropping his teen son off in a sketchy urban area to wait for a group going on a wilderness retreat, because it’ll be good for him. Soon the group shows up, lead by the “responsible” Holly Lambert (Rosalind Allen) and Charles Danson (Peter Scolari!). Tyler gets in the van with a disparate group of teens, including a thuggish gent who goes by the name Panic (Alfonso Ribeiro), and into the wilderness they go. Not long before they arrive they are treated to run-ins with strange ex-loggers and told tells of crazy local pot farmers, referred to as cash croppers. But these are the least of their problems. Pulsating cocoons are everywhere and within are genetic freak-show overgrown ticks gestating until the time is right... and that time is now.

Carlton Ba... er... Alfonso Ribeiro as Panic

Darrel “Panic” Lumley: “They call me “Panic” ‘cause I never do.”

Being a TV/pop culture junkie this movie makes me giddy as soon as the opening credits roll. Henry from BOSOM BUDDIES and Carlton Banks are going camping together in a town where Clint Howard grows pot and his Dad, Rance Howard, is the Sheriff. Not to mention a baby faced Seth Green, not as chubby cheeked as he was in CAN’T BUY ME LOVE, but still quite young and Mickey Dolenz’s daughter Ami. It’s really hard to take this film seriously in so many scenes mostly because of Ribeiro. I kind of feel sorry for the guy, but he’s been pigeonholed into to the role of Carlton, or even Alfonso on SILVER SPOONS, and it really makes it hard to take him seriously as anything else, especially when his role is that of a tough street kid. I just kept waiting for him to bust into some sweet dance moves and drink a Pepsi. But behind that awesome wardrobe of dark sunglasses, the backward cap and parachute pants he does a fairly decent job when attacked by some of the crazy locals by stabbing them with his switchblade. It just makes me wonder where that badass was when he and Will were held at gunpoint at the ATM while on their way camping. I’d much rather go in the forest with Panic.

This is a fun flick but I was really hoping for more tick related carnage that didn’t happen. It still has quite a few moments of fun icky gags, like ticks getting stepped on or exploding, but it seemed there could have been so much more. I tried to count the number of ticks I saw but gave-up quickly. They are animated, mostly, through stop-motion and look great. This was the time before smaller productions like this would just go the CGI route, as it was much less accessible than today, and that’s a good thing because that would look really bad. The physical creatures look pretty damn cool but that’s nothing compared to Panic’s infected corpse transforming into a giant tick. Awesome! I do kind of wish there would have been more of an assault on the group by hordes of bugs scurrying the ground so they could beat them off each other with bats, but I guess nothing is perfect.

"Marihuana" is Bad

On a more serious note let’s focus on the - snicker - serious message of the film. Just think about Panic and Tyler meeting for the first time again. Ahhh. Nothing like a basketball hoop under an overpass to bring people together. This is one of the first scenes we see and I was wondering if instead of the film I was accidentally watching some sort of anti-drug PSA because that’s what it looked like. I guess I wasn’t really far off. All throughout the film people constantly bring up this rural town of ex-loggers who have gone a bit batty and now make money by growing “Marihuana - The Assassin of Youth” as a newspaper headline reads. This is the REEFER MADNESS of the early-90s. As if the drug itself wasn’t bad enough the growers have used a weird pot growth stimulant that has mutated the average tick into the beast that it has become, not to mention that the farmers themselves are crazed and try to kill people. All around drugs are bad, alright kids. Do you understand? Don’t smoke dope because it could lead to being mauled by supercharged arachnid parasites! It’s a real threat plaguing our nation, one that the government doesn’t want you to know about.

Holly: “Just don’t touch it if you don’t know what it is.”
Melissa: “Don’t touch it? It attacked me!”
Holly: “Oh come on guys, bugs don’t attack unless they’re aggravated.”
Tyler: “Great. Classic story, the adults not believing the kids. Thanks.”

Assuming the remaining members of the group make it home, since the film ends without really saying, I hope that Charles and Holly are brought up on criminal charges. I guess you cannot really blame them for the existence of the ticks but what did they really do to help before it was too late? They didn’t believe stories of crazy bugs when warned by the kids, they were warned by locals about the possibility of deranged people and nothing could get them to budge. Instead they take a group of troubled teens out into wilderness and leave them unsupervised at night while they screw in their room of the shared cabin. Not only that but they get annoyed by being interrupted when the genius kids throw gas on a fire. These are not the best chaperone's.

Special recognition must be given to one of the characters - Ms. Kelly Mishimoto (Diana Dayrit). This is probably the most troubled of all the group, so much so that she doesn’t even speak. From the moment we meet her character and are aware of her frightened silence I knew someway, somehow she would play a major role in the final scene of the movie. Her silence could only mean she knew something the others didn’t or was some sort of exterminating badass. I just didn’t expect two things from her. One, that one of her first lines would be “After I was raped, I had nothing to say” and two, her awesome life-saving addition to the film would be as an expert angler! I usually just think of fishing as a boring way to spend a day not as something that will help people escape a large two story cabin overrun with mutant ticks.

Seth Green's Face Being Attacked by a Tick

This was a fun edition to the HMN repertoire and sported some great FX work. It’s definitely worth a watch for a few really great scenes like the tick with a syringe sticking out of it running all around a lab, or to just see Clint Howard get caught in a bear trap. Even if you don’t find it too engrossing it speeds by with a scant 85 minute running time keeping everything fairly tight. Probably not a good film to show to have an actual anti-drug effect but it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than most of them.

Until next week - screw camping, stay indoors.

Body Count: 5 humans, 1 dog, 1 hamster
Best Death Scene: Transforming into a Tick
First Tick: 11:02
First (Human) Death: 47:56
Visible Shots of a Boom Mic: 1

Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-5/4/11: DREAMANIAC (1986)
-5/11/11: THE ABOMINATION (1986)
-5/18/11: HOMEBODIES (1974)
-5/25/11: THE SPIDER LABYRINTH (1988)

"I'm Infected!"

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