Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 25 min.
Release Date: May 25th, 1994 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Tony Randel Actors: Rosalind Allen, Ami Dolenz, Seth Green, Virginya Keehne, Ray Oriel, Alfonso Ribeiro, Peter Scolari, Dina Dayrit, Michael Medeiros, Clint Howard
yler Burns (Seth Green, the first surprising appearance), a troubled youngster with nightmarish flashbacks plaguing his nerdy normalcy, is dropped off by his dad to attend the Inner City Wilderness Project. The organization is designed to get distraught Los Angeles youths together for some outdoors bonding. And it’s led by experienced backpacker Holly Lambert (Rosalind Allen) and her lover/partner Charles Danson (Peter Scolari).
Other participants include the completely unconvincing tough-guy and wannabe streetwise gangster Darrel “Panic” Lumley (Alfonso Ribeiro of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” fame, as the second surprising role), using the word “homes” in every sentence, accompanied by his dog Brutus. Charles’ daughter Melissa (Virginya Keehne) also joins the festivities, followed by every stereotype imaginable – going overboard with a shy Asian girl (Kelly Mishimoto, played by Dina Dayrit), a ripped Hispanic (Rome, played by Ray Oriel) wearing a vest and little else, and a thin, mouthy, dumb blonde (Dee Dee, played by Ami Dolenz) with a permanently exposed midriff. Unfortunately (and expectedly), they’re all developed to be generic victims.
“Sometimes I get the feeling like something really bad is gonna happen,” comments Tyler. Sure enough, chemically altered wood ticks start reproducing everywhere, forming gelatinous, blobby eggs in the cabins and nearby trees. One of the buggers attacks Brutus, causing Panic to run away, after which Charles takes the dead animal to Dr. Kates’ (Judy Jean Burns) office, where the audience is informed that tick neurotoxins are hallucinogenic.
From here, waves of baseball-sized critters start attacking the locals, zeroing in on the frightened campers for a climactic siege. In the tradition of copying truly great horror films, there are also human villains to worry about. Derivatively, it’s not just the mutant ticks that are purposely problematic. Sir (Barry Lynch) and Jerry (Michael Medeiros) are redneck marijuana croppers using illegal steroids to boost plant growth (the cause of the monster vermin), unafraid to terrorize the kids in an attempt to protect their trade secrets – resulting in, occasionally, more damage than the bugs.
The dialogue is absolutely terrible, supplying the majority of the unintentional humor. This is aided by a goofy tick-cam (providing tick points of view), plenty of gooey messes, splattering blood, dissection, and all manner of hilariously gruesome creature yucks. Laughably, Charles and Holly engage in inappropriate activities while the kids fumble about assembling a fire, while Clint Howard is the third casting wonderment, appearing as Jarvis, a worker in the weed factory.
The finale drags on a little long, forgetting that the miniscule creepy-crawlies should be the main focus of a horror film called “Ticks” (also known as “Infested”). The monster movie tactics are frequently abandoned for crime drama – although the rapid-paced spilling of ticks into the cabin and the uncomfortable, oddly loud scurrying sounds are impressively reminiscent of the facehuggers from “Aliens.” The soundtrack also borrows thundering notes heard in the military themes from the aforementioned James Cameron masterwork.
The premise isn’t particularly original, especially as the introduction shows a shack in the middle of the woods, filled with operational machinery working overtime to produce toxic chemical runoff, spilling onto a membranous egg sac. The unique angle of director Tony Randel’s low-budget science-fiction/horror extravaganza is instead simply the insect chosen to become a gargantuan killing machine – something more formidable and terrifying than other monster movie pests. The accompanying special effects and gore are spectacular – practical goop and rubbery models are employed more often than even stop-motion imagery (which is still convincing), creating some unforgettable moments of grisly mayhem. The hellions themselves don’t make much sense (especially the “mother” tick), and the body count is shockingly low, but the clever visuals mark “Ticks” as one of the most inexplicably obscure killer animal releases of the decade – certainly warranting a viewing for giant-bug-movie completists.
– Mike Massie