Monster Movie Monday: Ticks (1993)
Script and plot5.5
Matthew Turner | On 07, Jun 2021
Director: Tony Randel
Cast: Peter Scolari, Seth Green, Ami Dolenz, Rosalind Allen, Alfonso Ribeiro, Clint Howard
Where to watch Ticks online in the UK: Amazon Prime
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Directed by Tony Randel, Ticks was one of a number of mutant bug-related creature features released in the early 90s, alongside Skeeter (1993) and Mosquito (1994). As such, it has a fun cast and some deliciously gloopy effects work, though it’s slightly let down by its script.
Shot at Big Bear Lake in California, the film stars Seth Green and Alfonso Ribeiro as Tyler and “Panic” (real name: Darrel), two decidedly 90s LA teenagers who head into the woods as part of an inner-city wilderness project aimed at helping troubled kids. Their fellow campers include well-meaning group leaders Charles (Peter Scolari) and Holly (Rosalind Allen), Charles’ daughter, Melissa (Virginya Keeyne), traumatised Kelly (Sina Dayrit) and horny couple Dee Dee (Ami Dolenz, daughter of Mickey) and Rome (Ray Oriel).
Unfortunately for the group, things don’t entirely go according to plan. First they’re harassed by dope-growing locals Sir (Michael Medeiros) and Jerry (Barry Lynch), and then it turns out the forest is infested with mutant, blood-sucking ticks, thanks to a herbal steroid that’s been used on the marijuana crops to accelerate growth.
Created by special effects supervisor Doug Beswick (who also came up with the idea for the film), the ticks themselves are suitably icky little creatures, whether in their ridiculously gloopy gelatinous egg sac form, or full grown blood-sucking monsters, roughly the size of a human foot – “When in doubt, squish,” offers a local vet. Credit is also due to the sound design work, as they make a terrifically creepy and effective scuttling noise. That said, there’s a scene where everyone’s trying to look for a tick and the scuttling noise – clearly added in post-production – is so loud that it’s hilarious that nobody hears it.
The ticks don’t have much in the way of personality, per se, and they’re not even that good at blood-sucking – in other words, way too many cast members survive – but they do have some nifty little tricks like burrowing under your skin or jumping onto your face. Randel also deploys that welcome creature feature cliché, the Tick-Cam, with a number of shots from the ticks’ point-of-view.
Throughout the film, Randel proves a dab hand with a decent jump scare, while also pulling off a couple of great shock sequences that you won’t see coming. He also gets the tone exactly right, playing things largely straight and resisting the urge to camp things up. On top of that, the film has a commendably high gore factor, with lots of various squelchy things happening and a generous amount of the red stuff sloshing about.
There are several great scenes that make this worth your while. Highlights include: a fishing scene that doesn’t end the way you expect; pretty much everything that happens to Clint Howard (as the guy responsible for the herbal steroid in the first place); and a scene that leans hard into the horror movie tradition of teen characters doing ridiculously stupid things, in that Dee Dee spots an entire wall of vibrating gelatinous egg sacs and decides to put her face right up to one of them to take a closer look.
Similarly, although everything in the film is heightened, the script does at least tap into the genuine fear of being in the woods and finding a scary insect crawling up your back. That scene here (“Don’t move – there’s something on your back!”) is more or less played for laughs (in that it’s massive, and therefore ridiculous that the character didn’t notice the weight), but it works brilliantly and has a fun pay-off.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t have a few problems. For one thing, there are multiple issues with the script, whether it’s casual, wince-inducing homophobia from the bad guys or a basic failure to connect each teen’s trauma to their eventual ordeal – the set-up is all there, but the script just ignores it completely, despite making a seemingly big deal of it with both Tyler and Kelly.
On a similar note, there are moments that are just plain stupid (eg. Ribeiro starts shivering with cold for no reason, even though he’s wearing warm clothes, during the day, in California), and there are also plenty of missed opportunities – for example, the tick bites apparently have a hallucinogenic effect, but that only comes into play with one character.
That handful of script issues aside, this is a mostly well made and entertaining creature feature that – ahem – ticks all the right boxes, delivering shocks, jumps and plenty of icky moments. Also, if you were a fan of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and you want to see Alfonso Ribeiro drop some f-bombs while being attacked by ticks, this is the movie for you.
Ticks is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.