Directed by Tony Randel and released by Paramount in 1993, Ticks may not be the most original horror movie ever made but it definitely is a lot of fun. Written by Brent V. Friedman, the man who gave us the Chuck Norris movie Hellbound and Syngenor, the movie begins in Los Angeles where a teenager named Tyler Burns (Seth Green) is dropped off at a highway overpass by his father. Here he meets a tough black kid calling himself Panic (Alfonso Ribeiro) who harasses him until a van shows up – seems they’re both being picked up by Charles (Peter Scolari) and his girlfriend Holly (Rosalind Allen), two youth workers who are taking them out into the middle of the woods for a retreat. Filling up the van are suave Rome Hernandez (Ray Oriel), his ditzy girlfriend Dee Dee Davenport (Ami Dolenz), a quiet girl named Kelly Mishimoto (Dina Dayrit) and Charles’ grumpy daughter, Melissa (Virginya Keehne).
The van arrives and the group unloads – Charles and Holly in one cabin, the girls in the second cabin and the guys in the third. As they’re hanging up some clothes, Tyler and Panic notice some sort of strange bug sack growing in the closet but they knock it to the ground, squish it, and move on. Later the next day Tyler and Melissa, who are hitting it off, go for a walk in the woods where some large bug attaches itself to her back. Tyler uses a stick to knock it off but when they report it to Charles and Holly, the adults don’t believe them. It isn’t until Panic’s dog is attacked and then killed by something that Charles starts to take things seriously. A quick trip to the local vet’s office reveals that the dog fell prey to a giant mutant tick – and it seems that one of the local pot growers (Clint Howard), who has been using steroids to yield bigger and better bud harvests, may have something to do with it. As the ticks starts to multiply, things start to get complicated. Panic takes off, someone starts a forest fire and two armed men, Jerry (Michael Medeiros) and Sir (Barry Lynch), start poking around the camp.
There have been plenty of killer mutant bug movies made over the years but few of them are as gory as Ticks. Featuring some impressive effects work courtesy of the KNB Effects crew, the movie gets pretty bloody once the ticks begin their descent on the cabin and the surrounding area. They don’t just bite people but, in grand tick style, burrow under skin and cause all sorts of icky problems for the various cast members culminating in a pretty great finale that brings to mind classic monster movies like The Thing. Ticks the size of grapefruits are constantly skittering across floors, over roof tops, across ceilings and over the ground outside which ensures that the movie does not want for monster mayhem. If the effects aren’t always one hundred percent convincing they are done well and provide plenty of slimy, gooey, old school charm.
Being a goofy B-movie and all, the movie is full of some pretty massive logic gaps. At one point Panic, having been stabbed and shot and attacked by ticks, uses Rome’s steroids as pain killers – somehow this works and earlier in the film when Panic’s dog is acting insane and possibly mutating, nobody seems in the least bit concerned. We could go on, but there’d be no point – Ticks isn’t the type of movie you watch for realism.
As far as the cast members are concerned, well, it’s amusing in and of itself to see Ribeiro play a ‘gangsta’ type character – it’s impossible to see him here and not think of Carlton Banks and while you can’t blame the guy from wanting to take on a different sort of role than that, you spend a lot of the movie expecting him to break out into goofy dance moves. Seth Green is okay as the main lead here – he’s likeable enough, though for reasons never properly explained he experiences some sort of psychic flash when bad things are about to happen? This subplot goes nowhere and never really adds much to the movie, but that’s not Seth’s fault. The rest of the cast sort of lumber through the movie but special mention must be made of the great Clint Howard, who has a pretty awesome death scene here and spends the early part of the film working on a contraption puzzlingly powered by a hamster in a wheel. Huh?
When the dust settles, this one is a lot of fun. Is it good? Not in the way that The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre is good, no, but it’s definitely enjoyable enough in its own goofy way and that has to count for something. The movie doesn’t overstay its welcome, it offers up just as much gory tick related mayhem as you’d hope for and it has both intentionally and unintentionally funny bits scattered throughout to keep things from getting too dark. It’s a popcorn movie through and through, and a very entertaining one at that.
Ticks arrives on Blu-ray framed at an aspect ratio of 1.78.1 in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation. Olive Films obviously hasn’t done a full blown restoration on the movie but evidently they were working with source elements that must have been in pretty decent shape. Some mild print damage shows up in the form of minor specks here and there and in a few shots grain looks unusually heavy but overall the image is pretty solid. Some shots are softer than others but this seems to be inherent in the photography and not a fault of the transfer itself, as the detail is always noticeably above what standard definition could offer. Texture is generally pretty good, you’ll notice this in the fabrics that make up the cool early nineties fashions as well as in the wood of the cabin. Black levels aren’t the deepest you’ll ever see but they’re decent enough while skin tones look lifelike throughout. Colors are reproduced nicely, looking pretty accurate here and not boosted at all. We get some nice rich reds in the gore scenes that pop a bit but never bleed into the other colors. Detail isn’t mind blowing but again, it looks pretty good. Fans of the film should be pretty satisfied here, even if they aren’t completely blown away.
The only audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo mix in English, there are no alternate language options, subtitles or closed captioning of any kind provided here. Overall the audio here is fine. Dialogue is easy enough to understand and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion. Though a 5.1 mix might have made the attack scenes and the big finish a bit more fun, what’s here sounds just fine. The levels are well balanced, the score sounds good and the sound effects are nice and squishy, just as they should be.
Aside from a static menu and chapter selection, there’s one extra on the disc and that’s an audio commentary with director Tony Randel and actor Clint Howard, moderated by Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson. This is a solid track, the two men were obviously quite aware of what kind of movie they were making and don’t take things any more seriously than they need to here. They tell some great stories about the different cast and crew members involved in the picture, discuss the effects work seen in the movie and talk about shooting bits and pieces out on location. There’s some dead air here and there but overall this is a fun commentary that fans of the movie should enjoy. Thompson has done his research and asks a lot of pertinent questions and keeps the two involved and engaged in the discussion, making this well worth a listen. Sadly, there’s no trailer for the film included here.
Olive Films’ Blu-ray release Ticks is light on extras but it looks and sounds decent enough to make this one horror fans ought to consider. The movie itself is a gooey, gory good time – a great mix of sly humor and strong gore performed by a fun cast. The plot borrows from any other mutant bug movie you’d care to name but that’s half the fun of a picture like this: familiarity can go a long way. Recommended for monster movie fans and horror film aficionados alike.