I grew up in rural Virginia. Numerous un-huggable critters roam the woodlands, and it's not unusual to encounter snakes, leeches, and swarms of mosquitoes. But none of these hold quite as much power as the tick. I have seen grown men – mannish men who like cars and sports and hunting stuff – reduced to pale, quivering blobs because a single tick burrowed neck-deep into their apparently tender flesh. I have come to know ticks as one of the great fear equalizers: no matter how tough you are, all bets are off when ticks come into play.
In 1993, executive producer Brian Yuzna (Re-Animator) and director Tony Randel (Hellbound: Hellraiser II) created a now hard-to-find flick about these bloodsucking beasts. Welcome to this week’s installment of The Unseen: Ticks (a.k.a. Infested, a.k.a. C2).
Ticks (which is the title I have always known it as) received a lot of bad press from mainstream media during its initial release, yet horror press like Fangoria gave it positive reviews. Why the difference? Because Ticks was made as a b-movie; it was made to be funny, campy, unrealistic and generally bat-shit crazy. Yet in 1993, long before a time when crocosauruses and sharknados roamed our viewing screens, no one really knew what to make of Ticks – they either got the joke and loved it, or missed the humor and thought it was horrible. But this forgotten gem needs to be rediscovered. It’s a cheesy critter flick, but with some of the greatest ultra-gory effects in the history of monster bug films!
A group of marijuana farmers have been juicing their plants, applying steroids to the seedlings in hopes of creating an extra beefed-up crop. Unfortunately, the local tick population has also been dining on the drugs, and they are getting equally ‘roided up. When a group of troubled teens travel into the woods on a wilderness retreat, the ticks find a banquet of flesh delivered to their doorstep. Though the plot is itself a campy, hilarious concept, the true beauty of this one lies in the cast. Remember Alfonso Ribeiro? The guy made a name for himself playing “the wealthy kid,” first on Silver Spoons and then later as Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In Ticks, Ribeiro ditches the rich-kid roles and instead plays a streetwise thug named Panic, who sports Zubaz pants and carries the world’s largest boom-box. If this isn’t hilarious enough, an unknown and preteen Seth Green plays Tyler Burns, a sensitive poet-type with daddy issues. Oh yeah, and Clint Howard plays a redneck-ish marijuana farmer. Brilliant!
Ok, maybe it’s not brilliant. But it is incredibly amusing, and even this awkward casting doesn't outshine the gore effects, which really are something spectacular thanks to the work of several legendary FX gods. The IMDB listing is pretty much a who’s-who of FX, including Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger of the epic team KNB Effects; also involved is Wayne Toth, who has become known as the king of carnage in all of Rob Zombie’s films. The talent of this motley crew shines above the rest of the film. The ticks don’t exactly look like ticks – they're much more gooey and oozy. This is one slimy film! The amazing gore reached a zenith when a giant tick shows up at the end! It's a silly climax, but a staple in the insect movie realm... and these guys do it damn well!
During its initial 1993 release, this film was distributed under multiple different names – which is never a good sign, as it often indicates marketing troubles or an attempt to increase sales by reaching different demographic groups. Whether it was viewed as Ticks, Infested, or C2, scant few horror fans caught this on VHS or late night on HBO... then this fun flick disappeared for 17 years. After a long slumber, Ticks was very quietly released to Blu-ray just a few months ago, but sadly, a comparison of my well-worn VHS copy alongside the newly-released disc shows that very little – if any – restoration or correction work was done. It does, however, feature a decent commentary with director Tony Randel. But whether on old-school VHS or Blu-ray, gorehounds need to check this one out – it's a blood and ooze-filled romp that will leave you both laughing and cringing.