Ah, the early 1990s. It was a time of transition. The neon styles of the ’80s were losing their cool, and the plaid drabness that supplanted it was crossing over into movies and television. In the cities, violent crime reached its peak, and gentrification was an idea that had yet to find its execution. The ’90s as a whole were a time when the rough edges still existed, but the polishing was underway.
I bring this up because one would be hard pressed to find a movie that looks more 1990s than Ticks. Released in 1993, Ticks comes to viewers via director Tony Randel and screenwriter Brent V. Friedman.
The film opens on an indoor marijuana grow somewhere in California. It’s a filthy place, run by a filthy man named Jarvis (Clint Howard). He’s been putting some growth hormones, or something, into the fertilizer sprayed on the weed, and it causes the local wood tick population to grow to massive proportions.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, young Tyler Burns (Seth Green), has a debilitating phobia of the outdoors, after his father got drunk on a camping trip when Tyler was eight and left Tyler alone in the woods for two days. What an asshole, right? Well, Dad of the Year is back at it, now that Tyler is a teenager. Rather than get his son proper psychiatric care, Tyler’s dad volunteers his son for some kind of youth retreat in the woods, the idea being to force his son to confront his fears of the wilderness once and for all.
He didn’t do his due diligence, either. The people who run the retreat, Charles and Holly (Peter Scolari and Rosalind Allen), don’t seem to have their shit together. They’re nice, sure. And their hearts are in the right place. But during the entire run of this movie, there were no scheduled activities of any kind. Their ‘retreat’ seems to have been no more thought out than Tyler’s dad’s idea of therapy.
Sure, they had to fend off killer ticks, but that wasn’t until the end of the first day. Because, of course, there wouldn’t be a movie if this little woodland retreat wasn’t in the same area as the pot farm.
The teens at the retreat are a pretty generic collection of youth stereotypes from the time. Tyler is a bit of a freak and wiseass. Alfonso Ribiero co-stars as Panic, a teen from the inner city who’s so tough he can pull off purple pants. Ribiero had the best performance in the film, despite his readings at times being very goofy.
The cast of teens is rounded out by quiet Kelly (Dina Dayrit), meathead Rome Hernandez (Ray Oriel), and spoiled brat Dee Dee Davenport (Ami Dolenz). These characters are so clichéd I was half-expecting Zack and Screech to show up at any moment. This was a marvelous collection of character tropes that were guaranteed to make a real 1990s teen’s eyes roll when they saw it. So, just like movies have always depicted the young, I guess.
Viewers have to put up with some pretty unconvincing characters, but that’s somewhat made up for by the ticks.
The ticks are gross. The effects team did a very good job. The ticks are covered in slime and they inflict the most grievous wounds on their victims. Real ticks are already nasty enough. Scale one up to the size of one’s hand and they’re downright terrifying. At the end there’s an outlandish…expansion…in the effects, and it was a great capper to all the hard work the effects team put into the movie.
All that slime and blood and general messiness is much better than this film deserved. So is the score, for that matter. It was done by Daniel Licht and Christopher L. Stone, and sounds like something Jerry Goldsmith would have worked up a decade or so earlier.
Ticks cannot overcome its characters, though. I didn’t care about any of them. Except for Panic. This movie could have used a little more Alfonso Ribiero. For the crime of being not that interesting of a shitty movie, Ticks falls down the Watchability Index, landing at #162 in between Trancers II and The Stuff.