Over the summer my wife and I went hiking a few times. Anyone who ever goes out in the woods for a ramble knows that sometimes you come home with unwanted visitors. Finding a tick on your person, especially one that’s dug in and started to snack on your bodily fluids is just gross and a little bit scary. “Don’t pull it off, the head might get stuck!” “You’ll get Lyme disease!” And now there’s even “You know ticks carry a virus that can make you allergic to meat!” Yeah, ticks are just not much fun at all. They look like spiders, but drink your blood, swelling up as they do. What is surprising to me though is how few horror films tap into the icky scare factor those tiny little blood suckers can generate. One film that does capitalize on that innate creepiness of the tiny arachnids is the 1993 straight-to-video film Ticks.
Jarvis (Clint Howard) has a little marijuana farming operation going on out in the California countryside. Only he’s not happy with how fast or large his cash crop has been growing, so he has been feeding the plants steroids to improve his yield. The thought of stoners with roid rage is not the scary thing here though, because his steroid fertilizer has been leaking into the ground and it’s caused the local tick population to start growing. How big? Well imagine a hamburger-sized tick and you’ll get the idea.
Meanwhile, a troubled youth from the city, Tyler (Seth Green) is dropped off in what could be the worst spot in L.A. to wait for a ride. Tyler’s dad believes the boy needs to go on a wilderness excursion to help him conquer his fear of nature and the outdoors. Dropping him off under a graffiti covered bridge to wait for the Inner-City Wilderness Project to pick him up though may not be the best idea. Soon the teen is confronted by Darrel, nicknamed “Panic” (Alfonso Ribeiro). Panic’s idea of fun is threatening Tyler with a knife while making him shoot baskets.
When the Wilderness Project van arrives, it turns out the people running the program, Charles (Peter Scolari) and Holly (Rosalind Allen) know the boy, and soon Panic and Tyler join the rest of the youths for their supposedly fun filled trip into the woods.
When they stop for gas on their way in, the group encounter Sir (Barry Lynch) and Jerry (Michael Medeiros). Jerry menaces the ladies in the group but is called off by Sir who appears to be the man’s boss.
Back at the Jarvis pot farm, the industrious marijuana grower is busy setting up bear traps around his farm to stop anyone from messing with his crops. While doing this he discovers that his pet hamster is dead and when he investigates, he’s attacked by some of the giant ticks. They startle him enough that he turns to run and steps right into his own bear trap catching his leg. As he thrashes about on the floor trying to escape, he looks up just in time to see a giant tick egg fall from the ceiling right onto his face.
Returning to the wilderness project, the teens are discovering just how much they dislike the woods. Typical city kid problems from a lack of technology to know idea how to get along in the country. Still, Tyler tries to make the best of the situation by going for a walk with Melissa (Virginya Keehne) the daughter of the program director.
Melissa backs into a tree and one of the giant ticks gets on her back. Tyler quickly pries the thing off of her, only to be surprised by it running off into the woods. The pair return to camp, but in typical horror movie fashion, no one believes the teens when they tell everyone what happened.
Things only get worse when Sir and Jerry show up and menacingly warn the group about the dangers in the forest, telling them to watch out for traps set by pot farmers and that they may be better off back in the city.
Later Panic’s dog (yes, he has his dog with him) starts barking in terror. By they time they find him the poor animal is dead and they can’t seem to figure out why. Panic is devastated and runs off into the woods. Charles and Tyler take the dog’s body into town to have the vet figure out what happened. During the examination one of the large ticks bursts out of the body and scurries around the office. The vet kills it and examines the remains. She’s shocked by its size and warns that the numbing agent ticks secrete when they bite a victim has hallucinogenic properties like LSD.
Panic, alone in the woods, is bitten by one of the ticks. He manages to get the creature off him, but its head burrows under his skin. He passes out from the pain and the hallucinogens make him start dreaming his back in the hood being beaten by a gang. He awakens only to find Sir and Jerry there kicking and hitting him. They are also pot farmers and think the inner-city youth is there to steal their crop. He escapes, but they chase him into their fields. They shoot him in the side, wounding him, but in the process, they start a fire that burns up their crop and quickly spreads to the nearby trees, starting a forest fire that is driving all the giant ticks towards the Wilderness Program camp. Will anyone survive and, if they do, will they have that mysterious and terrifying meat allergy?
Ticks is a straight-to-video monster flick from the early 90s. However, despite the limitations one might expect from such a film, it’s actually very entertaining. Horror movie favorite Clint Howard is humorous as the somewhat inane pot farmer. Seth Green is also fun as the city boy in the woods and Barry Lynch is possibly the most entertaining with his somewhat over-the-top performance as the nasty bad guy “Sir”. However, the real stars of the show are the ticks. It turns out KNB effects (Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger) were responsible for much of the film’s gore and creature effects. The quality of the special effects is no surprise since this group has done, among hundreds of other credits, AMC’s The Walking Dead.
So if you’re in the mood for some horror fun and don’t mind a little gore, then grab your can of insect repellent and check out Ticks. It’s gory good fun that never takes itself too seriously.