M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Moving on to Year Four of my year-long Retro-Best in Horror I’m recapping the Countdown beginning officially on October 1, 2013 and going through September 30, 2014. I have posted compilation lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around, and even adding a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t!

How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st, 2013 and September 30, 2014 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number—31. Again, I never call myself any kind of expert in horror. I simply watch a lot of horror films and love writing about them. Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!

Released on September 19, 2014. Available on digital download, On Demand, and DVD/Blu-ray!

TUSK (2014)

Directed by Kevin Smith
Written by Kevin Smith
Starring Justin Long, Michael Parks, Haley Joel Osment, Johnny Depp, Harley Morenstein, Ralph Garman, Ashley Greene, Harley Quinn Smith, Lily-Rose Melody Depp
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here

Oh, Kevin Smith. What are we going to do with you? Like many of you, I was blown away by CLERKS when it came out and remained fascinated with Smith’s gift for gabby films through CHASING AMY, MALLRATS and even DOGMA, but somewhere around JERSEY GIRL I started seeing the cracks in Smith’s armor, and after a few tirades against those who dare criticize films like COP OUT any interest in the man’s films sort of disappeared. While I still haven’t seen RED STATE, from what I hear, the film is pretty polarizing, but after seeing the horrific TUSK, I feel a stronger need than ever to check out RED STATE as well.

TUSK is not a bad film. In fact, for the most part, it’s downright entertaining throughout. Those criticizing the film for basically being an iteration of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE are not far off, and if the mere mention of that film causes you to hold up your hands aghastly and run away knickers full atwist, then most likely you’ll do the same with TUSK too, as it involves a man disregarding another’s humanity and using rudimentary medical knowledge to experiment on him, changing him from a human being into something less so just because he can. But while THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE focuses on the operation and lingers on all of its grossness from start to finish, TUSK takes some time to explain who these characters are, which is the main thing that differentiates the two films. There’s definitely much more of a touch of humanity at play here as an immature and obnoxious podcaster named Wallace (Justin Long) stumbles across an ad for a room for rent placed by a reclusive and retired sailor named Howard Howe (Michael Parks). Wallace searches for weird and interesting people to interview for his podcast, and the eloquently written note he finds seems to ensure that Howe would be an entertaining guest. When Wallace is drugged the first night he arrives at Howe’s house in Canada, his co-podcaster Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) and his smoking hot girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) go looking for him with only a garbled phone message to aid in their search.

For some reason, I was conscious of the music in this film right from the very beginning because despite the wonky and crude humor that takes center stage in the first thirty minutes of the film, the music wants to drum it in you that this is a serious and dire situation. So while you are laughing (and I do admit that I find Justin Long to be pretty damn funny), there’s this booming music that is trying to tell him and you that this is all serious business, even though Long’s Wallace isn’t taking it that way. This schizophrenic tone continues through the entire film, where goofy behavior is offset by dire circumstances or music, which left me in a state of unease as to whether I wanted to laugh with the character or let out a guffaw of relief because of the bizarre circumstances that unfold.

This leads me to whether or not I think folks will like this film. TUSK is definitely not a mainstream film. It’s offbeat. It’s weird. The things that happen to these characters are horrific and dire. It’s not a mystery that the premise is that Howard wants to turn Wallace into a walrus and while writing that is rather odd, in the context of the movie, Parks’ performance makes you buy it. Yes, he’s batshit, but still he explains it in a way that it makes some sort of crazy sense. Those willing to ride the crazy train will be able to stick with it as Wallace goes full walrus. But I imagine there will be those who go to the movies to see light things happen to people and everyone coming out the other end unscathed and back to square one, learning a wonderful life lesson, but not really being too much worse for wear—I imagine those people are going to either tune out this film or walk out of the theater at the halfway point.

Being a sucker for the theatre of the weird, I was fascinated how far Smith went with the premise of TUSK. I have to admire Smith’s guts to go full walrus here and push the limits. At the same time, I feel Smith wasn’t confident enough to go all the way and make a straight up horror film, as he seems to retreat back to familiar lowbrow humor just when you begin to be impressed with the horrors unfolding in front of you. It’s not just that Wallace is turned into a human walrus—that’s just the tip of the walrus tusk in terms of horrors Smith has in store for you. But every time I was grossed out and entranced with the horror, Smith injects a fart or poop joke. It almost feels like Smith was afraid to tell a serious horror story, so he had to inject the off-color humor so he can sarcastically say later that he doesn’t really care about it and neither should you. So, while there are scenes that chilled me to the core, Smith undercuts it and almost ruins it with a comical scene right after.

Which leads me to the worst part of the movie—namely, Johnny Depp’s more than a cameo performance as Guy Lapointe, an eccentric private investigator who is on the trail of Howe. It seems Depp is trying to combine Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau with Peter Falk’s Columbo, but the entire time he was on screen I was gnashing my teeth at how utterly embarrassing his performance is. While there are a few lines worth tittering to, for the most part, you can see right through Depp’s performance. He’s just trying too hard and failing miserably. There’s a scene where Depp’s Lapointe and Parks’ Howe meet on a porch in a chance encounter. Howe is acting like a mentally handicapped person while Lapointe is belching out a half-assed French-Canadian accent. The scene is long and horrifically boring, but worse than that, it’s just painful to see these two great actors talk in horrible accents back and forth for what seems like eons.

In terms of the effects, I have to say I was blown away by the gore and twisted science at play here. From partial transformation to full on walrus, the whole way is painfully and grotesquely amazing. I do feel that Wallace’s transformation does happen a bit too quickly. There is a large leap from human to walrus and I would have liked to have seen a few more intermediary stages of the transformation, but this is most likely due to budget more than anything else and it’s forgivable. The final walrus costume has to be experienced to be believed, and Long behind the makeup makes it all feel more tragic and horrific. This is a perfect example of an amazing actor taking advantage of fantastic makeup and making it all work. Long communicates such tragedy in his eyes alone, making what would be laughable in the hands of lesser actors sympathetic and heart wrenching.

The horror is there and it’s potent in TUSK. I just wish Smith were confident enough to go all in with it and not feel like sheepishly retreating to potty mouth territory every time a chance is taken. I liken this film to someone who says something dire and serious and immediately follows each sentence with the phrase “Naw, I’m just kiddin’.” While Smith is an accomplished director, I think he has yet really given his all in a film because that means bravely putting himself out there in an honest and admittedly scary way. Why do that when you can just use sarcasm, snark, and bad words to cover the fact that maybe there’s something worth delving into there? The film ends with the snippet from Smith’s Smodcast where he originally came up with the idea for TUSK. As most podcasts go, there’s a lot of snark and laughing and joking around. And while this conversation is pretty funny, it again undercuts a dramatic ending that dared to be somewhat emotional and poignant. I can hear those of you saying, “This is a movie about a man who gets turned into a walrus. How can you take any of it seriously?” But if it’s done well, I’ll believe a man can turn into a fly by using a teleportation machine. I’ll believe one woman and a kid can destroy a giant alien queen and its brood. I’ll believe a family of cannibals could live unnoticed in Texas. How am I to take Smith seriously as a director if he refuses to do it himself?

And while I was blown away by Justin Long’s brave performance showing that he is a very talented actor who definitely has the skills carry a movie himself and Michael Parks’ powerfully batshit delivery which makes the downright insane seem almost sane, I couldn’t help but wonder what this film would have been like had the director gone as full walrus as the characters in this story did.

THE 2013-2014 COUNTDOWN!

#13 – TUSK
#15 – FOUND
#16 – PLUS ONE

M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.

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