Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloween Havoc: MOSQUITO (1995)

Since the days of THEM (1954), the killer insect subgenre has been a strictly niche audience thing. There really are no break-out hits. There was never any film called MANDIBLES in the ‘70s that elevated the giant insect type film to the level of art and had patrons lining up around the block to see it. If you are going to make a giant insect movie you have to know the consequences, you have to make it out of a passion for the subject matter. Within the genre there are classics such as Bill Rebane’s THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION (1975), but you can hardly call them cinematic spectacles, at least not with a straight face.

The indy horror boom of the late ‘80s saw some great killer insect movies following the box office success of William Fruet’s highly entertaining BLUE MONKEY (1987) and led to other classics such as the Julie Corman produced THE NEST (1988). This bled into the early ‘90s and gave us a pair of killer mosquito flicks made only a few years and worlds apart. Seriously, what would be the most horrifying bug to take on massive proportions? Something that stabs your flesh and sucks your blood, right?

In 1993, bit actor and occasional director Clark Brandon saw fit to shockingly waste an amazing cast of cult actors (Charles Napier, William Sanderson, Michael J. Pollard, George 'Buck' Flower, etc) and a solid, if somewhat muddled, premise with SKEETER. The almost incomprehensible “plot” is about an evil corporate dude who looks like Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man (Jay Robinson), a perpetually crying woman, soppy romance, Indian rituals as imagined by a white suburbanite, funerals, drama, more drama, completely nonsensical dialogue, more drama… oh, and some giant mosquitoes. In addition to the male lead, Jim Youngs, riding around on a motorcycle with his shirt open and mirror-shades looking like George Michael (except, presumably, not gay), Tracy Griffith’s non-stop sobbing will wear thin so fast that you will forget all about the damn mozzies. The “horror” elements are so few and far between and the soft-focus drama is so protracted, that it makes the made-for-SyFy flicks seem like the pinnacle of cinematic rollercoaster thrills. Even poor Micky J.’s abject lunacy can’t save this tedious turkey.

Seemingly inspired by the movie within a movie titled MOSQUITO in the under-appreciated homage-laden POPCORN (1991), director Gary Jones unleashed the seemingly appropriately titled MOSQUITO on the public in 1995.

A pod from a space ship flying past earth crash-lands in front of some farmers, presumably in a nod to the asteroid incident in H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour out of Space.” A mosquito lands on the alien hand that has fallen out of the wreckage and that is all the setup we need for a giant mozzie invasion! Ok, maybe a little more... A couple, Ray and Meg (Tim Lovelace, Rachel Loiselle) have moved out to the area for Meg’s new job as Park Ranger. After running into a giant bug and ending up with a stinger in their radiator, they know that something strange is afoot at the Circle K. Meanwhile the Chief Ranger (Guy Sanville), who sports an office full of taxedermied wildlife, sends out pervo Ranger Hendricks (Ron Asheton of Iggy and the Stooges fame) to do some mosquito population control. Meanwhile (again), a trio of severely over-acting bank robbers lead by Earl (Gunnar “I’m not a horror actor” Hansen) are running around in the woods after pulling off a bank heist that is all over the news. Why they are dressed for a company sponsored paint-ball team-building exercise, I have no idea. Also out in the woods is one meteorologist Parks (Steve Dixon), who is looking for the crash-site with his un-used GHOSTBUSTERS prop. When asked if he is a weather man, Parks replies “no a real meteorologist… one that studies meteors” Ummm… you mean “astronomer”, right?

Look at the bones!
Naturally all three groups collide while a swarm of giant, bloodthirsty insects go on a rampage killing fishermen, campers, and really anyone they can stick their proboscis in. The plot runs sort of like NIGHT OF THE LIVING MOSQUITOS, with non-stop skeeter attacks that boast a wide array of special effects including full-size puppets, stop motion animation, blue screen composites, hand-drawn animation and animatronics. Made for what appears to be the trade-in value of a ’79 Winnebago (ok, about $200,000), Jones makes the most of his meager budget and struggling cast, shoveling most of the funds into the special effects. Making up for a lack of acting talent (most of the cast never did anything, or very little, before and after this) Jones goes for the gusto with scenes such as a climactic moment where a bankrobber is skewered right in the forehead and having his brains sucked out, which causes his eyes to explode. Better still is the homage to HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980) where a giant mosquito invades the tent of a buck-nekkid co-ed who feels the mosquito’s antennae on her thighs and thinks it’s her boyfriend saying “what are you doing big boy? Playing mosquito again?” What?! As Harvey Korman once said “kiiiinky, I like it!”

The film’s sub-climax is a great sequence where the group find what appears to be a ’79 Winnebago and try to escape the woods while the mosquitoes attack from all directions like the tanker scene from THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981). In spite of his low budget, Jones makes this sequence and the final NOTLD farmhouse sequence highly entertaining throwing giant animatronic mosquitoes at the cast from every direction. Unfortunately, the cast is definitely the weak point here, with the trio of bankrobbers scraping the bottom of the barrel. In the past Hansen has enjoyed talking himself up as a Shakespearian actor in interviews while decrying being pigeon-holed as a “horror actor” (perish the thought!). Looking like he’s wearing a silver Joan Crawford wig, poodle-mulleted Hansen proves here that just because you have performed Shakespeare doesn’t mean you are actually any good at it. You’d think Hansen could at least muster up a little bit of creative delivery when he finds a giant chainsaw and says “I haven’t handled one of these things in 20 years.” Ok, maybe his heart wasn’t in it, but he subsequently can’t seem to break through a balsa-wood door either, so I’m saying maybe it’s just a general lack of ambition. There are some actors who, no matter how low-rent, under-talented or genuinely inept the production is, give it 110% often rising above the material. Then there are actors who just don’t give a crap. Either Hansen falls in the latter category or he is not nearly as good of an actor as his bloated ego would have him believe.

Either way, this is a movie that has held up well for those of us who enjoy this sort of thing, particularly in the special effects department. Granted it's not in any danger of winning any awards, but the filmmakers actually try to make it as good as they can with limited means and it is a lot of fun because of it. Hell, I’m now inclined to see what Jones has been up 10 years later... Ummmm... it isn’t going to be pretty, is it?

Moments of Clarity:

1 Reactions:

  1. Great read as always. I enjoyed MOSQUITO far more than I expected. I can see revisiting this one every few Octobers. Well worth the effort of seeking out a reasonably affordable copy.

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