Reefer Madness wouldn’t work on ‘90s teens. Enter Ticks for the, “This is your brain on drugs” generation, wherein two unseemly pot growers bring about killer bugs via their plant-growing steroid. That’ll keep the kids off the stuff – or not, probably.
What Ticks will do is entertain, unevenly so, but held together by late-era, gooey practical effects. More than just embiggened critters, Ticks recalls The Thing in the best way, including a spectacularly brutal finale that sees a victim split in two, birthing the biggest mutant tick of all. It’s unusually precise, clean, and effective for a direct-to-VHS thriller, belying the budget.
For what it is, Ticks works
For what it is, Ticks works
Elsewhere, Ticks survives on the genre norms, notably teens in terror. At a camp. Getting killed. There’s the quiet teen, the obnoxious teen, the prissy rich teen, and star Seth Green as the anxiety-suffering teen, the usual characters, giving Ticks a routine personality. Brought together via an inner city charity, the sly idea suggests there wasn’t an escape from illicit drugs for these kids, not even in nature. It’s all corrupted, and their fight isn’t so much against the vampiric title creatures so much as their own temptations, but written with a campy wink.
For what it is, Ticks works. It’s lean, fast, and a 1950s throwback, but it’s steroids rather than radiation setting things in motion. Subplots like one concerning a daughter despising her stepmother amount to little, killing time as to keep the special effects off screen. Performances exaggerate the tension, notably the dual villains who exist in the redneck horror genre rather than something like Ticks. Any earnestness stems from Seth Green, suffering from mental breakdowns, but looked down on by both the kids and adults. Ticks plays to that generational divide, a little anyway, before the monsters begin munching on people.
There’s nuance in this otherwise simple flick, and that’s more than can be said for many similar genre entries released alongside Ticks. That’s worth 80-minutes alone.
Making full use of HDR, Ticks begins intensely bright. Sunlight dresses every scene, pushing the nits high. It’s wonderful. As night falls, black levels pop, shadows dense and inky. This gives Ticks dimensionality, well above previous releases.
This continues into the color palette as vivid primaries look spectacular. Red blood adds to the gore quotient, hyper saturated if attractive. Forest environments utilize potent greenery, and the rest of nature adds organic primaries. Ticks glows on UHD.
The master itself utilizes a sharp 4K source, revealing in detail, if held back by the materials. Grain fluctuations suggest a cheaper film stock, which the encode can’t keep up with. Artifacting is all too common, lessening the resolution’s impact. It’s a clean print though, mostly free from damage or dirt.
Presented in DTS-HD stereo, the track unfortunately features heavily worn dialog, straining fidelity with every word. Hollow and thin at the best, being uncompressed doesn’t salvage Ticks from the VHS era, but instead preserves it as such. Granted, everything is audible and understandable, just muffled.
The score performs better at least. There’s even a solid low-end response.
Two commentary tracks. The first is an older one featuring director Tony Randel and actor Clint Howard. The second is new to this edition, with special effects team Doug Beswick and Yancy Calzada, moderated by Joe Begos.
There’s some nuance to the otherwise campy Ticks, and it’s worth it for the effects too.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 41 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: