Philippe Mora’s riff on the werewolf mythos makes a debut on blu-ray, of interest to completists mainly because it has never been freely available uncut in the UK, a victim of the over zealous Video Recordings Act that seemed to be on a holy mission to protect Middle England from the pernicious influence of the grind-house, and horror cinema in general. It also marks the screenwriting debut of Tom Holland, creator of Fright Night, Child’s Play and the frankly bonkers Link, as well as turning the poison chalice of writing a sequel to Psycho into a genuinely worthy sequel.
So it is a film with history, and in truth that is where it should be consigned. It's less a horror film than a hotchpotch of ideas fighting for breathing space in a muddled narrative that comes on like a psycho-sexual body horror episode of Murder She Wrote.
It may have a strong opening when Caroline (Besch) and Eli MacCleary’s (Cox) car breaks down on a Mississippi backroad, leaving Caroline stranded while Eli walks back to get help. Caroline, rather than thinking sod this I’ll leave the car here and walk back with her husband, conforms to horror stereotypes by being attacked and raped by a deformed creature (a scene that was the main bone of contention for the UK censors), which would be uncomfortable viewing if it wasn’t clearly a man in a rubber suit. Saved by locals, we cut forward 17 years to find her son is sick and the answer may lie within his genes. Caroline and Eli seem to be bearing up remarkably well after the incident, even more so when it becomes clear that Michael (Clemens) is the outcome of her monstrous sexual assault.
Raging hormones, an unknown disease and a monster daddy can only end badly, and if the set up has B movie potential in an I Was a Teenage Werewolf style, the film takes an age to get to the meat of the matter. Mora is one of those directors who appears to have taken a sojourn into horror without having the first clue about the genre or even any interest, although compared to his lamentable Howling sequel (which only has the charms of Sybil Danning to recommend it) and the even worse Marsupial Werewolf shit fest Howling 3, this feels like a high watermark in his horror career. So much time is spent with the MacCleary’s playing amateur detective in a town full of suspicious locals that you begin to feel you have inadvertently tuned into a disease of the week TV movie. By the time the Special Effects crew break out the bladders and begin his transformation it is too late; this may be because producer Harvey Bernhard purchased the rights to the unfinished novel based on its title, leaving Holland to fill in the blanks or, as Mora has stated, that United Artists had removed some of the scenes that clarified the plot.
This leaves Clemens the thankless task of essaying a character who may be a mutant Cicada-Human hybrid, or the reincarnation of Edward Curwin (Ramsey), a man killed 17 years ago who may or may not have been locked up and with an uncanny interest and affinity with Cicadas (grasshoppers to you). It’s all very difficult to care; Clemens tries hard for sympathy but has little to work with and the locals are such a bunch of wrong 'uns that you actively wish their demise, whether they be corrupt Judges or fathers with unhealthy designs on their teenage daughters. Ronny Cox and the late great Luke Askew give it their all but this only gives the film a class that it doesn’t deserve.
There is a queasy sexual element to the film that makes more sense after viewing an interview with Tom Holland in the extras, who was trying to replicate the mating cycle of the Cicada. It may give you context but it doesn’t make the film any better. After a climax at a police jail and another attempt at insect human congress, you’ll be wishing you put on Cronenberg’s peerless The Fly instead. The ne plus ultra of love can make a good insect gone bad movie.
Sound and vision are as good as ever, a nice transfer with filmic grain intact and no print damage, and lossless 2:0 stereo sound.
Mora provides commentary duties moderated by Calum Wadell, and there's a reasonable length documentary featuring interviews with some of the key people responsible (Cox and Mora excluded). A featurette looks at the films journey from storyboard to screen with explanatory notes from Mora. You also get a trailer and image gallery, and the usual booklet and reversible sleeve. A nice package of contextual extras, but still a package very much for converts only.
Review by Jason Abbey
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