“He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath—‘The horror! The horror!’” —Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
One of the most disturbing scenes, arguably, in Tobe Hooper’s original ’Texas Chain Saw Massacre is when Sally Hardesty regains consciousness to find herself bound to a chair alongside the family of psychopaths who have recently and systematically eviscerated her four friends. She begins to scream, naturally, and her dinner companions, oddly surprised by her distress, ridicule her by mimicking her cries. That scene is sick and scary enough… until you notice they have actually set a place for her at table.
Kevin Smith has clearly seen that film, and remembers that scene particularly, because he recreates it, in a way, in his unsettling comic horror yarn Tusk. Wallace Bryton regains consciousness to find himself secured in a wheelchair, clearly missing something. Across the way sits his host, Howard Howe, a seafaring man who explains to Wallace that his present predicament is due to having been bitten by a spider, a brown recluse, and that he needed to take drastic action before the poison reached Wallace’s spine. The scene is sick and scary enough… until Howe, who speaks in an oddly lyrical and fanciful tongue, recites “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” replete with childlike, exaggerated hand movements while Wallace screams, naturally, and struggles impotently.
The horror! It’s right there in the evocative eyes of Justin Long (Live Free or Die Hard) who plays the unfortunate Wallace, an obnoxious guerilla podcaster who’s traveled to Canada to interview a viral YouTuber. Back in the States, Wallace and his fuzzy friend Teddy Craft produce a sophomoric show, the “Not-See Party” broadcast, but Wallace winds up party himself to a sick and twisted experiment he could “not see” coming.
In fact, it’s all in the eyes—after Howe has worked his indelicate handiwork, Wallace is left to communicate almost solely through them, drooling like a baby and barking like a seal. But communicate he does. Those eyes say everything as Wallace blubbers away. Kudos to Long here. Wallace was unappealing, but we have nothing but sympathy for his reincarnation as Mr. Tusk. And veteran actor Michael Parks, who appeared in Smith’s previous production Red State and plays Howe here, is fed some simply delicious dialogue by Smith and delivers it in a performance that manages to evoke both laughter and terror, often in the same scene. “To solve a riddle older than the Sphinx. To answer the question which has plagued us since we first crawled from this Earth and stood erect in the sun. Is man, indeed, a walrus at heart?” Howe’s a nut job, yes indeedy.
Haley Joel Osment plays fellow podcaster Teddy, Genesis Rodriguez is Wallace’s girlfriend Ally, and that’s a semi-recognizable Guy Lapointe, sort of, as the private investigator they team up with to find their missing-in-Manitoba friend. Filmmaker offspring Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Melody Depp almost steal the show as a pair of convenience store clerks who are entertained by Wallace’s fake-looking moustache, less so with his country of origin. No matter; Colleen and Colleen will be back as the leading ladies in Smith’s Yoga Hosers and Moose Jaws sometime next year to round out (it’s rumored) this demented trilogy of surgically-modified madness.
Yes, Tusk is a stunt, a comedic dare, and a fake-looking one at times (which only seems to help, not hinder, its cause), but the darkness at the film’s heart is real and gross and truly disturbing.
(c) 2015 David N. Butterworth