Tuesday, 13 October 2015


Who'd have thought that the young boy playing video games in Back to the Future Part II would later star in one of the most successful movie series of all time, then go on to establish some serious horror credentials?
Elijah Wood is obviously a fan of our beloved genre (his work in Franck Khalfoun's Maniac remake is one of the strongest horror performances of the last decade) so when I saw that he was set to star in horror-comedy Cooties with a who's who of comic talent, I was eager to catch the movie.
Would this flick hit the spot? Or is it one to avoid like the plague?
Read on...

COOTIES (2014)

Dir: Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion
Starring: Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad, Ian Brennan, Jorge Garcia, Cooper Roth, Miles Elliot, Armani Jackson, Morgan Lily, Peter Kwong

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

Clint Hadson (Wood) is an aspiring novelist working on a frankly dire-sounding horror story, Keel Them All, about a possessed boat. However, to pay the bills he has taken work as a substitute teacher at Ft. Chicken Elementary School. Here he is reunited with former childhood sweetheart Lucy (Pill), but is distraught to discover that she is dating butch, alpha male PE teacher Wade (Wilson).
Upon starting work he is introduced to oddball Vice Principal Simms (Brennan) who is acting as head teacher and, high on a power trip, confiscates all of his staff's mobile phones.
However, this proves costly when a batch of contaminated chicken nuggets are delivered to the school that spreads a virus throughout the students, transforming them into violent, ravenous, flesh-eating ghouls. As the infection spreads a handful of surviving staff-members including Clint, Lucy, Wade, camp Tracy (McBrayer), abrupt and caustic Rebekkah (Pedrad) and socially inept science teacher Doug (Whannell) are forced to hole-up inside the school and try to formulate a plan of escape.
Meanwhile, outside the school a baked and tripping crossing guard, Rick (Lost's Garcia), is witnessing the events and REALLY struggling to keep his shit together.
Can Clint, Lucy and Wade overcome the tension of their romantic entanglements to fight together? Will the teachers escape the pre-pubescant horde? And can Clint overcome the various plot hurdles to complete Keel Them All?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Let's cut straight to the chase Cooties is absolutely hilarious. You'd expect nothing less with this level of talent involved, but it really is worth reiterating. The script, written by stars Whannell and Brennan, along with Josh C. Waller, absolutely sparkles with wit and the cast are, without fail, awesome.
The jokes are effective and a couple of the recurring gags in particular are especially funny, but the bulk of the comedy comes from the excellent characterisation. A real ensemble piece, each character has their moment to impress, which must have played a key role in attracting this calibre of cast.
First to Wood, whose Clint is a quiet, likeable chap and arguably the biggest 'straight man', of the cast, mining most of his laughs from the interaction he has with the larger than life characters around him. That's not to say that Wood is anything less than entertaining — he's a fantastic actor and very funny in his own right (the Keel Them All stuff is side-splittingly funny to anybody who has ever had to face the realisation that the story they're writing is actually a pile of crap) and he provides the human heart of the story, especially through his relationship with the sweetly likeable Pill.
Pill is delightful as the group's permanently upbeat cheerleader and you can't help see how why Wood's clint would have fallen for her. Pill is chirpy and cheery but shows enough restraint to keep Lucy from becoming annoying and her superb comic timing ensures she never gets lost among the more out-there characters.
Which brings us to Wilson's monstrous Wade, a towering, glowering performance of such machismo that he damn near runs away with the whole film. He's given plenty to do and, despite initial appearances that he'll be the guy you love to hate who ends up going out in a gloriously bloody way, he actually gets you onside as the film progresses and has a couple of surprisingly emotional moments. He's a big guy and he throws his weight around in some set-pieces that cause plenty of inappropriate laughter — a man of his stature clotheslining 11-year-olds really shouldn't be as funny as it is. Plus nobody delivers a poorly conceived toughguy quip like Rainn Wilson when he's on form and here, dear readers, Mr Wilson is well and truly on form.
Speaking of the kids, they're all fantastic too — I especially liked the work of young Roth as Clint's brattish nemesis Patriot, while the uninfected Calvin (Armani) and Tamra (Lily) also impress with their screen time.
Elsewhere Whannell is also a real highlight, his oddness coming to the fore more and more with each scene — I especially enjoyed his character's obvious glee at getting to dissect and investigate the source of the disease and constantly asking the silent group to calm down. Whannell is a talented actor and his writing is obviously at an extremely high standard. Finally, the devilishly acidic Pedrad has some of the best lines in the film, while McBrayer's elastic features and extravagant character traits, while underdeveloped, also raise some laughs, as does the always fun Garcia, whose terrific work proves justification for his otherwise pretty meaningless sub-plot.
The plot veers from drama to comedy by way of some surprising horror moments and this lack of predictability really works in the film's favour. You're never quite sure whether the next scene will cause you to laugh or scream (sometimes it's both!) and the film balances its horror and comedy finely. And yes, while I've raved about the humour, Cooties manages a couple of effective scare and gore sequences. The opening sequence, during which we are shown the origin of the contaminated nuggets, is utterly stomach-turning, while the suspenseful stalking sequence involving a tricycle and a vent is seriously tense. Lyle Vincent's cinematography ensures the film always looks great while you're laughing so hard you pee your pants or filling them in another way through fright, while Thomas William Hallbauer's production design is full of lovely little touches that are well worth keeping your eyes peeled for.
There's some great gore in the film, plus a truly spectacular gag late on, that shows precisely how talented the Fractured FX team is.
What's more, the film is entirely happy to go to some horribly dark places. Along with Wade's brutally violent dispatch of one of the infected children, we also get a horrible scene in which one of the zomblings clambers into a car with his baby sister and distracted mother — a scene which almost goes too far without ever being graphic.
That's quite possibly the film's biggest asset — Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion know exactly when to show restraint and when it's the right time to go for belly-laughs, heart-stopping scares or visceral violence. Undoubtedly boosted by a sterling editing job by Brett W. Bachman, Cooties isn't always forging forward at breakneck speed, but when it does, it does it very well indeed.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): There's very little to pick at in Cooties, because it really is that good.
I suppose we could hark back to the underdeveloped storylines involving some of the supporting cast — there's not much of an arc for Rebekkah, Doug or Tracy. What's more, I thought the genre might have moved on from poking fun at characters for being effete homosexuals? That pretty much seems to be the entire joke for McBrayer's Tracy, but thankfully it never comes across as mean-spirited, just a little awkward and tired. It's probably because the humour involved in the characterisation of the other characters was so much wittier that I thought this felt a little cheap.
Furthermore, while these characters were undoubtedly very funny, they weren't quite as compelling on a dramatic sense. The romantic subplot isn't particularly gripping (compared to fellow zom-rom-com Shaun of the Dead, for example) and the film definitely gets by more on its comedy accomplishments than its dramatic or horror credentials. If you go into this expecting plenty of laughs, you're in the right place. If you're expecting nail-biting terror or some deeper emotional engagement, you might be better off looking elsewhere.
Finally, strange as it may sound considering how much I liked the characters, I could have done with a higher body count. Whether played for gross-out splattery laughs or to up the ante and sense of danger, a few more fallen faculty members could have given the film a definite boost.
Ultimately though, these are minor personal quibbles in an excellent film that I'm sure will gather plenty of fans and has a real chance at becoming a cult classic.

THE VERDICT: Cooties is one of two fantastic horror-comedies released this week. It's probably the one that will find a larger audience and for good reason — with a sterling cast, plenty of laughs and splatter and looking a million bucks, this is a movie that screams quality. If this is the standard that all of Wood's SpectreVision films are aspiring towards, I shall continue to watch their output with great interest. But for now, I recommend, no, I implore you to watch this hilariously entertaining twisted little thrill ride. You will thank for me it.

Cooties is available to buy from Amazon here.

For more information, check out the film's official Facebook page here. Give it a Like while you're there too, show some love!

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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