Vinegar Syndrome brings the 90s video store creature feature Ticks to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. After a growth hormone for illegal marijuana crops spills and mutates the local tick population, the creepy blood-thirsty critters set their fangs on a group of camping troubled teenagers. This delightfully bloody and hilarious creature feature gets a welcome 4K HDR10 upgrade with a respectable audio mix and a nice assortment of bonus features. If you like your horror movies extra squishy and don’t mind eight-legged creepy creatures, Ticks is well worth the infestation. Recommended
Deep in the northern woods of California, illegal marijuana crops thrive - and they’re using an experimental hormone to help their crops grow larger and faster. Unfortunately, the guy in charge (Clint Howard) didn’t catch the tank of growth hormone spill. Now the tick population has mutated in size with an unceasing taste for human blood - just in time for Tyler (Seth Green) and his fellow troubled youths led by Holly (Rosiland Allen) and Carles (Peter Scolari R.I.P.) to arrive for a camping trip. What should have been a bonding experience turns into a fight for every pint of blood in their bodies.
We have the home video rental market to thank for a lot of our favorite cult classics. While Hollywood loved its big blockbuster theatrical revenues, it loved the backend profits home video (at the time) brought them. There were certainly enough movies coming to theaters each year - but that wasn’t enough to keep video store shelves stocked with new product for folks to rent. So, low-budget films that would have played at off-market theaters were dropped to VHS for quick rental profits. Many a knock-off sci-fi, horror film, or needless-but-entertaining sequel found their way to this marketplace. And so we have late 80s and 90s classics like director Tony Randel’s Ticks.
Produced by Bryan Yuzna, written by Brent Friedman from a story idea by Doug Beswick - Ticks very much plays like a bunch of horror and special effects veterans got together and made a movie. While the film wears its low-budget trappings on its sleeve, it spends its money wisely on an amiable cast with some great creature effects. The setup is completely ridiculous - but I have to tip my hat that for once it wasn’t illegally disposed of nuclear waste that spawns our mutated arachnids. Why they’re the only mutated insect is a question maybe worth asking, but regardless the titular bugs make formidable foes for our human collateral.
Aside from the domestically terrestrial location, the film actually plays a lot like Alien and Aliens. The oversized scuttlers pop out of giant gooey pulsating egg sacks, they crawl into animals and people to feed and grow even larger. There’s even an extra grotesque “dissection” sequence where they poke and prod the innards of the tick just like Ash with his facehugger:
The late Peter Scolari, Seth Green, Rosiland Allen, Alfonso Ribeiro, and a scene-stealing turn from Clint Howard make up the blood sacks our mutant ticks aim to feed upon. Really there’s not a whole lot for them to do other than wait to be attacked but Seth Green at least has something of a character arc. Alfonso Ribeiro is a hoot playing the complete opposite of his nerdy alter-ego Carlton Banks. Clint Howard easily gets the best line of the movie that should be printed on T-shirts and coffee cups. Direct to video staple Barry Lynch pops up with Michael Medeiros as a pair of scumbags with Rance Howard dropping by in a fun little cameo.
Yeah, Ticks isn’t the greatest movie ever made, but who cares - it’s wildly entertaining. A genuine crowd-pleaser. If you need a movie that’s guaranteed to entertain a few folks that like their movies extra squishy, Ticks will deliver. It’s been the better end of 25 years since I saw this film on a late-night cable binge and was delighted to see that it still holds up. It’s goofy, gnarly, bloody, and fun.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Ticks hits 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray thanks to Vinegar Syndrome in a deluxe two-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray set. Both discs are housed in a standard sturdy two-disc case with reversible insert artwork reflecting the original VHS box art, slipcover, and book-style hardstock slipcase with newly commissioned artwork. The discs load to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options. Each submenu is animated with a scene from the film.
Ideally, it’s best to source a 4K transfer from the original camera negative, but Ticks is a great example of how a fresh scan and restoration of the interpositive can still yield impressive results. This 1.85:1 2160p HDR10 transfer showcases an impressive range of details, natural film grain, bold colors, with nice deep black levels. You quickly forget this was a VHS-era classic and the soft washed-out Blu-ray from 2013.
All of the basics are covered - facial features, 90s clothing styles, production design work are all well covered. Grain structure is natural without being intrusive for a welcome film-like presentation. Gore effects are given plenty of time to shine - Clint Howard's progressively grotesque makeup is a real highlight.
HDR10 grading is subtle without ever appearing too dark or blasting colors. With the 90s stylings, colors are a standout. Reds, Blues, and Yellows have plenty of time to pop. And speaking of popping - blood and viscera come through beautifully if that’s even an appropriate way to describe that. The gnarly effects work is on full display so if you got a weak stomach for gooey eight-legged critters you may have a tough time. Black levels are strong throughout without crush issues to speak of. The final act is in low light and shadows and fine details and image depth is never lost. Whites are bold and crisp without blooming. Just like what they pulled off for Scanner Cop/Scanner Cop 2, Vinegar Syndrome dusts off a VHS favorite and resurrects it for the 21st century with great results.
Keeping to its origins, Ticks sucks down a solid DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix. This isn’t the most dynamic track at all times, but it gets the job done - especially during key bug-on-human carnage. Sound effects and scoring come through cleanly. The scuttling of the ticks is a welcome highlight moving about the soundscape. The extra squishy accents to the gory bits are pretty great too. Dialog is clear throughout but some hard “s” and “p” words are a little raspy but nothing too distracting to get in a fuss about. All in all a respectable audio mix that works well for this flick.
In keeping with Vinegar Syndrome’s best efforts, fans of Ticks will latch onto the great assortment of new and archival bonus features. The pair of audio commentaries are well worth the listen and the three-part documentary offers a lot of info and insight into the production with fresh cast and crew interviews.
4K UHD Disc
If you’re a fan of the glory days of video store creature features, Ticks is a gory grail to now have on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. Tony Randel and Bryan Yuzna stretched every cent of their budget to take this small film and make it feel big. Terrific gory creature effects, a fun cast, and great energy pump a lot of fresh blood into Ticks. Vinegar Syndrome takes this rental classic and gives it a new life on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with an excellent HDR10 transfer restored from the 35mm interpositive, solid audio, and some genuinely interesting and informative bonus features. A true crowd-pleaser for genre fans - Recommended.