Thursday, October 20, 2016

30 Days of Nightmares #20: COOTIES (2014)



The Story: A bad batch of chicken nuggets turns the children of the quiet Fort Chicken community into flesh-eaters. 

Expectations: My buddy Rob G. (of Killer POV / Shock Waves fame) recommended this one.  Rob is a big fan of horror-comedies.  Me, not so much.  I think it’s extremely hard to find the right balance.  In fact, I can count my favorites on one hand: AMERICAN WEREWOLF, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, EVIL DEAD 2, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, ZOMBIELAND, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS.  Okay, two hands.... but that's still a relatively small group.  But I needed some variety in my horror-movie diet, so I figured I'd give this one a shot.

Reaction: It took a while for this film to win me over.  At first, I thought the actors were all trying too hard to be funny.  The characters were all caricatures, which made every line of dialogue ring hollow for me.  An actor friend of mine always says that it’s hard to act funny; much easier to simply be part of a situation that is funny.   I tend to agree, and in my opinion the jokes in this film were failing until the situation become funny.  Once kids turned into flesh-eating zombies, the caricatures made sense and the jokes started landing.  

Mind you, not every viewer will warm to this one.  The best sight gags in the film come from the irreverence of combining small children and extreme carnage.  Remember the scene in the original DAWN OF THE DEAD where Ken Foree blows away the two zombie children?  Afterwards, he looks like he’s going to mentally vomit.  But horror movies have come a long way since then, baby.  In COOTIES, a group of school kids literally rip their Vice Principal apart limb by limb.  Then their gym teacher (Rainn Wilson, of THE OFFICE) responds, “We all wanted to do that to Vice Principal Simms… but you can’t eat the teachers, man!” You can probably gauge, based on that line of dialogue, whether or not this movie is for you.  If it is, then a lot more sight gags and clever quips await.  I won’t spoil them here.

Like most horror-comedies, this one started to wear thin by the final act—despite its gleeful embrace of boisterous 1980s action-movie clich├ęs.  And the last lines in the film seemed to beg for a punchline that never came.  But this was still a welcome departure from unrelenting horror.  I'll catalog it as a guilty pleasure alongside second-tier horror-comedies like SLITHER and LAKE PLACID.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: Rob told me that the opening scene was the most disturbing scene in the film.  He was right.  It reminded me of Fast Food Nation, the scariest non-horror book I’ve read in years.

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