I don’t know what has been going on lately but as the Pointer Sisters once sang, “I think I like it.” I spent the last year feeling nostalgic for the horror movies of my youth and feeling mostly ambivalent about the exhaustive blue-toned assembly line that represents modern horror. Was I turning into an old coot? Was I too jaded to enjoy anything anymore? In fact when it came down to writing up a year-end round up of the best horror, Aunt John and I were left grasping at straws that neither of us could muster much enthusiasm for (with the lone exception of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN). Then suddenly, in the last couple of weeks, it seems like every horror flick I have seen has knocked at least one of my argyle socks off (with the lone exception of THE UNBORN). The latest movie to get me all hot and bothered is SPLINTER, a compact little throwback to the squishy monster movies that excited me as a kid. It’s like somebody made a microwavable Hot Pocket version of THE THING. How tasty does that sound?
This movie’s similarities with CARPENTER‘s classic do not end with its mutable eye popping creature. The set up, which involves a botched carjacking and an eventual standoff in a gas station convenience store, allows for a group of strangers to converge and eventually unite in order to save their own skins. The hurried showdown in a seemingly innocuous space recalls much of CARPENTER‘s other output as well, from ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 to PRINCE OF DARKNESS. The characters: an untrustworthy, gruff criminal, his zonked out, addle minded squeeze and their two unlucky hostages: a brainy husband and his kick ass “firecracker” wife crash and bounce off of each other to crackling effect. As cardboard broad as this motley crew may seem on the surface, when the infectious shit hits the fan most of them (the ones that live) get to show different layers and strengths you were not expecting. Here is something else, and it seems to be what’s separating the wheat from the chaff as far as modern horror goes, I really liked and/or was interested in the characters in this movie. Crazy right? Never once was I prompted to ooh and ahh at a snarky debutante’s home decor or left wondering if I should join a gym and update my jeans. That’s kind of special to me.
The monster, although a sister to everything from THE BLOB to the gruesome greenery in THE RUINS, is still a highly original brain storm come to life that is, at some points, just plain stop you in your tracks awesome. Even the less convincing effects are at least visually stimulating. I know that SPLINTER was recently shown on the SciFi Channel, but I’m sure it was not in uncut form and this movie is definitely one that deserves to be seen in its entirety. For a small independent production, SPLINTER is far more fun and entertaining than anyone has the right to expect. It’s rather perfect in the way that it never over extends itself or looses focus on the situational horror at hand. By looking backward and cherry picking tried and true elements from classic horror films, SPLINTER might not earn the title of groundbreaking, but at least it has the courtesy to not waste any of your time. Of course there was many a scene where I just wanted to grab the camera myself and hold it steady so I could get a decent uncluttered view of the beasty, but ultimately I think any movie that leaves you wanting more rather than glancing at your watch for an excuse to escape should be commended. SPLINTER did have a limited theatrical release, but for all intents and purposes this is a direct to DVD affair which is more than fine by me. This movie and my beer stained couch were absolutely made for each other!