Published Sep 08, 2014To steal a line from Kevin Smith's Hollywood Babble-On, the Clerks director's newest foray into the horror genre is a prime example of "shit that should not be." What if you took a former child star (Haley Joel Osment), teen comedy titan (Justin Long) and Hollywood figurehead (spoiler: Johnny Depp) and cast them in a film about a man who is forced into a walrus costume made of skin? Under other directors, such a strange and whimsical idea would fall apart. But under the sick and stoned direction of Smith, Tusk ends up being one of the more fun body horror features in recent memory, as well as a highlight of his (mostly lamentable) career.
Inspired by the highly unusual Gumtree ad Smith and his co-host/producer Scott Mosier discussed in great deal during an episode of SModcast, Tusk concerns two pals (Osment and Long) and their viral video-based comedy podcast, "the Not-See Party" (read it out loud for the joke).
After discovering a video of a young Manitoban that makes the "Star Wars Kid" look tame in comparison, Wallace Bryton (played by Long) decides to leave his friend at home and venture into the Great White North in the hopes of interviewing the future Internet star. It's there that he discovers a strange advertisement in the men's washroom of a local bar, in which an older gentleman (Michael Parks) who is isolated in the Canadian wilderness offers free room, board and amazing stories to tell in exchange for help around the house. Fancying himself as some sort of Howard Stern-meets-Ira Glass media star, Bryton hunts out the seafaring senior in the hopes of a juicy story. What he finds is a nefarious plot to turn him into a walrus.
On its own, Tusk is an entertaining enough watch, but to fully enjoy the feature, one must be wholly invested in the cult of Kevin Smith. In-jokes about Smith and the podcast empire he has created abound, with appearances by Hollywood Babble-On co-host Ralph Garman (complete with one-liner voted in by his podcast audience), Smith's own daughter and fellow Internet phenom Harley Morenstein (of Epic Meal Time fame). There's even a certain song sung by Al Pacino used throughout to add a bit of in-crowd laughs to the film's mostly sadistic scenes.
In a recent episode of Hollywood Babble-On, Smith professed his love for Tobe Hooper's mostly-maligned sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While it's easy to see similarities between the two films (the inclusion of Depp as absurd French-Canadian detective Guy LaPointe is certainly similar to Dennis Hopper's appearance as Lieutenant "Lefty" Enright in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Tusk more closely resembles Hooper's original feature, complete with dinnertime caterwauling and wholly horrendous blood and guts. (The aforementioned Walrus costume, what with its design by the Evil Dead II's Robert Kurtzman and lack of CGI, is a sight for sore eyes in an industry dominated by digital effects.)
While not as technically terrifying as other horror flicks, Tusk is a highly entertaining watch, and one that shows Smith still loves indie filmmaking, even though his full-time career may prove otherwise.