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John’s Horror Corner: Splinter (2008), delivering twitchy plant zombies and outstandingly gory practical creature effects.

June 14, 2019

MY CALL: Brutal, gory, well-paced and well-acted, this practical effects-driven monster movie was an absolute pleasure! MORE MOVIES LIKE Splinter: The style of the gore reminds me strongly of Cabin Fever (2002, 2016). For more killer plant movies, try Seed People (1992), The Happening (2008), The Ruins (2008), The Girl with All the Gifts (2016), and for something really bad go for The Crawlers (1993). And for a great twitchy zombie film, you want Train to Busan (2016)!!

Hoping to enjoy a romantic anniversary camping trip together, Polly (Jill Wagner; Blade: The Series, Teen Wolf) and her biologist boyfriend Seth (Paulo Costanzo; The Expanse) are carjacked by on-the-run criminals Dennis (Shea Whigham; Death Note) and Lacey (Rachel Kerbs). In transit a roadkill event causes a flat tire, and a curious splinter sets an interesting tone as they find themselves stranded at a remote gas station.

If you’re gonna’ make a not-so-big budget one-set horror movie, a remote gas station strikes me as a good frugal choice. But how nice is it that gas stations are a classic harbinger check point in so many films? From Wrong Turn (2003) and Tucker and Dale versus Evil (2010) to The Cabin in the Woods (2012), the gas station is usually where victims have the opportunity to heed the harbinger’s warning and avoid the evils ahead. Yet here, it is upon arrival that they are doomed… because the harbinger was already a victim!

Our monster is a botanical parasite that metastasizes in the blood stream to induce twitchy zombiism. The first victim is the gas station attendant (Charles Baker; The Neon Demon), who thrashes and contorts his mangled limbs, a marionetted host to the splinter monster.

Early encounters with the monster are deliciously macabre as a freshly flattened roadkill slug-crawls towards an intended victim. We see the infectious splinters probe about like the prongs of a sea urchin. It’s REALLY cool. Infected zombie-like animated bodies flailing undexterous limbs, and disembodied hands twitch like something out of Bride of Re-Animator (1989). Everything looks great and, given the premise, the delivery is shockingly credible.

Despite the often choppy editing—most likely to disguise any flaws in the practical monster suit—this remained goretastically effective, engaging and exciting. These special effects are nothing to scoff at… actually, I was quite impressed. The blood work is excellent—and the blood splattering is kinda’ chunky! The animated bodies are disturbing, the stop-motion severed hands are a joy, and the brutal limb breaks will catch you off-guard.

When we see the “final monster” it’s only for a second at a time; we see it often, but only in these glimpses. It’s a macabre amalgam of randomly attached bodies/parts similar to the new The Thing (2011), the end of Terrified (2017),the final queen roach monster in The Nest (1988) or Zygote (2017).

When films put all their eggs in the monster basket, we tend not to expect much overall. Perhaps a few obscure creature sightings and a gory death scene in the first hour, followed by a hopefully redeeming monster-rich finale—all surrounded by weak writing and acting. Director Toby Wilkins (The Grudge 3) delivers a very respectable film. His characters are well-written and performed affably yet credibly. I don’t think I have a single negative criticism of this film! I just… loved it!

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