Monday, November 21, 2011

ABERRATION (1997) - if you thought geckos couldn't be more of an annoyance than that Geico gecko, think again

Here's the big scene of gecko horror action.

The “animals run amok” genre has a long and proud tradition of entertaining us by showing innocent animals eating a bunch of privileged white people. You know, the kind that drive along in an SUV to a house in the woods, throwing non-biodegradable styrofoam burger containers out of the window along the way. Now, I don’t know how a radioactive squirrel knows that these people are privileged and selfish and therefore deserve to be killed, but I’m certainly pleased with the results.

However, the problem with such a well-mined genre is that most every animal has already been used. Filmmakers have fused animals together in order to keep things innovative, whether the shark octopus or the gorilla squid or the lobster giraffe. Hell, even a plant was used in the “animal run amok” classic The Little Shop of Horrors. Now, I know that nobody else on this planet would consider Little Shop of Horrors an “animal run amok” movie, considering that it stars a plant that doesn’t move. However, I think that a plant that eats people is pretty much an animal (editor’s note: writer is not a zoologist; he’s not even a crypto-zoologist), and there’s no need for the plant to run amok when it can coerce Seymour into doing his dirty work for him. If a grizzly bear with crab hands who lives in a cave had a cronie to bring him victims, he wouldn’t even bother to leave the house. Well, it makes sense to me.

Anyway, the plot as standard as it gets, as Pamela Gidley is a hip chick that heads out to a cabin in the woods and is forced to defend herself against radioactive (although regular sized) geckos. Yes, Aberration is about killer geckos, which sounds pretty ridiculous, but admittedly they are rarely glimpsed. They live beneath the floorboards of the cabin and when the geckos do get out and about, they do so in POV shots (reminiscent of the classic killer tarantula flick Kingdom of the Spiders, starring legendary space stud Bill Shatner). They even spy upon Pamela’s ass as she gets ready to take a bath. I guess it can get pretty boring living under some floorboards, so these geckos take any cheap thrills they can get.

So, if the TYPE of critter doesn’t play a big part in the story, why go with the gecko? Why not go with an old standby, like tarantulas, for example? Well, basically, Aberration is a quirky, post-Tarantino (there’s even a subtle reference to Reservoir Dogs), post-Twin Peaks (Gibney was in Fire Walk With Me) variation on the “animals run amok” genre, and the gecko fits as a quirky and original choice. Fittingly, Pamela combats them in quirky ways, whether arming herself with a Super Soaker filled with poison, or when she tries to drown one in a fishtank, only to be forced to electrocute with a lamp when she discovers that these geckos can breathe under water. Instead of going for straight horror or camp, the movie goes for quirk, without being self-conscious to the point of annoyance. Pamela is a perfect heroine for this style, with her pink highlights and alternative style (“alternative” meaning “120 Minutes with Dave Kendall”) and dialogue that conveys a detached cool, keeping her composure while subtlety cracking wise. She also talks to her cat, which is something that quirky girls do, and continue to do as they grow up to be crazy cat ladies. She also bumps into some off-kilter characters along the way, in particular a creepy old man who lives in a nearby shack, as well as a slightly nutty but charming ecologist whom she develops a bit of a relationship with. The soundtrack is surprisingly good and fitting of the Pamela character, with some tremolo guitar score (a bit Twin Peaks) and alternative songs, a few which sound like Concrete Blonde. There’s also a twist ending that will seem familiar to anyone who remembers what movies were like in the aftermath of Pulp Fiction. You know, a movie about quirky criminals. I think I have now set a record for the most uses of the word "quirk" within one paragraph. There's another one.

A good point of comparison is Ticks (1993), another Evil Dead-influenced (specifically the camera work and location) “critters in a cabin in the woods” movie, employing genre revisionism in a 90’s style. The difference is that the “hipness” of Ticks is decidedly pre-Tarantino. The characters also employ self-referential humor, but are still partially in the “dumb victim” mold. The characters in Aberration play it smart while keeping it cool, slyly commenting on the situation without drifting into camp, and never rendered helpless or shrieking. However, at its core, Aberration is basically about a girl in a cabin forced into pest control, so it never really inspires terror in the way that the best “animals run amok” movies do. It may as well be a movie about a quirky girl dealing with an annoying roach problem. However, pest control, no matter how well done, is not going to put asses in the seats. You gotta sell it as a movie about some crazy ass monster eating people and ripping limbs off. In other words, subtlety and quirk is what opens on Friday and closes on Saturday or, in this case, goes direct-to-video.

P.S. This was written as part of "Project Terrible" over at Mondo Bizarro. If you like crap, click on the link.


  1. A film about killer geckos wasn't good? Color me shocked!

    If you want to see a funnier and cheesier version of this kind of film- with lizards-, check out 'Frogs.' It's silly, but I love it!

  2. I still don't get how the little geckos can be in the least bit scary enough to be a formidable opponent, radioactive or not. I mean, they're kinda cute. Wouldn't they just scurry about the room while you try to catch one? That's what I would be doing.

  3. @Tim
    Frogs is pretty awesome. I think I've seen most of the killer animals movies pre-90's.

    Yeah, pretty much. I don't think the director really wanted to make a scary monster movie and instead focused on the quirky characters and dialogue.

  4. VERY interesting Tarantinian analysis. I just found it kind of annoying, but the idea of the quirk being very specific to 1997 DOES make sense. Hmmmm.

    Oh and yes, quirky girls DO indeed talk to their cats and naturally progress to crazy cat ladies. It's a very definite tract of evolution.

  5. There seemed to be a period where every movie had a Tarantino influence. Whether it becomes annoying or not seems to be a nebulous that is hard to pinpoint.