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Horror Reviews - Mosquito (1995)

Mosquito (1995)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2015-10-21 21:10

Mosquito (1995)
Studio: Synapse
Release date: October 13th, 2015

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

The movie:

Another piece of evidence in the case of The People vs. Shitty Creature Features, Mosquito takes us back to a simpler time when a dumb giant bug movie could play endlessly on television without assaulting our intelligence. The time was 1995, and the film was Gary Jones’s Mosquito, which quickly found itself in the USA Network’s rotation. While I only have vague recollections of it (on account of being about 10 years old), it was apparently a staple of USA’s legendary Up All Night block, something that automatically places it on a level above today’s cloying, irony-soaked, hashtag-driven tripe. That it’s a much better movie, one that was crafted with loving, hands-on, practical care helps too.

Obviously, I don’t need to rehash this argument again, but I suppose it bears repeating. Yes, Mosquito is ludicrous, cheap, and pretty amateurish, but these sort of things don’t matter when the filmmakers involved actually give a damn. Mosquito obviously comes from a place of affection for this sort of Z-grade schlock and isn’t out to mock it. Rather, it’s a spiritual successor to 50s giant bug movies, right down to the preposterous inciting incident: after a UFO crash lands in an Earth bog, the radiated corpse of its pilot draws mosquitos. Said mosquitoes feed on the alien blood, grow to an abnormally large size, and proceed to swarm the surrounding area, draining the blood of everything they encounter. Eventually a ragtag group bands together to fend off the swarm—provided they don’t tear each other apart first, of course.

Essentially the bastard love child of Raimi, Romero, and 50s creature-features, Mosquito offers more proof that you don’t need a whole lot to make this sort of thing effective. For starters, while its influences are obvious, it doesn’t go out of its way to prove itself. Outside of some pretty silly gags—such as Gunnar Hansen brandishing a chainsaw he found out in a workshed and declaring he hasn’t used one in twenty years—it’s not the sort of film that really needs to aggressively flash its credentials. That it unironically centers on giant, irradiated mosquitos means it doesn’t have to exactly shout about how silly it is. I don’t think I need to explain how that’s preferable to most of its modern-day counterparts, who can’t wait to invite you in on a joke that’s been tired for nearly a decade now. I feel like I reiterate this at least once a month at this point.

The same can be said for Jones’s (mostly) practical effects, relied upon here mostly out of necessity since CGI wasn’t cheap enough to become an unfortunate crutch yet. I don’t need to tell you that this sort of limited access was actually a good thing, as it forced motivated filmmakers to actually put an effort into crafting believable, tangible effects, a quality that makes all the difference in the world for a movie like Mosquito. There is just something inherently thrilling about seeing an actual giant mosquito in the camera—especially when one ends up being splattered all over the place in a gooey mess. Seeing bodies drained of their blood and transformed into ghastly husks is infinitely cooler than watching a bunch of pixels “devour” a victim. Watching a filmmaker try to stage fiery RV crashes and exploding houses on a shoestring budget is much more satisfying when actual fire and explosions are involved, obvious model work be damned.

Mosquito is the sort of film that knows where it comes from: not only does it inherit the Atomic Age, nuclear-fueled paranoia of the 50s, but also the following decades’ increasing desire to gross out its audiences. It gleefully delivers on the latter: of all the criticisms one can lob its way, “boring” probably isn’t one of them.

“Soulless” is another one that’s hard to level as well. While it’s obviously imperative that your gross-out creature feature boasts delightfully gory effects, this is hardly a guarantee that it’ll work on any other level. Jones goes the extra mile with Mosquito, though, as his filmmaking chops are remarkably up to snuff. Given its Michigan roots, it comes as no surprise that Raimi’s influence might as well be burned into each frame. Most obviously revealed through the frenetic, prowling camerawork, it’s also felt in the general plucky, by-the-bootstraps 16mm aesthetic that sometimes feels clumsy. Of course, clumsiness at least implies some sort of effort, whereas laziness doesn’t. I’ll take a film that’s willing to take risks and trip over itself over one that falls down on purpose and expects everyone to laugh at it.

And where Mosquito really tries is with its characters, all of whom are realized via painfully earnest performances. You almost can’t help but like every single one of them, if only because is trying their best to not make every line of dialogue sound canned and rehearsed. Only occasionally do they succeed, but it doesn’t matter and not in the “nobody cares about the characters in a movie titled Mosquito” sort of sense, either. On the contrary, you almost become miraculously invested in everyone’s fate, including a couple of paranoid military goons who initially attempt to hijack our heroic group’s ride. Through the sheer power of dopey dialogue and sincerity, it suddenly becomes imperative that none of these characters suffer or perish. When they decide to build a homemade bomb using a microwave (!), you can only hope it goes off without a hitch, allowing everyone to survive.

This is the sign of a truly effective monster movie, even one that has the guts to rehash bits of Night of the Living Dead without carrying over a hint of that film’s politics or its director’s musings about the destructiveness of human nature. Mosquito doesn’t care for any of that—it’s too busy slyly convincing you that a man can survive an explosion by hiding out inside of a refrigerator, meaning it (sort of ) nuked the fridge a good decade before Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It’s too busy convincing you that is not “science fiction bullshit” because it’s actually “science fact.” And, 20 years later, it’s mostly too busy convincing you that its modern-day descendants could learn a few lessons from it. Maybe it’s a product of shifting goal posts or grading on a curve, but Mosquito is what the platonic ideal for what cable-TV monster movies should be.

The disc:

In the years since its Up All Night canonization, Mosquito has become a cult classic, so much so that Synapse has issued a 20th Anniversary special edition. Released 16 years since the film’s first DVD release (!), the Blu-ray ushers the film into HD with a new transfer restored from Jones’s personal 35mm negative. It’s complemented by both stereo and surround DTS-MA tracks restored from other archive materials. An insert with the disc details the painstaking process and the elements involved, but rest assured, this is likely the best Mosquito has looked and sounded since it played in a handful of theaters in 1995.

A wealth of extras has also been produced, including a commentary with Jones, DP/co-writer Tom Chaney, and producer David Thiry. The other centerpiece here is “Bugging Out!,” a 75 minute retrospective documentary that details the film’s production from concept to release (and beyond since some of the participants return to old shooting locations years later to reminisce). 7 minutes of deleted scenes provide a peek at cutting-room floor material, while 40 minutes of vintage behind-the-scenes footage take viewers back to the film’s production. Finally, a stills gallery and a trailer round out a disc that proves that the cult home video market is still thriving in 2015. Just about the only thing that's really missing is Rhonda Shear, so maybe don't discard your old VHS recordings.
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