Shot in rural Michigan in the mid-1980s, Nathan White's sole directorial effort is quite the impressive indie effort. Utilizing a crew of rising Hollywood players, including cinematographer Peter Deming (MULHOLLAND DR.), composer Joseph LoDuca (RUNNING TIME) and actor Bruce Campbell (EVIL DEAD), who aided the production by recording sound effects, THE CARRIER took me completely by surprise. What could have easily played as a poor knock-off of a 1950s B-movie is instead a thoroughly entertaining horror thriller with some genuinely tense moments and enough unexpected, and weird, twists to keep even the most jaded cult fan glued to their seat.
An outcast in the small religious community of Sleepy Rock, Jake (Gregory Fortescue) spends most of his days drinking and hoping to forget the pain of the house fire that left him an orphan. Late one rainy night while trying to drown his sorrows, Jake is attacked by a large, hairy black beast. While Jake is able to fight the creature off, the attack leaves him with a sizable claw mark on his chest. The next morning Jake heads into town to pick up another bottle of Jack Daniels and unknowingly leaves a contaminated path along the way. While he doesn’t know it yet, the beast that attacked Jake not only left him with a couple of nasty scars; it also infected him with a deadly pathogen. The virus festering in Jake is transferred by touch and while it lays dormant on solid objects, it dissolves any insect, animal or human that it comes into contact with, except for its host. Completely unaware that he is a walking death sentence, Jake goes about his day, infecting solid objects all over town.
It isn’t long before the residents of Sleepy Rock are made aware of the danger around them, as the first victim to fall to the disease does so in front of most of the community, children included. After picking up a book that Jake touched, a local vagabond stumbles into the center of town screaming in agony as an old copy of Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish eats away at his arm. Soon after people start melting left and right, as they come into contact with objects that are infected. This allows for some great melting scenes, my favorite of which involves a man dissolving into an outhouse. While comparable to the similar, and much gorier gag seen in STREET TRASH, the set up here perfectly illustrates how the disease transfers from person to person by showing a quick but effective clip of the man dissolving into the hand of the person trying to pull him out of the shitter.
Eventually the town's doctor is able to decipher which items are contaminated by touching baby chicks to objects throughout the city. Any object that is infected is then tagged with a red ribbon. While this system of identifying objects helps to prevent more deaths, the doctor still has no idea how the virus is spread, leaving the citizens of Sleepy Rock panicked. With the only road out of town washed away, the townsfolk attempt to protect themselves by covering their bodies in bubble wrap and bed linens. As tensions rise, Sleepy Rock eventually divides into two factions, one that dresses in black and one that prefers more Earthy tones. When the two groups butt heads when it comes to who gets to control the local stray cat population, a feline altercation breaks out that pits neighbor against neighbor, to the death.
You may not expect a picture about crazed townsfolk fighting each other to see who gets to keep all of the cats as a sort of social commentary but THE CARRIER does just that and does so rather deftly. The picture clearly makes more than few allusions to the AIDS hysteria of the 1980s but also about how science and religion approach problems in a time of panic. The picture also features some particularly impressive special effects. Besides having the creepiest statue of Jesus I think I've ever seen, the film’s use of matte paintings and stop motion animation are all executed impeccably, as are the scenes of people melting. Most are illustrated by pillars of smoke which dissipate to reveal a pile of clothes, but the few flashes of flesh melting into mirrors and other objects are very effective. The big black creature does however look like an old gorilla costume.
Released on VHS through Magnum Entertainment, Code Red presents THE CARRIER full frame in a 4:3 image aspect ratio. There is minor dirt and debris present with colors appearing accurate for the most part, however, there's an overall softness to the picture. The mono English speaking audio track is quite clear and free of any glaring imperfections. Extras include a feature length commentary track with the film's director and fellow Michiganite, Scott Spiegel (INTRUDER). The track is quite lively with Scott and Nathan rarely at loss for words, often picking out locations and names from their home state. The film’s original trailer, as well as Code Red trailers for NIGHTMARE, THE VISITOR, THE REDEMER, THE NIGHT CHILD and SLITHIS round out this releases bonus features.
As long as you’re not expecting the world in terms of its visual presentation, THE CARRIER is one title I doubt few would regret picking up blind. If you are a member of PETA however you may want to skip this one. I personally had a blast with the picture and am just thankful there are still companies out their like Code Red releasing these small, unheralded gems. (Jason McElreath)
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