Masters of Horror: Sick Girl (DVD)
Starring Angela Bettis, Erin Brown, Jesse Hlubik, Mike McKee
Directed by Lucky McKee
Released by Anchor Bay Entertainment
This was one of the few episodes I was not able to see during the series run, which is a tad ironic because it was the one I wanted to see the most. Sure, Carpenter's was awesome and Stuart Gordon’s was one of my favorites, but I really wanted to see what newcomer Lucky McKee could come up with for the short film showcase. I was very happy when the DVD arrived in my mailbox and am even happier to report that "Sick Girl" didn’t disappoint.
The story follows Ida (Bettis), an entomologist (a scientist who studies insects) whose only real friends are fellow scientist Max (Hlubik) and a lot of bugs. And I mean a lot, folks. Most of the square footage of her apartment is filled with all manner of terrariums that are home to thousands of insects, and needless to say, she’s not great with relationships. To make matters worse, Ida is a lesbian, so her suitors are all girls, and we know how girls generally feel about bugs.
Going into work every day she sees the same long-haired girl, Misty (Brown), scribbling away in a notebook in the lobby of her building, and when she finally musters up the nerve to talk to her, she realizes that Misty is just as interested in her. Thus begins the centerpoint of "Sick Girl": a lesbian love story. Doesn’t sound too horrific (unless of course you’re afraid of the mere thought of bugs and/or lesbians), does it? Don’t worry; Lucky knows what he’s doing here.
At the same time as their love is blossoming, Ida receives a strange package in the mail from an unidentified sender, and within is a bug even she can’t identify. All she knows is that it’s big, ugly, and very aggressive. Getting swept away in the promises of a new love, she barely notices when the bug gets out of its cage and indeed does only a cursory search for it when she does. Meanwhile, the carnivorous insect has made a home in Misty’s pillow and does some very funky shit to a neighbor’s dog and, later, Misty's head when no one’s around. Slowly Misty becomes more and more aggressive and brash until the point she shows what she’s truly becoming underneath the surface.
A lot of people initially didn’t like "Sick Girl," and I think I can see why. Bettis turns in a very bizarre performance, delivering in a very strange, sometimes annoying voice that makes her sound 10 years older than she actually is and nerdy as hell. Brown’s first role outside of her Misty Mundae persona (the character in "Sick Girl," I should add, is named Misty Falls…) goes a bit over the top at times to the point where you can tell she’s not really used to harnessing such emotions. The horror aspect of the story takes a little too long to rear its wickedly deformed head, though the subtle build is hinted at from the first frame. All these elements taken on their own could make for a confusing 50 minutes for those who were looking for some kind of straightforward horror tale or, even worse, something akin to McKee’s first film, May. However, it’s these elements that I’ve pointed out as possible hindrances that helped me enjoy it that much more, save maybe for Brown’s questionable performance.
I really dug what Angela brought to the character of Ida, not just through her voice, which is different enough for most and the point where she likely lost some fans, but her overall performance is the usual strange awkwardness we’ve seen in both Carrie and May. Sure, she’s shy and it takes a while to get her to loosen up, but when she’s in her element, she’s a very strong persona and a great switch from the few roles we’ve already seen her in to date. It’s not really what people have come to expect from her, which is one of the reasons I dug it so much.
The slow build works in the confines of the story as well, especially for me because all I knew about the episode was that it was about girls in love and bugs. The path McKee takes with the tale is unexpected and refreshing, while at the same time giving a nod to both 50’s big bug movies and Hitchcock classics. No minor task, that.
On the DVD side of things we have another fantastic package from Anchor Bay with the most impressive director interview and "Working With a Master" featurette to date, simply because Lucky’s only had one other film that anyone’s seen before "Sick Girl" hit screens, and they still manage to make it interesting. The team who put both these features together did a great job getting as much info as possible on Lucky’s history (which includes a co-directing gig with The Lost helmer Chris Severson on a film called All Cheerleaders Die that I’m surprised no one’s released yet), talking to Angela Bettis, Severson, and many others. The featurette also does a bit on Roman, the film Lucky stars in and Bettis directed that serves as a companion piece for May, the oft-troubled The Woods, and the adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s The Lost, with McKee produced. Put together, it paints a portrait of a director who’s got a lot more to offer genre fans than what we’ve had a chance to see to date, and I came away from both featurettes really dying to see more.
The commentary is a helluva lot of fun, though towards the end it becomes the Lucky McKee Show, though through no fault of his own. He’s joined by Bettis, co-star Jesse Hlubik, and the show’s composer. McKee shows fantastic enthusiasm not just for his story but the series as a whole, which is refreshing. There’s a lot of laughs and fun being had, and the gang seems like the kind of people you’d want to hang out with even if they weren’t famous. Slowly less and less people contribute, however, and by the end its just McKee seemingly talking to himself. I figured if nothing else Angela would be chatty since she and Lucky have worked together so often, but such is not the case. Hlubik does crack some good jokes now and then, however, which helps keep things moving along.
There are three brief interviews from the set; Angela, Erin Brown, and bug wrangler Brad McDonald. Though both girls are beautiful and charming, I have to say McDonald’s is the most interesting mainly because I love hearing people with way too much knowledge about bugs discussing what they love most. McDonald’s pretty much got a dream gig for anyone who grew up fascinated by bugs, and you can tell he loves what he’s doing.
Rounding out the DVD we have the usual "making of" featurette which is the standard footage shot from behind the scenes put to some hippy hoppy music, another well-written bio for McKee, and some trailers.
If you’ve heard mixed things about "Sick Girl" (and honestly, what entry in this series didn’t have mixed reviews?), just give it a chance and decide for yourself. I can guarantee it’s nothing like May other than the strange relationship issues, and if nothing else it gives us all a chance to see what McKee can do with a small budget and only a few days to shoot while we wait for his “studio” picture, The Woods, to finally get some sort of damn release. Perhaps "Sick Girl" will hold you over, and if not, well, at least it’s got some interesting performances and cool bug effects!
Commentary by Lucky McKee, Angela Bettis, Jesse Hlubik, and Jay Barnes Luckett
Blood, Bugs, and Romance: An Interview with Lucky McKee
Working With a Master: Lucky McKee
On Set Interviews with Angela Bettis, Erin Brown and Brad McDonald
Lucky McKee Bio
4 out of 5
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