The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: The Carrier (1988)

Posted by Damon Swindall - January 12th 2012 @ 5:21 pm

After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!

The Carrier's VHS Cover

Here we are – the year 2012. With the new year we all make new resolutions, may they be public or private, get a fresh start… and begin a new year at Horror Movie Night! Brian has programmed one hell of a line-up for our last year on Earth (if the Mayans have anything to say about it). We kick things off with a strange flick from 1988 full of melting people, dangerous Dr. Seuss and a boatload of cats. I speak of The Carrier.

The small town of Sleepy Rock has been cut off from the rest of the world after some bridge troubles. If that wasn’t bad enough, it also seems there is some horrible plague sweeping the streets that causes anyone who touches an infected object to melt away. Just before all of this occurs a young outcast, Jake Spear (Gregory Fortescue), has a run-in with a mysterious black beast who disintegrates after death. Now it seems that everything Jake touches becomes tainted and could mean certain death for anyone who touches it too. The townspeople take to covering themselves with plastic or other materials and using cats to test areas for infection, which quickly makes the felines something of a hot commodity.

Leader of Town’s Group: Is it cats, or is it death?
Leader of the Religious Group: That’s no choice.
Leader of Town’s Group: Cats or death?!
Leader of Religious Group: Cats aren’t what you need.
Leader of Town’s Group: Then let it be death!

One of the great things about this film is how it seems like there is a message, but how unsure it is of said message. As my good friend Micah (@ReelDistraction) said online, “The movie plays like it was written by an 8th grade honors student who worked really hard for one week on a religion vs. science morality play.” That pretty much sums it all up. When this infection is levied upon Sleepy Rock the town’s doctor urges everyone to remain calm and be cautious until he can run tests and find out the source of it all, while the local bearded preacher gets everyone into a tizzy because God must be punishing them for something. Sigh. This sounds like the same kind of stuff that happens today and is the reason why I’m constantly rolling my eyes. If that wasn’t bad enough, the local church has the creepiest crucifix I’ve ever seen.

Jesus Jumped-Up Christ!

Even though I’m inclined to follow the good doctor’s orders on issues like this, he still leaves much to be desired. He warns them to cover themselves to cut down the risk of infection/death, which is good advice – until he endorses covering the head with plastic. Since when is this a good idea? Kids have been told since the invention of plastic not to put plastic bags over their heads, but here we are getting the doc’s full blessing. Makes little sense. I can hardly blame them for going crazy and hoarding cats like that crazy woman on The Simpsons.

Speaking of the protective wardrobe, it’s quite a look. The majority of people cover themselves in either plastic or other thick fabrics that leave little to no indication of who they are behind the covers. The result is a mass of people who have a vague resemblance to someone out of Mad Max or a poor kid who’s into LARPing but can’t afford to create a “real” costume.

Then there are the cats. When first testing out for the infected areas of the town the doctor realizes you can’t test with an inanimate object, it has to be something living. He begins using little chicks but soon they realize since there’s an abundance of cats in the surrounding area that it would make much more sense to snag up the pussies and see if their fur melts before touching anything.  This leads to a war between groups of survivors over the kitties. People are killed over them, including a young boy who is just trying to get away from a trio of cat obsessed adults with his friends.

Meow?

One aspect of the film that is pretty cool is the make-up FX. Whenever someone comes into contact with an infected item they begin to melt. This happens from the beginning when a man touches a tainted copy of Dr. Seuss’ One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and his arm immediately starts to deflate. It can look a little silly at times, but the methods used are pretty great. Near the end of the film when everyone has figured out that Jake is the source of it all, and they’re chasing him through town, he reaches down and grabs handfuls of pebbles to throw behind as he runs. Because he touches them they become tiny bombs and the result sees a woman have a small hole in her neck that shoots a steam out as she’s beginning to disintegrate.

What really blows my mind about this more than anything else is it’s presence on IMDb. Some of the films we watch at HMN… Ok, most of the films we watch at HMN are rated fairly low on the old IMDb scale. On a scale of 10 the majority probably fare in the range of a 3 or 4 star rating. But this strange tale of a town with a mysterious plague and its cat obsessed citizens currently holds a surprising 5.9/10 with 138 votes! That’s pretty damn good. I’m not saying that I thought this was a bad movie, it’s quite entertaining actually, but I am shocked that so many out there like it enough to have it that well regarded online. If you find yourself wanting to check out the film, it is currently available on DVD, in the original full frame aspect ratio, from Code Red. There’s even a commentary on that disc, something I hope to get around to listening to soon. Maybe it’ll shed a little light just what the hell this film was trying to say.

Until next week – which would you choose, cats or death?

Body Count: 37 as best I can tell, what a way to start the new year!
Best Death: Mirror melted into naked flesh
First Death: 8:10
First Cat: 12:15
Number of Cats: Approximately 16

Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-1/11/12: Beasties (1991)
-1/18/12: Venom (1981)
-1/25/12: TBA – Possible BYE Week
-2/1/12: Ice Cream Man (1995)

Beware the cat

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