When I think of horror, I think of the traditional tropes that have been spoon fed to us for years. I’m talking werewolves, vampires, and zombies. We occasionally get a good ghost story, but even then they tend to be more about solving a mystery than the actual haunting. So with all of that in mind, I love it when I get to see a horror film that actually went and created a new type of monster.
By type of monster, I don’t mean something silly like a killer car tire like in Rubber (a quality film), because it’s hard to take the creature seriously, and the entire film becomes a comedy of sorts. And while I love Shaun of the Dead and Cabin in the Woods, they fall short on horror as they make the entire situation a surreal comedy.
No. When I wanted a new monster I had to search for one. And I’m happy to report that I found it, made in the 2008 film Splinter. Directed by Toby Wilkins (The Grudge 3), this film follows the tales of two couples that converge in an explosive manner.
The first couple, Seth Belzer (Paulo Costanzo) and his fiancé Polly Watt (Jill Wagner), are on a romantic getaway to the woods. The biologist with a passion for obscure botanical facts, Seth, pressures his outgoing fiancé to give up on camping and says they can have an equally relaxing stay in a hotel. They load their gear back into the SUV and go on their way.
Meanwhile, we have an escaped convict Dennis Farell (Shea Wingham), and his junkie girlfriend, Lacey Belisle (Rachel Kerbs) driving off in a stolen vehicle. They ditch their truck the first chance they get and carjack Seth and Polly, telling them to head north. So we have our crew already assembled and ready for some action, with a unique situation cobbled together that I haven’t seen from many movies.
Surviving Splinter Rule #1: Don’t get a splinter
Splinter starts the scares early when the SUV runs over an animal, getting a flat tire as a reward for their trouble. While Dennis and Polly change the tire, Lacey insists that Seth needs to look at the animal, as she thinks it’s an old pet. Holding the biologist at gunpoint, she makes him examine the body, and to his horror the obviously deceased critter moves to strike him, thick spines growing through it’s fur and flattened hide in response to him getting close.
Back at the flat tire, Dennis gets cut by one of the spines that had been embedded in the tire. They all retreat back to the car and continue on, stopping for gas at an out of the way station, which they find deserted.
Lacey, who needed to use the restroom, discovers the attendant in the stall, a horribly mutilated creature that turns on her with a savage clicking noise. Terrified, she runs with the creature hot on her heels and, when it rounds the corner to where Seth is cleaning the car’s windows, it shrieks and launches itself through the air, crushing the front of the vehicle with spiked limbs. Lacey is mauled in the process, and Dennis is forced to retreat into the gas station with Seth and Polly, tears rolling down his face at the fact that he can’t save his girlfriend.
The creature moves and through a unique consuming process, stabbing Lacey onto itself in order to grow. Now trapped in the building with the beast hammering the reinforced windows with Lacey’s bloody corpse, Seth and Dennis try and come up with a way to get help. The phone doesn’t work and the back door is sealed. Their only ready tool is the surveillance cameras positioned outside, allowing them to monitor the creature as it paces the windows on four limbs.
Now I’ve probably spoiled enough of Splinter as it is, so just do yourself a favour and grab this award winning film for your collection. Whilst not perfect, it takes suspense and horror to an all-new level. Creating horrifying scenes involving dismemberment, attacks by killer hands, a plot to escape that involves nearly killing you in the process, and a final fight with a monster so out there it must have been inspired by a combination of hallucinogenic drugs.
The fact that it has yet to be replicated shows how unique a niche this creature fills in the horror genre, the sheer creativity involved in the film presenting new scenarios that are conceived by actually intelligent human beings.
By that I mean the Seth, Dennis, and Polly don’t just panic; they instantly begin plotting on ways to get away from the creature. Plans range from using fire to attracting police and firemen so that they can handle it. They use makeshift tools to try and solve their predicament and defend themselves with everything at their disposal.
There are even parts where you could possibly get a laugh if you are as jaded as I am when it comes to scary movies. The creature, sadly, is explained scientifically by Seth, so we don’t just have an unsolved puzzle that could lead to sequels.
Not every film can be perfect, can it?
Now for me, Splinter holds a special place in my heart as it shows how adaptable man can be when faced with the horrors lurking in the darkness. Unlike other movies where people become paralyzed with fear, incapable of even helping themselves as the monster shuffled after them, this group doesn’t give an inch without making the monster earn it through blood and sweat. You even have a moment where the original villain, Dennis, reveals that he has a good side to him, which is a break from traditional bad boys in horror movies.
While not a perfect guide to creating a horror movie, this is a handy set of blueprints that many aspiring directors should pay close attention to. With six awards from the Screamfest Horror Film Festival, it gets the recognition that it deserves. Hopefully, we’ll see more from the director that run along this vein. Lord knows we could use an extra scare in our movies!
By Nicholas Paschall (@Nelfeshne)
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