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Justin Long and Michael Parks conduct an initial interview before things get hairy in
Justin Long and Michael Parks conduct an initial interview before things get hairy in "Tusk."

OK, I’ve seen some bizarre horror movies in my time, but Tusk is definitely the strangest one of all. I’ve seen scarier ones and I’ve seen funnier ones, but the next time some horror fan asks me what’s the sickest, most messed-up example of the genre, my ready answer will be Kevin Smith’s queasily compelling and thoroughly enjoyable effort.

Justin Long portrays Wallace, an L.A. comic who has found success by ditching his soul, making fun of the eccentrics and deluded cranks he interviews on his podcast. On a crank-finding trip to Manitoba, he stumbles across Howard Howe (Michael Parks), an old sailor who lives in an isolated rural mansion. Howard regales him with stories of meeting Hemingway on D-Day and being lost at sea, and Wallace is so fascinated that he doesn’t notice that his tea is drugged. Unfortunately for Wallace, his subject secretly has a demented plan to use amputation, surgical thread, and a costume made of human skin to turn Wallace into the only creature on Earth he considers truly noble — a walrus.

The idea for this came from a podcast that Smith did with his friend Scott Mosier, a snippet of which you can hear over the movie’s closing credits. Smith has long seemed like a brilliant comic writer in search of a subject. He tried pivoting to horror once before in Red State. This time, it takes. Howard tends to ramble on — wait, what am I saying? He’s a character in a Kevin Smith movie! Of course he talks too much! Still, as someone who has sat through many badly written horror flicks, I find it refreshing to see a filmmaker actually take care over the dialogue. Many comedy writers have detailed the cultural differences between America and Canada, but Smith still finds some fresh material, especially in an early exchange between Wallace and a nonplussed border agent (Harley Morenstein).

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Smith’s approach gives rewarding material to both Haley Joel Osment (sporting a lot of post-pubescent weight and an excellent sense of comic timing) as Wallace’s podcasting partner and Genesis Rodriguez (gratefully seizing a chance to do something besides look hot) as Wallace’s girlfriend, while Johnny Depp (under heavy makeup and billed under his character’s name, Guy Lapointe) weirds out yet again as an obsessive Quebecois homicide detective on Howard’s trail. Meanwhile, Parks, a mainstay of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, delivers a star turn as the erudite Howard, who credibly pretends to be a subnormal redneck when he meets Guy face to face. The uniqueness of the villain’s madness helps distinguish this from other horror films, too.

The whole thing reaches its highest pitch of absurdity in the climactic fight sequence between Wallace and Howard. The sight gag is too good a joke to give away here, but if the premise alone doesn’t cinch Tusk’s status as an instant cult classic, that showdown certainly does. Here’s a movie made for laughing at with a bunch of your friends, and if some of those friends are Canadians and/or marine biologists, so much the better.

 

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Tusk

Starring Justin Long and Michael Parks. Written and directed by Kevin Smith. Rated

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