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Sunday Scaries: Appreciating Kevin Smith’s Horror Output (Part Three) – Talking ‘Tusk’

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The Sunday Scaries are upon us once again! Yes, as the weekend concludes, most of us feel an oncoming sense of anticipatory dread about the week ahead. Anxiety about work manifests itself into a feeling that’s known as the Sunday Scaries. However, we at Awards Radar are here to combat that, by taking back the name. Now, we want you think about a horror-centric piece on the site when you hear the term. So, let us continue on with another installment of the Awards Radar Sunday Scaries! Today, we officially continue the miniseries within this series that concerns a favorite filmmaker of mine…

Last time around (here), I professed my love for Kevin Smith‘s Red State. Today, we’re focusing on his even more horror-centric outing, the creature feature Tusk. A turn towards something in the realm of a Hammer Horror tale, Smith got to make his most experimental work almost two decades into his career, coming after his temporary retirement after Red State. On a whim, this idea sparked something new in him. What some would have done as their student film or as a debut feature, Smith got to come out of retirement for. Ultimately, it’s the start of a side franchise for him, separate from the View Askewniverse, representing the beginning of the True North Trilogy.

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In Tusk, we follow podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) as he travels to Canada for a new episode’s material. A chance discovery of an ad by the enigmatic Howard Howe (Michael Parks) brings Wallace into contact with an unusual old man. Of course, this being horror, Howard has some dastardly, walrus-related, plans for Wallace. By the end, he, along with Smith, will have gone Full Walrus. Haley Joel Osment and Genesis Rodriguez co-star, with Johnny Depp lending a noteworthy cameo. Also of note, this was shot by cinematographer James Laxton, who would soon after become Barry Jenkins‘ go-to DP.

What stands out so much for me here is Smith’s commitment to the premise. He never winks at the audience. Instead, he leans in, treating a walrus body horror concept completely seriously. By allowing you to find the humor, it’s even funnier. Plus, it allows the unsettling nature of it all to sink in, letting the film work as horror. For such a ridiculous idea, it comes off as earnest and almost even-handed, in a way.

Tusk notably sprung up from a podcast episode. Along with Scott Mosier, Smith and Mosier went over an ad (later proven to be a prank) asking for a very open-minded roommate. It’s well worth listening to, as not only do you get to hear the two of them really get a lot of humor out of the oddness, but you can actually be in the room as a screenplay idea comes together. It’s actually kind of magical.

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Not only is the premise creepy as all hell, both Justin Long and Michael Parks really sell it all. Plus, the ultimate fate of Wallace, as well as the creature design, really hammers home how bonkers it all is, in a way that you can’t look away from. Revisiting it last night, the tension of it all, as well as the lingering impact of the ending, still hit home in a big way. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it should have been more than a blip on the cinematic radar.

This film wasn’t properly embraced upon release, becoming one of the rare A24 horror misfires. However, the audience was wrong, as this flick is a demented delight. A midnight movie in its bones, a mostly positive debut at the Toronto International Film Festival just didn’t translate at the box office. This one has slipped through the cracks, unjustly so. So, consider this a plea to give this wild horror effort a true shot.

Tusk is a movie that Kevin Smith should be proud of. It’s unusual and fucked up, done in a way only Smith could have. I adore it and you should too. Next up, we’ll be looking at the fair sillier spin-off Yoga Hosers, which will move us forward in his True North Trilogy. Sit tight, we’re not done with Smith’s horror output yet…

Stay tuned for another Sunday Scaries installment next week!

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Written by Joey Magidson

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