Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival Review: ‘Bite’

Ripping off George Romero is (relatively) easy and cheap. Gather together a dozen or so friends, slather them in facepaint and fake blood, and make them wear some torn up Goodwill clothes. Congrats! You’ve got a semi-passable zombie movie going. Trying to rip off David Cronenberg on a budget is quite a bit harder. Even if you admit that you’re probably never going to capture That Cronenberg Feeling — that ineffable sense of icy menace — you’ve still got to figure out how to manage a bunch of grotesque special effects on the cheap.

So props to director Chad Archibald. His low-budget body-horror gross-out-fest “Bite” is certainly not in the same league as Cronenberg’s “The Fly” (the film it so clearly aspires to be), but it is an impressively revolting little number and certainly one of the gooiest movies ever made. In what sounds like a William Castle marketing ploy, paramedics apparently had to be called during “Bite”’s world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival after some audience members fainted and puked and one hit her head while gunning for the exits. Whether or not you believe this story — and I have my doubts — “Bite” is extremely unlikely to phase a hardened gorehound.

“Bite” tells the (quite literally) Kafkaesque story of a woman turning into a bug. After getting bitten in Costa Rica on her bachelorette party, Casey (Elma Begovic) starts noticing weird lesions on her body. Soon she’s puking up clear viscous fluid onto her already slimy (because he’s an investment banker – get it??) fiancé. It’s not long before she’s sleeping in the bathtub and waking up covered in goo.

Casey’s transformation is well-handled if not exactly inspired. Her skin turns ocher; she forms a stinger; her fingers elongate. This mostly happens off-camera, and it’s nowhere near as extreme as Jeff Goldblum’s. But in a nice addition, Casey’s apartment transforms into her hive, and while it mostly just feels like a bug-themed haunted house, it adds some additional visual interest to Casey’s metamorphosis.

There is also an extremely tedious plot about Casey’s apprehensions about marriage, kids, and sex. Archibald throws in a really unpleasant mother-in-law who is also Casey’s landlady. This is all poorly handled and badly acted. Archibald’s attempts to link these anxieties to Casey’s transformation are both obvious and completely unconvincing.

But if you can get past the bad acting, the incoherent themes, and the extremely unfocused script, there are some delightfully glutinous pleasures within. In the grand ignoble tradition of “The Thing,” “Street Trash,” “Ghostbusters II,” “Society,” and, yes, “The Fly,” “Bite”’s horror is a fundamentally goo-based one, what might be called “textural horror” as it plays on our discomfort with the sticky, the ooey-gooey, the squishy. As Casey transforms, she gives birth to hundreds of eggs, each one a gelatinous little bubble; you can practically feel them squelch between your toes. In reality, Archibald probably just dumped out a bucket of bath beads onto his floor, but that’s the magic of low-budget horror — it can transform the mundane into the disgusting.

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