Some time in the near future, scientist Paul Dean has accidentally become infected with a new form of parasite he and the government were experimenting with. Realizing a little too late that the organism is highly dangerous (obviously) and that the government and its partners, the Marshals, are up to no good (of course), Dean escapes, taking the only two specimens of the parasite with him. Now infected, Dean has to figure out a way to kill these new creatures he helped create, because not only will these nasty little organisms eat their host from the inside out, but the spores they will eventually be able to produce will instantly infect any organism they touch. Unfortunately for Dean, one of the Marchals is on his trail, and some of the locals in the run-down town he’s currently hiding out in are none too friendly.
They might be nicer if they’d stop sucking on lemons.
Parasite is a low budget horror creature feature from 1982 produced and directed by Charles Band. Band is probably best known for being involved with in a wide variety of horror productions, including films like Re-Animator and From Beyond, but he is probably more associated with the more campy productions like Tourist Trap, Ghoulies, Breeders and the Puppet Master franchise. Parasite boasts a lot of heart and the presence of Demi Moore, but despite that the film falls squarely into the latter camp of Band productions.
Dear directors, if you can see up your actors nose, you’re too close.
The film’s greatest and most noticeable problem is it’s story and pacing. The movie starts off with a combination flashback/dream sequence and then transitions into a slightly dystopian future. And I say ‘slightly’ because at first you don’t know WTF is going on. The film takes a good 20 minutes before it bothers to explain anything, and before that it feels like a strange combination of Western and Mad Max. But before you get excited by the prospect of all those leather chaps, know that it’s more of a ‘light’ version of Mad Max, as no one is fighting over food and gas, and it doesn’t look like there are roving bands of thugs terrorizing the streets. We’re just supposed to infer it’s dystopian because society seems to have reverted back to bartering and selling things for silver coins.
And some of them don’t even do the bartering.
Along the way we’re given bits and pieces of story elements, including vague information about atomic fallout, government conspiracies and forced work camps, but most of it feels sporadic and none of it really ties in together very well. Besides the main plot that happens around Dean and the parasite, everything else just feels like an afterthought. The fact that the film essentially slows to a crawl in between the much more engaging parasite focused bits seems to bolster this. Now, I’m a fan of slow burn films that don’t feel the need to explain every little detail of the plot. But it’s hard to ignore that a good portion of the film feels like a slog. I do have to give the film credit, the moments in between the ‘good parts’ aren’t without purpose. They do actually contain plot elements that the film eventually fleshes out in the third act and they end up tying a lot of things together, but the pacing of those scenes is so abysmally slow that they end up detracting from the enjoyment of the film, rather than adding to it.
A lot is made of the fact that Demi Moore is in this film, and it is indeed her second feature film. But people going in blind based on that information will likely be a little disappointed. Moore’s role is actually pretty minor. Don’t get me wrong, she does end up being one of the main characters, but when considering the level of significance, she’s only about the 5th most important character. Hell, she doesn’t even show up until a good 3rd of the way through the film, though she does manage to hold viewer interest whenever she’s on the screen. But most of the movie’s focus is on Dean, the Marshal, and a punk gang leader named Ricus. The most engaging of the three ends up being the Marshal, but only because his campy evil is delightfully entertaining. The other two follow the pattern of the film’s general plot: serviceable, but ultimately dull. Ricus is your typical wannabe biker leader, but comes across as an annoying jackass more than anything else (evidenced by the fact that no one has shot him yet in that lawless land, despite ample opportunity.) And Dean, well, poor Dean’s about as mentally stimulating as a luke-warm glass of water. The movie tries to give him some action-y bits to make him more interesting, but it’s a useless endeavor. The way he acts the way he does is perfectly understandable for the circumstances, but expecting such a dry character to carry the film was not a wise decision.
Zsa Zsa Gabor: Apocalyptic Scientist
You’re not Mel Gibson. Stop trying.
The film’s one strong suite are its effects….to a certain point. Even if you aren’t initially aware of it, it’s very quickly made clear that the movie was filmed in 3D. But of course we’re talking early 80s, so this is cheap ‘OMG everything’s coming AT ME!’ 3D, and like other films of that unfortunate era it is mostly comprised of little more than pointy objects being thrust towards the viewer. Thankfully, they don’t do it too often (it probably cost too much), but when they do it’s blatantly obvious.
And ya’ll complain about today’s 3D films.
What the film does get right in the effects department, is the gore and the parasite. The parasite is a slimy little monstrosity that kind of resembles a worm-like piranha. It drips a mucky puss, moves quickly and looks like a little hell-beast. Meanwhile on the gore front, heads and abdomens explode, people change colors, wounds ooze and people get beat up and actually show signs of swelling and bruises. Some parts still look kinda cheap, but considering it’s a low-budget film it’s still rather impressive. It’s just a shame that there’s so little of any of it.
Um, I think you missed a spot there near the hairline…
Parasite does not have a glowing reputation and it’s clear to see why. The movie has some fun creature effects and sports a well-known actress, but the story and pacing are such a struggle to get through that even the best effects in the world wouldn’t make it feel worth it. Add to that a cliche group of characters and a hum-drum lead and it’s hard to recommend the film to anyone but the most hardcore horror fan.
Parasite is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
It’s also available on DVD and Bluray.