SpectreWatch | Part 3: ‘Cooties’ and Our Fear of Being Less Than
SpectreWatch is where writer Justin Drabek discusses the horror filmography of SpectreVision, the impact it has had on him, and the cultural relevance of the company’s commitment to making outsider art for the screen. Each film carries with it a unique tone and yet, as SpectreVision continues to produce more, there seems to be a thread that carries throughout the work they choose to release.
For SpectreVision’s third feature they went in a completely new direction from the previous two and entered into the territory of horror-comedy, an often-maligned subgenre that I love revisiting. Sometimes we all need to be scared and laugh at the same time, but there needs to be a balance between the two elements for a horror comedy to be successful. Cooties — directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion and written by Leigh Whannel, Ian Brennan, and Josh C. Waller — strikes the perfect balance, leaning at most times towards the comedy, but let’s be honest, a film about a virus that infects children before they hit puberty is fucking scary. In fact, it was scary before they even turned into zombie-like creatures.
The film works on so many levels for me. It is by far the most fun I’ve had with a SpectreVision film; watching it with some of my closest friends was a blast, and every time I revisit it, I am filled with joy from both the screen and the fond memories. My life and the lives of those who rented it with me are very different now, but we’ll forever have the memory of watching, laughing, and having a beautiful time with it.
During the release of this film in 2014, I was lost. I was about to be 30, working in a record store and enjoying life but not feeling anywhere close to where I wanted or thought I should be. I felt a pressure I had never really felt before, and I felt like an utter failure. I didn’t really express this to anyone except for one or two people, and even then, I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone. I was passionate about film, passionate about music, and an avid reader, but I was just broken and lost. It’s a horrible feeling, and, while I’m not necessarily in a better place, I am fortunate to be able to say I am happy. I wasn’t then, at all. So, anything that brought me a little bit of joy was always a pleasant surprise and welcome reprieve.
This is where the universal nature of us feeling less than creeps in. It’s not a fear that is exclusive to horror but one that fits so well into the genre. Let’s face it, when there is a fear of being an outsider or being worthless attached to something scary, generally the results are profound. It’s a perfect marriage because it takes anxiety that is felt by us all and puts that on-screen with horrific elements. I think I needed to see characters struggle this way at that time. Every time I revisit it, I feel a sense of communion with these characters who quickly find themselves in over their heads, as anyone can relate to this. Sure, we may not be being attacked by crazy kids. Or we might not be trying to write a novel about a schooner that comes to life, but we all have our dreams and our fears, and sometimes those are matched perfectly on film. Cooties is one of those films.
The film stars Elijah Wood as Clint, an aspiring writer who has just moved back home. I found a lot of myself in Clint. He takes a job substitute teaching at a school where he meets a who’s who of comedy legends, including Leigh Whannel, who is remarkable in every way. The first moments in the teacher’s lounge are hilarious and Clint seems like a fish out of water in almost every interaction, except with Allison Pill’s Lucy. The two have a strong bond and past connection, which Lucy’s boyfriend, the school’s physical education teacher Wade (played brilliantly by Rainn Wilson), takes an immediate issue with. Eventually, the kids go rabid and the teachers must survive. It’s funny, violent, and intense and I don’t think I’ve had a more fun experience on a couch with friends watching and laughing about a film.
There is something about being lost and trying to find yourself and make sense of things in an unfamiliar environment. Life can throw curveballs at you. While we don’t have zombie children who are hell-bent on killing anything in their way, revisiting this film in the middle of a global pandemic lands a little differently. It is still funny as hell and still a reminder that it’s okay to be lost, to laugh, and not to know if you are okay. I know I didn’t talk about the film that much this month, but I found myself thinking less about Cooties itself and more about where I am in life today compared to where I was when I first watched it. I can say I am in a better place. The world is a strange place. I hope films like this bring you the same joy and, sometimes, the same terror they do me.
Be kind to yourself, and even if you don’t know what you are doing, at least you are not trapped inside a school hiding from zombie kids. Or maybe you are. Perhaps it’s in the form of something else. The beautiful thing is you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Everyone around you is struggling, and you are never alone. Even if you feel lost beyond belief. Someone will be there for you. 🩸
Justin Drabek is a contributing writer for Manor Vellum. He also writes for Horror Obsessive and formerly for Killer Horror Critic. He loves cats, and dogs seem to like him…he’s not so sure about them. Follow him on Twitter @Justin_Drabek.
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