A good horror comedy has to strike the right balance between two seemingly disparate genres. It needs enough horror to please aficionados, but it also requires the right amount of comedy to draw in more squeamish viewers.
Try as he might, writer/director Kevin Smith can never find that equilibrium in Tusk. Borne out of an episode of Smith’s Smodcast, the film follows Wallace (Justin Long), who runs the outrageous podcast The Not-See Party with his friend, Teddy (Haley Joel Osment).
The podcast thrives on Wallace’s talking with weird people and reporting back to Teddy, a duty that now takes him to Canada.
Smith reveals too much too soon, and then finds himself with virtually nowhere to go.
When his initial interview falls through, Wallace happens upon an intriguing flyer from Howard Howe (Michael Parks) promising great stories. His fateful decision to try and interview Howe leads to some truly strange stuff, much more so than anything he had previously encountered.
Smith, as he always has been throughout his career, is most effective when focusing on the comedy side of things. Whether it’s Wallace’s smug and condescending attitude, potshots at Canada or an over-the-top late movie appearance by a very famous actor in disguise, he hits on 90 percent of his jokes.
But when it comes to the horror part, he just doesn’t seem to know how to make it effective. Granted, what Wallace endures at the hands of Howe is ghastly and not something you’d wish on your worst enemy, but Smith reveals too much too soon, and then finds himself with virtually nowhere to go.
As a result, the last third of the film, which should be the funniest and most intense section for this type of movie, is essentially inert. A rescue mission by Teddy, Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) and a Canadian detective played by that very famous actor has no urgency to it because we, the audience, know much more than those doing the rescuing.
Although each of the actors has individual enjoyable moments, none of them truly stands out. Wallace is supposed to be a jerk, but Long can’t quite pull it off. We don’t spend enough time with Teddy to get a true read on who he is, so Osment is kind of left in the lurch. And Parks is more sad and odd than menacing as Howard, despite the atrocities his character commits.
The idea behind Tusk and the actual execution of it are two entirely different things. It’s far from a disaster, but Smith should probably stick with comedy and leave horror to others.