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Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // December 1, 2015
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 4, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Why you don't really need a review of Cooties:
  1. This is the first time I've ever had an excuse to say "From the creators of Saw and Glee..."
  2. An elementary school full of kids are zombified by tainted chicken nuggets
  3. Playing the faculty and staff trapped inside the school by this ghoulish gaggle of rugrats are Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad, Ian Brennan, Jorge Garcia, Big Trouble in Little China's Peter Kwong, and the once and future Big Mike himself, Mark Christopher Lawrence. You're also lookin' at Kate Flannery from The Office and Matt Jones (y'know, Badger from Breaking Bad) here too. In other words, everyone good
I mean, it's not the sort of thing where you can read all that and still hem and haw that "hmmmm, I'm just not sure". Zombie kids and chicken nuggets, you guys. Zombie kids and chicken nuggets.

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So, anyway, before Clint (Elijah Wood) found himself starring in a horror story, he was content just writing 'em. He's a novelist taking a break from the hustle and bustle of New York, returning to his hometown of Ft. Chicken, Illinois to rustle up a little cash as a substitute teacher. I'd tell you what the book Clint's been writing is about, but give the guy another twenty seconds, and he'll be droning on about it anyway while namedropping the Big Apple every other sentence. Writer, New York. Writer, New York. Lather, rinse, repeat. Yup, he's that guy, alright. Clint's first day on the job was shaping up to be pretty lousy even before the whole thing with zombifying chicken nuggets, but...yeah.

At least he's not in it alone! Heading back home to Ft. Chicken is an excuse to reconnect with Lucy (Alison Pill), who's cute as a button and an aggressively optimistic, indefatigable ray of sunshine. Only so much reconnecting can be done what with Lucy dating that posturing macho-man meathead P.E. teacher Wade (Rainn Wilson), though. There's also the hippy-dippy vice principal (Ian Brennan), an aw-shucks doofball (Jack McBrayer), the stoned-outta-his-gourd crossing guard (Jorge Garcia), ball-buster Rebekkah (Nasim Pedrad), and a sociopath (Leigh Whannell) who might just turn out to be their single greatest asset to understanding and fending off the legions of the undead. Barricading themselves inside the school was a good idea for a while there, but with no hope of help on the horizon, they've gotta find some way to get out before too many more of these bite-happy little bastards get in...

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Just a quick look at the cover art alone had my expectations soaring somewhere in the upper stratosphere. Or maybe it was the mesosphere. Doesn't matter. What I'm getting at is that my hopes were so high for Cooties that it would be brutally difficult for any movie to hit 'em. It sure doesn't hurt that I'm a sucker for horror flicks with psychotic kids, from Beware! Children at Play to The Children (1980 or 2008!) to the zombie knee-biters in Mutant. I like what wound up being delivered here and all, but Cooties just doesn't quite hit the marks I'd hoped it would.

A big part of it's the usual horror/comedy dilemma: y'know, that there's not quite enough of either. A lot of the humor, especially early on, is kind of the "ha, that guy just said 'butthole!'" variety. There are some really solid laughs lurking around in here -- Rainn Wilson and Leigh Whannell never stop delivering, and really, try saying "dual rear wheel" out loud -- but too many of the gags are a lazy swing-and-a-miss. The size of the ensemble is more than Cooties can really muster, and there was one point where I saw Jack McBrayer and Nasim Pedrad and thought "oh, yeah! I forgot that they're in this too." Alone in his sweet van, Jorge Garcia is basically in his own completely separate movie that never really goes anywhere. Cooties is funny, yeah, but I'm not sure it's funny enough.

I'm not really sure why, but I was expecting the splatter to be deliriously over the top, like Dead Alive twentysomeodd years later. Probably half the movie's gore is concentrated in one cacklingly gruesome montage with the kiddies in the playground, and the rest is hidden behind frenetically quick cuts and the like. Because it's more of an infection rather than the usual back-from-the-grave zombie stuff, not to mention that this is all happening in one day, the make-up effects don't get a chance to go all that nuts either. I do love the fact that Cooties unrepentantly slaughters so many undead kids, refusing to pull punches that pretty much any other genre flick would. Like the best horror/comedies -- say, Shaun of the Dead or the criminally underseen Dance of the Dead -- there's a level of intensity that sneaks up seemingly out of nowhere. A lot of the more routine zombie-kids-chasing-teachers stuff doesn't get much of a reaction, but there are several scenes in the final half hour that really had me on the edge of my seat. Who would've guessed that a creaking pink tricycle could unnerve me like that?

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Kind of along those same lines, the first sincere attempt at relationship drama creaked and groaned for me, but I found myself surprisingly invested in its central characters the more and more Cooties went along. (...and, for what it's worth, I thought the more emotional stuff consistently connected my second time through.) Most of that's a testament to the cast, which is so pitch-perfect that I can't imagine much of anybody else in any of the key roles. I also love how layered these characters are, with pretty much all of them burying some secret self or fire in their belly that bubbles to the surface throughout the course of the flick. One-note jokes they're not. Well, mostly. Cooties gets that I'm a cheap date for nods to the genre flicks I grew up with, heaping on homages to everything from Alien to Gremlins. You've got your chase through the air ducts, the accidental invasion of the little beasties' lair, the redemption of the movie's resident raging asshole, the creature secretly hiding in the car just when you think everything's safe, and even a good ol' armament montage. Cooties is just as much a love letter to teachers, and although that's not exactly handled with a deft touch, it's a sentiment that means a lot to me and isn't expressed in movies (or anywhere else, really) often enough.

I was a little surprised to hear in the extras how many different iterations Cooties had gone through. Its uneven sense of humor and hit-or-miss scares feel to me like an early, unpolished pass. The movie doesn't really even have an ending; it just kinda stops. I figured there would at least be a coda lurking in the end credits to follow-up on what happens from there, but nope, not so much. (There is a short MST3K-style stinger, though.) Still, if you look at all the familiar faces in the cast and the whole chicken-nuggets-turning-kids-into-zombies thing, you know you're gonna find Cooties infectious. It's not the sort of life-redefining horror/comedy I'd hoped it'd be, no, but Cooties is still a hell of a lot of fun and comes Recommended.

Cooties, bizarrely, has been authored with elevated black levels. Even the letterboxing bars are more of a charcoal gray rather than pure black, something I found incredibly distracting. Nosing around a couple of home theater message boards and other reviews, seemingly no one else has mentioned this, so chances are that you won't notice it either. I'm tellin' you, though...! It's a thing.

Otherwise, Cooties looks nice enough in high-def. I can't get enough of how gloriously bright and candy-colored the palette is at first blush, and the saturation gradually drains away as the poultrypocalypse gets bleaker and bleaker. Definition and detail are solid as well. I spotted a couple quick bursts of posterization, but that's not a constant nuisance. I guess it all boils down to how sensitive you are about the mucked-up black levels. It's not a total dealbreaker or anything, but this is still the sort of glaringly obvious flaw I'm surprised managed to slink all the way through to replication.

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Anyway, Cooties makes a mad dash towards a dual-layer Blu-ray disc at an aspect ratio of 2.39:1.

There's an odd echo in a bit of Kate Flannery's dialogue early on, as if the audio's coming out of multiple speakers but not quite at the same time. I have a witness, even! -- someone who asked "what's wrong with the audio?" -- so this time I know it's not just me. Other than that...? No real complaints. This 16-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is teeming with all sorts of snarls and undead cackles attacking from every possible direction. The score is a brilliant throwback to the distinctively '80s synths in the action/horror flicks we grew up with, and it seizes hold of every available speaker while it's at it. Bass response packs a wallop when it counts as well, particularly the way that some of the jump scares are punctuated.

Cooties serves up its subtitles in English (traditional and SDH) and Spanish. The only other audio option is a commentary track.

Remember when special editions were a thing? Hey, so does Cooties!
  • Alternate Ending (4 min.; HD): The ending that was attached to the initial screenings at Sundance -- with the survivors making a grisly discovery in the middle of nowhere, followed by pandemic-y mid-credits flashes -- is first up to the plate. Unless I'm completely misinterpreting the optional commentary, this ending was always meant to be kind of a placeholder while they cooked up something bigger, better, but more realistic in scope than the balls-out-war from earlier drafts of the screenplay. ...and they did! So, it all worked out in the end. Mostly.

  • Deleted/Alternate/Extended Scenes (16 min.; HD): There are twelve other deleted, alternate, and extended scenes to boot, and they can be viewed individually or torn through all at once. Heck, the menu even helpfully labels which is which, so you're lookin' at four extended scenes, two alternate scenes, and six completely new chunks of footage. Among the additions are more with Clint and Lucy shoving themselves around through the air ducts, a completely different hallucination than what Rick winds up having in the final cut, and -- why not? -- even a patriotic musical number!

  • Gag Reel (4 min.; HD): Ooooh, it's so good, and this reel also works well as a Line-o-Rama with a bunch of unused off-the-cuff quips too.

  • Circle, Circle, Dot Dot...: Catching Cooties (13 min.; HD): More improvs! A Trapper Keeper fat-packed with visual concepts! Fond childhood memories of all things cootie! I really dug this making-of featurette, especially the way it's revealed that Cooties was originally envisioned as a straight horror flick, and it was Leigh Whannell of all people to say "wait, you know this is a comedy, right?"
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  • Audio Commentary: Cooties' epic commentary track piles on directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion, co-writers/actors Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan, producer/star Elijah Wood, and slashless-actors Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, and Rainn Wilson. It's phenomenal too. I mean, I like Cooties on its own, but I had even more of a blast with this commentary, and it's kind of amazing that eight people are mic'ed and never really trip over one another. Thrill to rape button tie-ins, riffs on Jason Patric's inevitable starring role in Cooties, Too: Cruise Control, a small army of wee stuntmen, Whannell's Dahmer-inspired coiff, and an early draft with Rick pooping in a giant gold snakesaxophone. It's also genuinely informative: not just because of stuff like learning that Cooties was shot pretty much in sequence in an actual school, but Pill teaching us about Canadian currency and the country's patriation in 1982. About as essential a listen as they come.

  • Talking Cooties (9 min.; HD): Why settle for just listening to the commentary when you can watch the cast and crew record it? And still listen to 'em too. Well, some of the highlights anyway. I'm not doing a great job at this. It would've been amazing to have this as a picture-in-picture extra throughout the entire commentary, but I still really like what we do get to see, even though it's just a second pass through stuff I've already heard. The visual element adds a lot more to it than I would've guessed.

Oh! And Cooties comes packaged in a flat slipcover with an UltraViolet digital copy code lovingly tucked inside.

The Final Word
I like Cooties, and in a way, that's kind of a drag. With a cacklingly demented premise like this and the most wait-what?-holy-shit! cast of any comedy I've seen from the class of 2015, I was expecting to be hammering out some fawning five-star review right about now. Like a lot of head-on collisions of horror and comedy, though, Cooties isn't intense enough or funny enough. Still, there are plenty of moments that do work, and with a killer cast like this, it obviously has charm to spare. 'sjust that this feels like a work-in-progress that still hasn't quite managed to find its footing. Recommended, especially at the bargain basement asking price of $13.99 at Amazon as I write this, but I wish I were saying....errr, typing that with a whole lot more gusto.
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