In 2002, Mick Garris, director and frequent Stephen King interpreter, began hosting a series of recurring dinners with some friends who also just happened to be renowned horror filmmakers—people like Stuart Gordon, Dario Argento, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Mary Lambert and Lucky McKee, among many others. It was kind of an Algonquin Round Table of Terror, but this rotating group of guests was dubbed the Masters of Horror. A couple of years later, Garris created a series for Showtime called Masters of Horror, featuring hour-long movies made by his horrific dinner companions. This week, Slammed & Damned is going to explore a couple of episodes of Masters of Horror, starting with “Sick Girl,” Lucky McKee’s 2006 entry. Check back in a couple of days for a look at Dario Argento’s “Jenifer.”
“Sick Girl” reteams McKee and the supremely skilled Angela Bettis for a film that is a bit different than what you might expect from the pair that delivered May, a film that is very close to my heart. While May was a stunning exploration of loneliness, dressed up in a riff on Frankenstein, “Sick Girl” is more a warped romantic comedy with a horror/sci-fi twist. This is not as strange as it might seem. When you think about it, there is no more fertile ground for horror than romantic relationships. I mean, what is scarier than love?
Written by Sean Hood and heavily redrafted by McKee, “Sick Girl” is the story of Ida Teeter, a nerdy, lovelorn entomologist that just can’t find the girl of her dreams. Her best friend and co-worker, Max (Jesse Hlubik), advises her that the problem is her job: “Babes or bugs. You can’t have both.” But when Ida meets Misty, a quirky artist portrayed delightfully by Erin Brown, she finds that one can have it all. In fact, Misty loves Ida’s insects almost as much as she does Ida—and one very special bug, she might love even more.
McKee has a lot of fun subverting the standard romcom conventions, first by installing Bettis in what is usually the man’s role and then taking the usual “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back” formula and standing it on its head. “Sick Girl” also allows McKee to display his wry sense of humor, which doesn’t come out to play often enough and seems to be infectious here, because the whole cast appears to be having a blast.
Bettis is unexpectedly entertaining as Ida, a part that’s different from anything she’s done in the past. She has made a career of playing disaffected loners and, truthfully, that’s not an inaccurate description of Ida. Though she seems miscast initially in what is, in essence, a “romantic lead,” Bettis is able to find the comedy in this outsider and is a joy in the role. She is well matched with the adorable Erin Brown as Misty. Brown is probably best known for her softcore work as Misty Mundae, but she has developed into a wonderful character actress and a magical screen presence (highly recommended is In the Wall, her 2007 short film). “Sick Girl” provides her the chance to really show her range and she does so effortlessly, making us fall in love with her one minute and recoil in terror the next.
This piece is probably my second favorite work from McKee. Made after The Woods, his compromised sophomore effort, McKee’s Masters of Horror episode offered him the creative freedom to do exactly what he wanted, and it shows. “Sick Girl” still travels McKee’s favorite territory—alienation and the search for intimacy—but its landing place is a haven that leaves you with a smile. That’s not the expected destination for a McKee flick, but it’s not an unwelcome depot. Maybe love’s not that scary after all.