Ed. note- Lucky McKee is by no means a master of horror. But his MOH episode masterfully fits into this volume of Opening the Vaults. It’s one goopy, buggy delight.- P.F.
Looking back at Lucky McKee’s Masters of Horror episode Sick Girl at the distance of almost a decade, his inclusion in the series makes even less sense than when I wrote my original review. Though he wasn’t the only choice that seemed a little off (William Malone was more than a bit of a stretch), McKee is the only first season director without a long history of filmmaking. By 2006, he’d only made two films, one of which was the brilliant MAY, the other something called ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE, which he co-directed. While I wouldn’t fault a fan for calling George Romero a master based on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD alone, I know full well MAY did not change any paradigms, and is not on its way to classic status, despite how great it is. But in this version of that old Sesame Street favorite One of These Things Is Not Like the Other- Landis, Carpenter, Dante, Cohen, Hooper, McKee—McKee is odd man out. Though Sick Girl won’t vault him to mastery, it’s a quirky, interesting short film that held my interest. And it’s got Angela Bettis, one of horror’s more underrated actresses.
At its heart, Sick Girl is a story of a lonely entomologist looking for a lesbian relationship. Ida is an oddball character with an oddball profession, so she’s got strikes against her from the start. But once she finds true love and proves there really is someone for everybody, the complications aren’t over. Some frightening interludes with a rather bizarre insect foreshadow one of film’s more bizarre impregnation scenes this side of Rosemary and her baby and ALIEN. Kudos to McKee for taking this an unusual route, avoiding serial killers and more commonplace monsters. He makes some great choices with cinematography (the bug’s eye view is used very creatively) and his direction keeps the material fun and lively.
I’m convinced, though, that Sick Girl would never have worked without Angela Bettis. As Ida, she’s on top of her game. I’ve seen her in films directed by others, and she’s always great, but she and McKee have some special mojo that works best for both. She imbues his one-off characters with a quirky beauty that I’m convinced no other actress could. I met Bettis a few times a decade back at conventions, and she’s sociable and very nice, but when she’s in character, she can bring the awkward like few else. Just watch her in MAY. She plays psycho better than Anthony Perkins ever could.
Erin Brown does an adequate job playing her love interest. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, you might know her as Misty Mundae, from a series of low budget “erotic” horror flicks. But the real jazz in the film is the special effects make up by KNB. There’s some goopy stuff in here, and I’ll argue that this set the stage for their work on THE MIST. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the set decoration, which is crammed with all sorts of insect material (and Bettis even has a “Master’s Degree” haha). The attention to detail is immaculate.
So does Sick Girl justify McKee’s inclusion among masters? Sadly, no. Neither does his catalogue since. Series creator Mick Garris provided some telling information when he stated that George Romero, then Roger Corman dropped out, so McKee got the gig. Though the material doesn’t suit Romero, Corman would’ve been right at home with it. Either way, those two are true masters, in an elite place McKee will likely never reach. But don’t let that stop you from viewing Masters of Horror: Sick Girl. Bettis owns, and McKee shapes a fun ride, if not a masterful one.