The Film: 4/5
Visual effects artist Gary Jones (Army of Darkness, Moontrap) made his directorial debut with 1995’s Mosquito, an entertaining tongue-in-cheek homage to the giant monster and killer bug B-movies of yesteryear. Jones’ labor of love receives its long-awaited debut on Blu-ray courtesy of Synapse Films with a beautifully upgraded transfer and some terrific supplements that dig deep into its production history and should be great fun to this film’s devoted fan base.
An extraterrestrial ship arrives in Earth orbit and promptly crash-lands somewhere in rural Michigan. The contents of the ship leak out and cause the local insect life to mutate to monstrous proportions. Mosquitos of an unusual size begin attacking vacationing couples and families at a nearby national park just as new park ranger Megan (Rachel Loiselle) and her boyfriend Ray (Tim Lovelace) arrive in town. Around the same time, government scientist Parks (Steve Dixon) has also come to the area to investigate strange radiation readings possibly related to the alien visitors, while a small team of bank robbers led by Earl (Gunnar Hansen) have fled to the countryside to stay one step ahead of the law. Immediately, every one of the newcomers notices the odd activity going on, and eventually they must band together to trace the horde of gigantic, winged bloodsuckers back to their origin and destroy them before they head out to feast on the rest of the human race.
Made with a plethora of old-fashioned effects techniques including stop-motion animation and prosthetics that give its titular beasts glorious life, Mosquito is a pleasant little surprise of a modern B-monster flick. It was made and released with barely a whimper during an era for horror where the only fright features that made it onto the big screen were hackneyed sequels and disposable slashers. Plus it was bankrolled for a few hundred thousand dollars and shot on 16mm film (with the isolated effects shots photographed in 35mm). Mosquito had nowhere to go to be noticed but home video and cable, where it managed to find a decent audience and endure since as a minor cult classic. Using his background as a make-up effects artist to make his meager budget stretch as far as it could possibly go, director Jones (who co-wrote the script with Steve Hodge and cinematographer Tom Chaney from a story he conceived) is both the heart and soul of this film, and it’s his energy and enthusiasm that infects every frame of what he committed to celluloid and reflects in the engaged performances of his cast and the refreshingly old school killer bugs that their characters do battle with in several set-pieces executed with pure flair.
Loiselle makes for an appealing heroine with a certain insight into how the mosquitos work and Lovelace provides suitable heroics as her skeptical boyfriend. Ron Asheton, the lead guitarist for the Stooges (once ranked #29 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time), supplies the film with its comic relief in the role of a bumbling deputy ranger who manages to survive the bad bugs’ initial assault and gets the lion’s share of hilarious dialogue. Steve Dixon (Hatred of a Minute) is really good as the group’s resident expert in radioactive mutation and gets some moments of heroism of his own. That brings us to the late Gunnar Hansen, a legend in cinematic horror for his portrayal of Leatherface in the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and an underrated actor to boot. Hansen is believably intense and makes a damn fine wild card of the survivors as the professional criminal who has the potential to be a hero but might blow all that to hell in an instant to save his own ass. During the final battle against the mosquitos, he even gets to wield an immense chainsaw with an ease and pleasure that feels like a reunion with his one true friend in the world. Independent filmmaker Josh Becker, who employed Jones in his first job in visual effects on his post-Vietnam revenge exploitation gem Thou Shalt Not Kill….Except, makes an amusing cameo as one-half of an unfortunate couple who find their camping tent coitus rudely interrupted by a bloody mosquito attack.
Allen and Randall Lynch contribute an effective original music score rich with brooding synths that increase the intensity of the horror without overwhelming the action and dialogue. In addition to his duties as writer and director, Jones unsurprisingly took on the responsibility of supervising the creature and make-up effects. Under his stewardship, the monstrous mosquitos look absolutely frightening both up close and from a distance. The stop-motion animation used to create the hordes of flying fiends was supervised by Richard “Jake” Jacobson (Moontrap) and accomplished by Paul Jessel (who started out as an animator with Empire Pictures on films such as Robot Jox before graduating to big studio blockbusters including Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers) and his assistant animator Thomas R. Smith (Robot Chicken). Digital effects simply could not top the practical effects wizardry on display in Mosquito; giving the actors some genuine creatures to react to not only improves their performances but the film as a whole. The mosquitos may not be real, but they are as real as Jones needs them to be in order to create the appropriate convincing effect.
The effort that went into restoring Mosquito for Blu-ray was far more complicated than one might imagine. In fact, the Criterion-level process was so extensive it warranted detailing on a paper insert included with this disc. According to said documentation, the film “was scanned in 3K resolution utilizing double-flash HDR on an Arriscan film scanner, then down-sampled to 2K for output to a DPX file sequence, using the director’s personal archival 35mm Internegative element”. As I mentioned in the main portion of this review, Mosquito had been filmed primarily in 16mm, but its visual effects shots were photographed on 35mm and edited into the final cut, which was then blown up to 35mm for its theatrical release. Certain shots will appear out of focus, but that’s only a flaw in the cinematography and not one caused by the updated transfer. The insert also states that “additional digital cleanup was performed on the original DPX film scan files, and thousands of instances of dirt, scratches and film imperfections were removed for optimal picture presentation.”
Long story short, Mosquito was never going to look a hundred percent on Blu-ray because it couldn’t no matter how much money was spent. But this is by far the definitive presentation of the film on home video and it will likely look no better. Framed in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the restored picture comes loaded for bear with crisp detail, highly bolstered colors, and a perfectly balanced grain structure that only shows its seams during the sequences with visual effects isolated from the rest of the action. We can now consider those miserable full frame VHS tapes to be relics of the past, because this is an outstanding transfer and another example of the great lengths Synapse will go to restore one of their classic acquisitions.
Restoring the audio tracks also involved a great deal of time-consuming work and dedication since using the original 35mm magnetic audio reels was not possible due to their being missing in action. A set of archived TASCAM DA-88 digital audio tapes were used instead to create the new English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 Surround track as well as the 2.0 stereo mix that replicates the Dolby soundtrack which accompanied Mosquito’s theatrical engagements. Home theater buffs will get some amazing mileage from the 7.1 track as it offers a spacious, immersive audio channel complete with audible dialogue and a terrific showcasing of the layered sound effects mix. If you’re watching this Blu-ray on a standard television set-up, the 2.0 track will suit your needs just fine since it contains all of the virtues of the 7.1 channel, which also includes no distortion or damage. English, Spanish, French, and Dutch subtitles have been provided.
Director Jones is joined by producers David Thiry and Eric Pascarelli and cinematographer Tom Chaney for an affectionate and informative audio commentary that goes in-depth on every aspect of the making of Mosquito. There’s plenty of juicy behind-the-scenes stories (nothing slanderous though) and great fun to be had.
“Bugging Out! The Making of Mosquito” (76 minutes) is an excellent feature-length retrospective documentary produced by Red Shirt Pictures that brings in the commentary participants along with most of the surviving cast and crew for new interviews. Their recollections are intercut with on-set production footage and stills. “Bugging Out!” really gives you the impression that this film was made with nothing but love (and a little cash) and the fun was infectious.
Jones offers optional commentary on a selection of deleted and extended scenes (7 minutes) and some behind-the-scenes video footage (40 minutes). An animated still gallery (4 minutes) and the original theatrical trailer (3 minutes) close out the supplements. Synapse has also provided the Blu-ray with reversible cover art.
A fun throwback to the giant bug B-movies of decades past, Gary Jones’ Mosquito is a pure and entertaining delight from beginning to end. The film offsets its lack of originality with a game cast, a script that keeps moving forward and provides plenty of action, monsters, and laughs, and some terrific old school practical effects created with love and executed with style and wit. This is the kind of movie that takes itself just seriously enough to work but is never reduced to mockery or derision of its own content, which is more than I can say for the unjustifiably adored Sharknado franchise. Synapse Films does right once again by a cult classic with a stellar Blu-ray presentation featuring a great new HD transfer and bonus features that demonstrate what a labor of love Mosquito was for its director, cast, and crew. This disc comes highly recommended.