Code Red: The Carrier (1987) - Reviewed

Most people know Michigan based cult hero Bruce Campbell for his work on Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead series.  Upon further inspection, however, it turns out he was also the sound designer for one of the weirdest and most wholly original Michigan based horror movies: one-time writer-director Nathan J. White’s truly madcap The Carrier

Previously released straight-to-video before resurfacing on a now out-of-print Code Red blu-ray disc featuring the original director’s cut, The Carrier mostly flew under the radar but those who managed to see it can hardly forget how go-for-broke unhinged this crossbreed between Lord of the Flies, Dawn of the Dead and Twin Peaks of all things was.

Sporting a largely unknown local cast wrapped in more plastic than Sheryl Lee’s Laura Palmer, this strange yet inspired little homegrown number concerns a bizarre viral outbreak stemming from a bigfoot-type creature attack which leaves its victim Jake Spear (Gregory Fortescue)  infected with a deadly flesh eating virus he himself is immune to while everyone else dissolves into nothing from the slightest touch. 

The infection isn’t simply spread by Jake but any inanimate object he touches, including an early sequence where a man’s arm is burned off simply by touching a Dr. Seuss children’s book.  As the small superstitious town trapped in a Missoula, Montana-like time warp starts covering themselves in tarps and trash bags, a split occurs dividing the town into groups fighting over the only reliable source of identifying the virus: stray cats!

Truly innovative in its bizarre concept and boundlessly utterly insane, The Carrier is probably the strangest film to ever come out of Michigan whose real stars aren’t so much the non-professional cast members as they are those behind the camera.  Nathan J. White never went on to direct anything else after this which is a shame as he devised one Hell of a surreal oddball jaunt which is both a captivating thriller and a kind of berserk slice of genius. 

Fans of The Evil Dead will recognize the electronic keyboard score by Joseph LoDuca which made me think a deadite was going to jump out at any second.  Most startling of all is Evil Dead II cinematographer Peter Deming’s participation in the project, considering his own eventual coalition with David Lynch on Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and of course Twin Peaks: The Return.  For being so low-budget it looks professionally shot and lit, signifying Deming’s own gradual ascent into the pantheon of the all-time great cinematographers.

While not the most well-acted Michigan based film out there, what it lacks in performances it makes up for in terms of one-of-a-kind innovation and really doesn’t resemble any other horror thriller out there.  Largely overlooked after going straight-to-video and still unavailable due to an unresolved technical defect on the Code Red blu-ray disc, The Carrier remains a clandestine underrated gem ripe for rediscovery by The Evil Dead fans and adventurous cinephiles alike eager to see something outside of their comfort zones.  There will never be one quite like this again!

--Andrew Kotwicki