By Ron Wells | October 20, 2005

There have been more than a few movies, good to very bad, about the horrors of drugs, but few full-on horror films set in the drug world. I won’t forget “Cookers” any time soon, an amazing exploration of the horrors of Methamphetamines, or Crystal Meth.
Though popular, particularly in California, this synthetic stimulant has never really had the screen time of Ecstasy or cocaine. If you’re not familiar with it, don’t worry. Its effects will be made readily apparent throughout this movie. If you’re unaware of how it’s manufactured, the process requires a fairly remote, isolated location. Production generates a strong, easily identified smell and if botched, sometimes a large explosion. Synthesizing Crystal Meth needs someone with a certain amount of knowledge and skill. This person is known as a “cooker”.
This brings us to our ill-fated anti-heroes, Hector (Brad Hunt) and Dorena (Cyia Batten). Having just stolen enormous amounts of base ingredients and lab equipment from their now former employers, they’re ready to go into business for themselves. First they’ll need a place for to cook product where their old bosses can’t find them. Hector’s childhood buddy Merle (Patrick McGaw) finds them a long abandoned house deep in the woods near their mutual hometown. Miles from anywhere, no one could possibly disturb them. Well, except for each other.
Most of it they brought on themselves. With Merle usually in town and Dorena cooking, Hector has to stand guard alone. With plenty of rocket fuel on hand, his plan is to just stay up the WHOLE TIME UNTIL THEY’RE DONE. All three end up using. Without a fully working radio, a television, or so much as a Boggle set, each is left mostly with the voices in their heads. Soon paranoia sets in, not just about each other, but possibly concerning something in the house. Tensions escalate as they begin to see things, very unpleasant things. Are these just the demons in their heads or are these spirits left dormant until now? Whatever haunts them, all three must confront their fears if they ever hope to escape alive.
Based on the work print I saw, director Dan Mintz and writer Jeff Ritchie have crafted an amazing film. With a well thought out piece, people generally get different things out of a movie experience based on what they brought with them (personal experiences, belief systems, or whatever). With this picture, you can divide the audience into two main categories: Those who have used and know Methamphetamines and those who don’t. Those who don’t will get an edgy, creepy little horror/thriller that I think will work very well for them. On the other hand, for those with experience (yeah, ok, that includes me) this movie could be downright brutal. Crystal Meth is a more utilitarian narcotic, not as balls-out as say Ecstasy or Mescaline. Still, personal usage can creep up to the point where you suddenly notice you need it just to function. Anyone who has ever been on a multi-day bender will have a (crystal) clear picture of what’s going on in the characters’ heads as the film progresses. This audience knows how bad it might get from the start. They have a good idea how f****d the situation will likely get in correspondence with Hector’s brain chemistry. What they may never entirely know, though, is whether the ghosts are solely products of some quickly unraveling mental states or really something attributable to the house itself.
In the end, this is what’s most brilliant about “Cookers”. The filmmakers should be most proud that they’ve successfully walked a line. The horror flicks that work the best are the ones that take place in a familiar setting to the audience and don’t entirely detail the source or the limits of their frights. Look at “The Exorcist”. From that film alone, you never really know from where the possessing demon came, what it wanted, or whether the exorcism actually had any effect by itself. “The Blair Witch Project” had a built-in ambiguity, particularly with the ending. In each case, the audience is left to fill in the details themselves about what they may have seen. Same with “Cookers”. In the end you may not be sure what the monster is or from where it came. You just know that it’s there.
In the last few years several mid- to big-budget studio horror epics have come out that have been bad (“House on Haunted Hill”, “The Haunting”) to incompetent (“Lost Souls”, “Stigmata”). Back during a golden decade starting around 1972, guys like Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, and David Cronenberg would come out of nowhere with films that produced with little cash, but great ideas and vision. In the 21st century, that still seems to be all you really need.

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