Patricia (Eva Habermann) is a nurse spending her last day working at a clinic. Capable and assured, she could do anything – but for now, she is still stuck assisting her boss Dr Guy (George Hardy), an older, altogether less competent practitioner whose very name plainly genders his many flaws. Played as a southern-fried blend of Leslie Nielsen and Steve Martin, Guy is a mad scientist type, far more interested in making fame and fortune from his newly invented, barely functional cyst-removing machine the ‘Get Gone’ (all valves and dials and phallic laser gun) than in the actual welfare of his patients. Determined to show off his contraption’s workings to a trio of visiting patent examiners, Guy injects his intern Preston (Darren Ewing) with experimental cultures to enlarge a small blemish on his back, only for the cyst to turn into an autonymous creature that attacks and ickily absorbs anyone that gets in its way.
Tyler Russell’s Cyst plays out like a classic Corman-esque B-movie. It is not just the story’s setting (sometime between the late Fifties and the early Sixties), or the on-the-nose lines and camp characterisation, or the cheaply practical nature of the effects, or even the brief 69-minute duration, but also the way in which Patricia’s struggles against both crazy employer and pustulent monster are presented as a battle of the sexes in a very unequal world. From the start, Patricia’s job involves having Guy regularly shower her face in white liquid against her will – a recurrent visual ‘gag’ which, while making sense in the context of work involving the removal of purulent material from cysts, comes with an obvious sexual subtext. Patricia cannot wait for 5 o’clock to come around so that she will be forever freed from this humiliating job and from her domineering, toxic employer – but then when the creature emerges, she finds herself locked in once more with a literal one-eyed monster that leaves in its wake a trail of blood and cum-like pus. For Patricia to become truly liberated, she must lance the boil herself and stick it to the man.
Co-written with Andy Silverman, Russell’s film is a disgustingly messy, gooey creature feature that drips with bodily fluids. Despite the film’s short running time, there are notable longueurs in scenes of Patricia and the others sneaking about through the clinic’s interiors, although these are lightened by often surreal dialogue, and occasionally punctuated by sudden, outrageous explosions of gore. At their best, the cyst’s bizarre transformations recall the monstrous business of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), while at their worst they recall the balloon aliens of Carpenter’s Dark Star (1974) or the garbage-bag-and-rubber costumery from no-budget Fifties psychotronica. Yet Cyst is less tawdry schlock than a knowing pastiche of it, and there is real affection in all its gleefully spurting ejaculations and ichorous outpourings, making it a heavily gendered ‘issue’ movie like no other.
Summary: Tyler Russell’s B-movie pastiche is both bizarre creature feature and heavily gendered ‘issue’ movie.
© Anton Bitel