Splinter (2008) is an independent horror film directed by Toby Wilkins. It received a fairly good critical reception despite its limited release, earning an average rating of 6.3/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating “Fresh” and won six awards at the Screamfest Horror Film Festival. Although I was unable to find its budget, Splinter earned $9,517 during its opening weekend in America.

Plot Summary

After failing to enjoy their anniversary camping trip as planned due to a damaged tent, Polly Watt and boyfriend Seth Belzer decide to drive to a nearby low-budget motel instead. On the way, they run into two criminals on the run to Mexico, Lacey Belisle and Dennis Farell, whose runaway car has broken down. The criminal duo takes the car and the couple hostage, forcing them to drive towards their destination. Suddenly, Polly, who is driving the car, hits something on the road bad enough that they need to replace a tire. While doing this, they notice a strange road kill- Lacey claims that its her lost dog, but the thing looks dead and completely unrecognizable. When the animal moves and attacks them with a weird splinter, the group quickly gets back in the car and drives on. More difficulties emerge when the car begins to overheat, which leads them to stop at a gas station for help.  Lacey goes to the bathroom (most likely to do drugs), but instead finds a zombie-corpse, which attacks her, passing on the virus. The three remaining members of the group are stuck in the gas station, where nobody seems to be working (the corpse in the bathroom was the sole attendant). While trying to come up with different methods of escaping, a cop appears to arrest Dennis, however, the zombie on the roof of the gas station jumps down and kills the cop. Seth, who is emasculated throughout most of the film by Dennis, suddenly puts himself into Dennis’s esteem when he proves himself capable of amputating Dennis’s infected zombie arm (Seth is a biology Ph.D. student). Seth also realizes that the zombie virus is alive and is able to locate its prey (human bodies) by detecting and following heat. Seth lowers his body heat and walks to the car, mostly unnoticed by the zombie. In the film’s final confrontation with the monster, Dennis is killed sacrificing himself to protect the couple. He hands them a key to a lock box in a bank and makes them promise to use it to give the “nest egg” to a trucker’s wife who he had harmed in the past.

Notes & Quotes

  • I’m very interested in the role of the gas station in American horror films. They are numerous and seem to appear primarily in rural gothic and/or hicksploitation films for whatever reason. While I have read essays analyzing the role of the gas station attendant(s) in horror films, I have yet to find one that traces the importance of the gas station as setting throughout these films. I think that the gas station in Splinter represents something much different than the various gas stations seen in various films of the 1970’s, like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. In those films, the station doesn’t have any gas left, which makes sense due to their chronological proximity to the gas crisis. In Splinter, however, there is too much gas. In fact, the zombie virus behaves and appears like gas- it is black and is capable of mobilizing dead and non-living substances. For example, when zombie-Lacey’s hand falls off due to the gas station door slamming against her wrist, the hand quickly is mobilized and controlled by the black goo monster. In The Sky of Our Manufacture, Jesse Oak Taylor examines Victorian literature, however, his chapter on petroculture and Dracula is relevant to Splinter. He notes that the “vampirized body remains forever permeable and permeating; once surrendered, its integrity can never be retired. The “cure” involves ritualized dismemberment” (132). For Taylor, these moments “dramatize the process of pollution as the transgression of boundaries” and create the vision of the impure body (ibid.). The impure body materializes this pollution and, order to survive the impurity, we must dismember because we can no longer restore what we once had. In this case, Dennis must amputate his impure arm because he cannot de-pollute his appendage.

Lacey’s animated hand

  • I’m also interested in the way that blood and the black substance of the zombie virus become intermingled. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (and Dracula, according to Taylor) also mix blood and oil. Both become the life force that sustain the living- for the Sawyers, human blood is the only product they can continue butchering, eating, and selling for capital. Gas is also required within the Sawyer operation- it allows them to remain off the grid using a generator and it animates Leatherface’s chainsaw.

Lacey’s corpse, covered in the oil-like virus and her own blood

It’s hard to determine what is blood and what is the oil-like virus on Dennis’s hand.

Splinter (2008) by Caitlin Duffy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.