If you haven’t seen the 2008 horror film Splinter, starring Jill Wagner & Shea Whigham, it’s one of the best horror movies you never saw
As I get older, I find it harder and harder to find horror movies from the 80s and even 90s to qualify for a recommendation towards a best horror movie you never saw. First is the influx of all these great companies like Vinegar Syndrome, Arrow, and Severin Films, not to mention Kino and Scream Factory, who pull out all the stops finding the most hidden of hidden gems to clean up and release. Second, we have a ludicrous amount of streaming services, and the free ones typically can find these smaller movies that cost way less to license a streamable version. Between my generation recommending everything under the sun to their coworkers, friends, and family as well as newer generations being willing to stream something if its easy to find, the 80s is well represented, for better and for worse. The 2000s are CHOCK FULL of movies that came and went and don’t show up on physical media easily because they aren’t old enough or cool enough. Today we will look at a movie from 2008 that is way too fun and well done to be lost. Let’s look at why Splinter (watch it HERE) from 2008 is absolutely one of the Best Horror Movies You Never Saw.
When it premiered on Halloween night, 2008, not a lot of people knew what to expect with Splinter, well, except the ones that got to watch it on HDNet movies two days prior. And no, don’t ask me to elaborate on what HDNet Movies is. The director and uncredited writer Toby Wilkins read the original script and really liked the siege aspect of it but wasn’t crazy about the monster which he felt was overly generic and nothing to write home about. He and one of his friends were working on a parasitic horror film idea and decided that their monster could fit great in this tight, 82-minute story. He then decided that his creature would be different than other parasitic entities where the creature would not really understand how to use a human body properly or what it was supposed to do and not do. Like other movies in that very specific sub-genre, when the creature takes you over, there is a short amount of time that you are aware… or a long time if you are one of our characters.
Wilkins wasn’t super well known at the time as a director and the only other feature film he has under his belt is the following year’s The Grudge 3. That didn’t do well at all, but Wilkins has an eye for editing and special effects as his 19 editing and 30 special effects credits far outweigh his directorial output. In fact, his special effects resume is impressive with titles like Red Dragon, The Manchurian Candidate, and Scooby- Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. Let me tell you, in this movie it shows. The writers of the movie are Ian Shorr and Kai Barry with some uncredited changes and additions from Wilkins. Having influences and inspirations from 28 Days Later and The Thing are great, and it shows what they were going for with homage rather than just straight imitation. The Thing pun very much intended. Ian Shorr only has 10 credits to his name but 2 of them are the Marble Hornets movie, that’s Slender Man for those who may not know, and the Mark Wahlberg movie Infinite from 2021. Barry has even less to his name with today’s movie, Juko’s Time Machine, and The Operative.
The movie opens with Magnet Releasing and there’s something about that symbol that fills me with hope from my Blockbuster days. Typically, on these smaller budget straight to DVD releases this was a sign of quality, or at least a fun time, with other movies like Time Crimes, Big Man Japan, Ong Bak, Murder Party, and The Host just to name a few. This label EARNED my trust, and I had no problem using one of my 10 free rentals a week. We are then introduced to a sampling of what the creature is when it attacks one of the only other actors in the movie and this is one of the only gripes I have with the movie. The camera is a wild child and I have a feeling it was used to cover up some of the less great practical effects. We then see nearly 80% of the cast of this film with two couples on opposite sides of the spectrum. We have the good guy couple with Paulo Costanzo’s Seth and Jill Wagner’s Polly who are on a couple’s anniversary getaway. They are the typical nerdy and good guy with good intentions and the girl who is stubborn and tough and quick on her feet that is out of his league. I respect the hell out of this. They have really good chemistry, and the actors make you care. Then we have Rachel Kerbs as Lacy and Shea Whigham as Dennis. Yep. Shea Whigham was actually the first person to sign on for this.
While he had done a few roles prior like Lords of Dogtown and Man of the House, he would build on this essentially star role and never really slow down, even appearing in the 2023 installment of Mission Impossible. Kerbs hasn’t done much of anything besides Splinter but does a fine job in her limited time. Wagner has done a lot in the TV realm, particularly in the Hallmark Christmas world but also was a regular on the Blade TV series. Finally, we have Paulo Costanzo who is probably more famous than Shae but not quite as recognizable, unless you were an Anamorphs kid or big into Royal Pains. He showed up in a few other early 2000s movies too like 40 Days and 40 Nights and Road Trip. Everyone here does a good job with the screen time they are given.
The relatively normal couple is then car jacked by the criminal couple and taken on a trip. Many of Shea Whigham lines were ad libbed for his role and he steals nearly every scene he is in as well as having more of a character arch than anyone else. They run over the creature we saw earlier, and Dennis gets a titular splinter in his finger. He doesn’t think anything of it but we know it will come back to hurt him like Chekhov’s sliver. They make it to a gas station to try and repair some of the car and Lacy finds the gas station attendant from earlier in the bathroom. He asks her to kill him like he’s Dallas in the director’s cut of Alien but then this thing takes over and attacks all of them, specifically injuring Lacy. The other 3 make it inside but see that Lacy is still moving and try to help her. This fails when her body starts to contort and move in unnatural ways before the final character, a police officer, enters the scene. She is also quickly dispatched, and brutally which sets off the tense standoff and siege atmosphere the movie does great with.
Many of the creatures were played by acrobats, mimes, and stunt persons to give them movement that appears both unnatural and natural at the same time. The movie uses nearly all practical effects and some of it absolutely qualifies as the best effects you’ve never seen too. They study the creatures, watching in horror as the cops’ two halves pull themselves together and Dennis is starting to get worse. On top of that, they cant figure out how to get out or stop the monsters and a severed hand gets in the store. Its an awesome scene that doesn’t have a lot of dialogue at first and just lets the tension set in. they escape to the freezer where Deniss arm gets worse to the point where it’s become its own small version of the creature ala The Thing. They try to study it at first and see what it’s doing and ultimately realize it can’t see through the cold. Unfortunately, with that knowledge victory comes the realization that someone needs an arm cut off and it is the most visceral this side of 27 hours.
The final plan includes lowering Seth’s body temp to get to the car and get them out of dodge. He makes it out and walks slowly past the creatures while the other two use fireworks and other sounds to distract. He makes it to the car, but he starts to warm up and is in trouble. The three of them fight off the creature and Dennis, who knows he isn’t long for this world, sacrifices himself to let the other two live. What’s great about that is when his arm was amputated, we all learn that his whole mission today was to get money to help the family of the man whose death he was responsible for. He gives them the key to a lockbox and the address is Wrigley Field in what I’m pretending is a call back to The Blues Brothers.
While it had such a limited release in theaters that box office numbers are hard to come by, it was still seen by some people in theaters and when it was released to rent, I remember my Blockbuster getting about 8 copies to put out. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, it rented out consistently. The movie is short and to the point with a run time of less than 90 minutes. It has 6 whole humans that show up in it and does exactly what it sets out to do. It’s sad that its so underseen and sometimes hard to come by because while it doesn’t need a sequel, it’s a blast of a movie with a really fun creature. The creative team didn’t go on to stardom and the movie didn’t impact 2008 with too many modern classics like The Ruins, The Strangers, Mirrors, Quarantine, and Saw V. Even the smaller seen had bigger hits with Teeth, Midnight Meat Train, Repo, and Diary of the Dead. Splinter exists in a weird time after it would have been considered a classic but before it gets the mega physical media package. All we can do is pass the word along when someone asks you for a Best Horror Movie They Never Saw.
A couple previous episodes of the Best Horror Movie You Never Saw series can be seen below. To see more, and to check out some of our other shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!