The unsympathetic protagonist is unique to horror in that it allows us to follow their story without giving a shit what happens to them – actually, rooting for bad things to happen to bad people. And The Special has one such protagonist.
Jerry (is that name still in fashion?), played by Davy Raphaely, suspects his wife Lisa (Sarah French) of cheating on him, so he goes to a brothel suggested by his colleague and best mate Mike (Dave Sheridan) and asks for ‘the special’ which turns out not to be a real person but a black box that gives him the loudest orgasm ever. Mike says that once is enough, but Jerry doesn’t listen and his attempts to cover his frantic addiction become more extreme.
The addiction/body-horror slants aren’t new, and Jerry’s characterisation might be too heavy-handed – he is horribly verbally abusive to every woman he encounters but treats men like human beings unless he suspects them of talking to his wife that he owns (‘my Lisa’ ), and every physical reaction with his wife is increasingly negative. But this is an American film, and mass Americans need their symbolism and motifs to be heavy-handed. Jerry’s relationship with the box becomes more perverse as the film continues, and I think the movie would have been more distinctive if it had leaned into its own weirdness and leveraged some more humour out of it instead of wrapping up the themes in a too-traditional storyline. The story progression was, to me, a bit predictable – we know people are going to get in his way and his addiction is dangerously problematic – and the ending I saw coming from a mile off, but it still makes for fun, gross, retro-esque viewing, like a cautionary tale straight out of Tales From the Crypt.