|I don’t think he’s real…. Oops. Wait a minute.|
Just what we need. More bad press about psychotropic mushrooms.
You see, not only do they make you trip out, so that you cannot defend yourself from slobbering, inbred, axe-wielding halfwits, but they also engender extreme rage and violence, communications with the dead, and awful visions of the future. At least that is the premise of the horror-slasher movie Shrooms, directed by Paddy Breathnach.
Here’s the story. Five American college students go camping in Ireland with their old college friend Jake, who tells them that Ireland has the best Psilocybe mushrooms in the world, which they proceed to sample, except for one, who eats the dreaded death’s head mushroom instead.
|This is what happens when you break social taboos against ingesting psychotropic fungi.|
But little do they know that they are near the crumbling remains of an abandoned reform school for young offenders, which had once been run by a group of evil sadistic black-clad monks, until the head monk ate a bowl of death’s head mushrooms, went crazy, and killed everyone else, except the vengeful inmate who had poisoned him. And little do they know that the woods are populated with Deliverance-like roadkill-eating genetic anomalies. And, most of all, little do they know that even one death’s head mushroom can turn a virgin cheerleader into a psychotic sadistic murderer.
And so, one by one, the campers are gruesomely slaughtered. Is it real, or is it a mushroom-induced hallucination? Who are those black-clad figures in the misty woods — ghostly monks? real genetic anomalies? And why is there a talking cow?
It is hard to know what to make of all this. In many ways this is a typical teenage slasher movie, with the added plot twist that the potential victims do not know whether their experience is real or hallucinated. There is also an additional subtext. To the list of things that can get you killed if you are a teenager — going into the basement, answering the telephone while you are babysitting, having sex — we can now add ingesting psychoactive mushrooms. Getting high on mushrooms apparently violates two social taboos — first, against getting high on anything; and, second, against ingesting any mushrooms at all in a mycophobic culture that considers eating fungi to be … well, French.
|Amanita phalloides. Do not eat. This will not let you see the future.|
The death’s head in the movie is presumably modeled on Amanita phalloides, called both the death cap and the death’s head mushroom. There is no doubt that this is one of the most poisonous of all known mushrooms; in fact it is probably the species involved in the majority of human deaths from mushroom poisoning. Poisoning by Amanita phalloides is characterized by a delay of between 6 and 24 hours from the time of ingestion to the onset of symptoms. During this time, the cells of the kidneys and liver are being attacked. There is no antidote. Mortality is between 10 and 15 percent. Despite what the movie says — “According to the ancient Irish druids, these are like a portal to another dimension” — there is no reason to believe that this mushroom is hallucinogenic in any way.
The movie was not hailed by critics. The Daily Mirror called it “unoriginal, dull and as scary as the adventures of Noddy.” The Guardian says it is “as boring as listening to anyone’s drug story.” The San Francisco Film Society is a little kinder: “It’s not brilliant, but sufficiently funny and creepy and freaky.” Reviews are at Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb. Here is the preview:
And, as a special treat, here is Andy Letcher, author of the book Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, talking about the movie: