Twenty years after his breakthrough movie "Clerks," director Kevin Smith is back with "Tusk" -- a dark comedy featuring Johnny Depp as a cop hunting a psychopath who is trying to turn a man into a walrus.
Yes, a walrus.
Industry journal Variety described the quirky horror-comedy-thriller as "somewhere between 'The Fly' and 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'."
Depp, almost unrecognizable, plays a Canadian private detective trying to track down a missing US podcaster who disappears when he goes to interview a mysterious old man (Michael Parks, from "Kill Bill") in the backwoods.
Smith said he and Depp had known each other for 10 years, through their daughters.
"What's great with him is that you just have to sit back and not do anything, because he does it all so great," the 44-year-old filmmaker told journalists ahead of the film's US release on Friday.
The cast also includes Justin Long (from TV shows "Mom" and "New Girl"), who portrays podcaster Wallace Bryton, who is captured when he goes to interview wheelchair-bound Howard Howe (Parks).
"Sixth Sense" star Haley Joel Osment is part of the supporting cast, along with Depp's daughter Lily Rose, making her feature film debut.
- 'Not mainstream' -
In 1994, Smith earned cult status virtually overnight with his first film "Clerks," based on his own life and made in black and white for $27,000 about staff in a convenience store, their love lives and their customers.
The movie, which only made $3 million in the United States, nevertheless won the best drama film at the Sundance Film Festival, and the youth foreign film award at Cannes.
Entertainment Weekly calls it one of the 25 funniest movies of the last quarter century.
Since then, Smith has made a succession of mostly offbeat comedies including "Chasing Amy" (1997), "Dogma" (1999) -- both with Ben Affleck -- and "Top Cops" (2010) with Bruce Willis.
But none managed to secure the success, commercial or critical, of "Clerks."
"I've had 20 years to make another 'Clerks.' I never did... that's why two years ago at Sundance, I was like, 'I'm done making movies'," said the loquacious and self-deprecating director.
"I'm not a mainstream filmmaker," he added. "As low budget moviemakers, there is no more space for us ... My movies make their money back but people want you to make tons of money."
"Tusk" cost some $3 million, a drop in the ocean compared to the $170 million spent to make "Guardians of the Galaxy," the big summer hit at the US box office.
During his brief retirement from making films, Smith became fascinated by radio podcasts.
"You just need to sit there, you don't need to have talent because I don't have any, and create a show out of nothing," he said.
The idea for "Tusk" came from a fake ad on the British website Gumtree, promising free accommodations for anyone willing to disguise themselves as a walrus for a few hours a day.
Smith mentioned the spoof ad on his Internet radio show, and the joke gave birth to an absurd horror-comedy for the big screen.
The film has divided critics.
"It's not even that the film shifts wildly in tone as much as the fact that none of those tones work at all: the horror parts aren't scary and, surprisingly for Smith, the comedy bits aren't funny," wrote The Wrap.
Industry journal Variety however called it "an utterly bizarre, weirdly compelling story of manimal love that stakes out its own brazen path."
In any case, the cast of "Tusk" has already embarked on a new adventure: all of them including Depp and his daughter are working with Smith on his next film, "Yoga Hosers," which is currently shooting.