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In the thriller ‘Splice,’ a humanoid hybrid stirs trouble & ethical questions

From time immemorial, if not sooner, women have wondered whether all men are pigs.

From time immemorial, if not sooner, women have wondered whether all men are pigs.

Modern science has muddied the waters - can you cross a pig with a man? Is that redundant?

And what do you call something that's part pig, or some other species, and part man?

What would you call a guy who dated such a creature?

Would the word "pig" even suffice?

All these questions, and more, are explored in the zestily disturbing sci-fi/horror/monster mash-up "Splice."

It's a new-age Frankenstein about two married scientists (their names are Clive and Elsa, taken from the actors in "Frankenstein" movies) who mix human and animal DNA to create hybrid creatures whose bodies can be harvested for material useful in treating humans.

Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are close to a revolutionary breakthrough, but to achieve it, they need to push the human component of the hybrid creature to the point that it's mostly, creepily, human.

And not strictly ethical. So they work in secret to create a humanoid female named Dren, who's very good for medical advances but very bad for relationships.

The childless couple initially bonds over raising this humanoid baby, but Dren's accelerated growth rate makes her womanoid in no time, and that of course is when the trouble starts.

Soon Elsa isn't just a mother but a rival, and Clive is noticing that Dren, for a girl with a tail, is pretty nice-looking. (Frankenstein meets Pygmalion.)

Of course, this plants in the mind of the viewer a grotesque possibility - that this chicken-legged, spike-tailed, Spock-eared mutant might actually have to make out with Adrien Brody.

As an ethical inquiry and thriller, "Splice" is both knotty and naughty. It's certainly not for all tastes, but it's a legitimate horror movie - it really does raise prickly questions about modern DNA science, and its psychosexual component is anything but gratuitous.

That's why it feels fresh, even though writer-director Vincenzo Natali borrows lustily from many sources. Conceptually from "Frankenstein" author Mary Shelley, visually from (most notably) director Ridley Scott - several of the hair-raising lab sequences are direct lifts from "Alien."

In tone, Natali's movie feels very much like that of fellow Canadian David Cronenburg ("The Fly"). There are notes of dark humor that provoke queasy laughs, but it's never campy, so there's no easy way out for the viewer.

Like Cronenburg, Natali gets a visceral response with old-school technique. Dren has digital extremities, but she's played by a real actress, and the various hybrid creatures on view in "Splice" are Stan Winston-ish things - actual, pulsating, palpable creatures.

Natali knows that it's one thing to talk about human-animal hybrids, another thing to actually see one in front of you, as quivering and alive as "Splice" itself.