JULY 10, 2011
The excitement of the esteemed Simon Barrett when I announced that Things would be today’s HMAD got me very intrigued, as Simon rarely has anything good to say about the movies I watch (even his own! I kid). Within seconds, I fully understood his and others’ excitement – there is truly nothing like Things. I actually read over the list of movies I had watched for HMAD since it began, and not a single one of the 1600+ titles would be a just comparison. The CLOSEST I could offer is Disconnected, but even that movie is sort of “normal” compared to this.
Reviewing it in a traditional sense (well, traditional by HMAD standards) is, of course, pointless. Apart from actually having credits, the movie abandons just about every convention of what constitutes a professional film (and even the credits are gonzo; with two for the composer given right after the title, with the cast listed last), and looks like ass even by super 8 standards. Most of the movie is poorly dubbed, the actors aren’t actors, the editing almost seems to be mocking the idea of the art form... you get the idea. The movie cost 35,000 dollars and not a single one of them is on the screen, unless you count the loaf of bread that was unbagged, placed on a plate, and referred to as a pile of sandwiches.
But all of this (and more!) is precisely what makes Things one of the most wonderfully joyful experiences I’ve had watching a movie in ages – and at home to boot! Usually I have to head out to the Cinefamily or a midnight showing of Hausu to see this sort of insanity, but even by myself at home I could easily recognize the appeal of this particular oddity. In fact I’m not even sure I could handle a screening; there would be so much pure REACTION in the theater among the Things virgins that it could actually sort of kill the appeal.
For starters, a loud crowd would surely drown out the strange aural quality of the film. As I said, pretty much the entire thing is dubbed, and the actors often try to match their lips, to awkward effect – they will slow down/speed up their intonation trying to “sync”, which just results in a lot of line readings that even Christopher Walken would find awkward (the Canadian accents add a bit of extra comedic value – no offense to my Northern pals, but when “beer” becomes a three syllable word, it just sounds funny to me). There are also moments where they seem to be not dubbing over the source audio but combining it with the dub, so you hear a line said over itself. Also, the dialogue is primarily exclamatory description, as if they were trying to make a radio show out of it. “Wow, look at that spider over there!” “I see blood, blood everywhere!” Then there’s the score, which sounds like it was recorded from a tape that had a lot of damage on its reels.
The visual component follows suit, with strange lighting choices (red or blue gels are seemingly tossed about at random) and edits that go beyond awkward; there are several occasions where they cut to maybe 3-4 degrees different angle of an actor, giving an effect not unlike when you’re laying in bed on your side and you close one eye and then close the other (“Camera 1, Camera 2”). There’s also a strange lag to many of the dialogue exchanges, which may be intentional (the movie sort of feels like a nightmare) but is likely just the result of having an obviously novice editor.
But nothing is quite as wacky as the appearance of porn star Amber Lynn, who frequently breaks into the narrative to give news updates. In the closest thing this movie gets to a clever idea, her rather random and pointless asides (including one about Romero still trying to sue bootleggers over Night of the Living Dead - ?) eventually turn focus to the story in the movie, although this is also botched because A. she offers information her “character” could not have possibly have access to, and B. they never actually tie the two plots together via the characters – she never meets the main guys from the movie, nor is there any sort of wraparound/ending to her segments. So they could easily be cut from the film, which would actually improve the pace/editing, but then you’d lose out on wonderful non sequiturs like “A New Jersey woman who gave police a tip earlier on in the day has been deemed psychologically insane by the staff at St. Mary’s hospital in New York. There is still a chance that after being missing for 14 days, Don Drake and Fred Lewis may still be alive.”
Let’s break this down. So a woman giving a tip on some unknown issue was given a non-existent prognosis by the entire staff of a hospital in another state, and somehow that is directly tied into the disappearance of our main characters, who as far as we know haven’t even been out of their house for 13 HOURS, let alone missing for that many days. Again, this sort of makes it seem like the movie is building toward something kind of epic, but she only makes one more appearance, further expanding the story (involving our guys on a road trip to Dallas) into areas that are never quite explained. That she reads her lines from a cue card that is apparently propped up about 50 feet to the left of the camera just adds to their surreal, hilariously amateurish nature.
Again though, it’s all pure joy to watch. Trying to follow the plot is a fairly fruitless endeavor, so I just sort of settled for being continually amazed at what else would occur. It’s actually kind of slow with regards to its horror elements, but that’s actually a good thing as the main “villains” are moderately “giant” (like 1-2 feet long) ants and other insects, which is one of the few things that gross me out. Like a 50 foot ant wouldn’t bother me much, because it was just a matter of staying the hell away from the damn thing. But one that was as big as my foot or something, that could crawl in through an open window or something? I’d be mortified (I’m not a bug guy), and seeing the things attack our guys (or even get squished/dismembered) made me kind of queasy; I actually had to stop eating for a bit. However, for every “money shot” there’s 5 minutes of them just sitting around making odd comments about the art hanging on the walls or shouting “The lights went out!” even though the lighting looks exactly the same.
The DVD was originally released in 2008, but Severin has acquired it for their Intervision label, ported over some of the extras, and added a few of their own. One of them is a commentary by Hadrian from the Cinefamily and a few other guys (sorry, the names escape me), which is oddly billed as a “Cinefamily Viewing Party”. To me that sounds like they just recorded an audience reaction (not unlike what has been done for Rocky Horror or other cult movies on DVD), but it’s actually a real commentary track that just happened to be recorded there, I guess. If you ever listened to one of my HMAD commentaries, you should know what to expect: a blend of insight, some information (learned via fan sites and such), and loving mockery. Only one of the four participants had ever seen the film in full, and while he offers genuine insight about its themes and concepts (with some hilarious descriptions that you’d need to listen to the track to fully appreciate – I particularly like “Pizza delivery boy surrealism” and “4 am logic”), the others just settle for trying to understand what’s happening (attempts to sum up the plot thus far are quite hilarious) or laughing, which is infectious as I would often just laugh at their laughter. A terrific track.
Much less enjoyable, oddly enough, is the track by the guys who made the movie: Andrew Jordan, Barry Gillis, and Doug Bunston, plus some random girl (one of their daughters?) who had never seen the film and just drunkenly interrupts whatever they are saying to tell them how terrible it is. But she’s not exactly depriving us of anything worthwhile when she cuts one of them off; even after she leaves halfway through they don’t really say anything of note, and they’re also seemingly drunk, so it’s just a lot of rambling and laughter that’s hard to decipher because they didn’t turn the movie’s audio down enough (plus it was recorded poorly to boot, also like an HMAD commentary!). I guess it’s worth at least a partial listen for curiosity’s sake, but overall I just found it obnoxious. As was the “reunion”, in which the participants (possibly on the same day) sit around and make the same sort of unintelligible outbursts amidst a few basic stories (how they met, how they got it distributed, etc). Better than the commentary because it’s shorter, but still, I wish they could drop the act (it IS an act, right?) and tell us what the hell they were thinking. Of much more value is the collection of testimonials from folks like Tobe Hooper and Hobo With A Shotgun director Jason Eisener, as well as the outtakes/behind the scenes of Amber Lynn struggling through her dialogue in between anecdotes about John Frankenheimer (!) and insisting that Fred “Weasel” Lincoln was the actual director of Last House On The Left. Then there’s a rather depressing extra: a trailer that the Things crew put together in order to secure funding for a film called Evil Island that is clearly quite old (the film has still not been made).
So overall, a pretty full package for a movie that one might not believe really exists even if they were watching it. It’s impossible to judge the transfer quality since the movie was clearly made so amateurishly to begin with, so let’s just assume that Severin has provided us with the best presentation of the movie ever. Combine that with the supplements and the fact that this is the type of movie you’ll want to show people when they come over (“You won’t believe your eyes!”), and you have a pretty easy purchase. Make yourself a spider sandwich, pour some tap water into your beer, and enjoy!
What say you?