Director - Barry Gillis
Cast - Andrew Jordan, Bruce Roach, Amber Lynn
Country of Origin - Canada
Discs - 1
MSRP - $19.95
Distributor - Intervision Pictures Corp.
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
The Film: 5/5
This rather obscure little item was made in Canada and released in 1989, but even though it managed to land a video distribution deal through a little-known company known as Lettuce Entertain You (Eh?) Things was doomed to forever roam the halls of VHS purgatory until this strange treasure was introduced into my life in the form of an article in the underground film magazine Cinema Sewer that functioned as both an affectionate tribute and a critical evisceration. Had I not read that article in the first volume of a Cinema Sewer omnibus in the spring of 2008 one of the most intriguing, entertaining, and positively mind-melting film experiences of my life would never have happened. Over the course of 86 minutes Things turned my world upside down and myself inside out. It may be one of the most radically imaginative films I’ve ever seen in my life. Now the movie is finally getting an official DVD release thanks to the bold visionaries at Intervision Pictures Corps.
If you read the film’s plot in a video buyer’s guide you’d be forgiven for thinking it sounded like a decent, albeit derivative, guts-and-gore extravaganza. Two friends, Don (Barry J. Gillis) and Fred (Bruce Roach) go up to a cabin in the woods occupied by Don’s brother Doug (Doug Bunston) and his wife Susan (Patricia Sadler) to kick back for a few days, get wasted on cheap beer, and chill out in front of the TV. Out of the blue Susan starts to experience pain in her stomach and then suddenly strange creatures resembling carnivorous bugs rip out of her body and take over the house. Doug then reveals that since he and his wife couldn’t conceive a child she underwent an experimental procedure from a local scientist, Dr. Lucas. Now the three men must figure out how to destroy these bloodthirsty monsters in order to save their sorry asses, and perhaps the world. Plus they’re running out of beer.
Shot on Super 8 and 16 mm on a budget that ranges anywhere from $5,000 to $35,000 depending on who you ask and what era of the 20th century you asked them in, Things is a true anomaly in cinema. It is a film that got every fucking thing wrong in its making that all of the mistakes ended up coalescing into something surprisingly right. I’ve never seen anything to beat it in all my years watching movies. In an alternate universe, namely the Bizarro World Michael O’Donoghue created on “Saturday Night Live” back in the early 1980’s, Things would be hailed as the greatest film ever made by critics around the world and it would break every imaginable box office record. The movie would win every award and its creators would be put on pedestals. Religions would be created around this movie. People would request in their wills to be buried with the DVD of Things after they die. But I don’t live in that universe, I live in this one. This movie may get easily dismissed as a spectacular cinematic train wreck but I believe it is a unique and fascinating object that can not be categorized and must not be underestimated at all costs. It is an alternative masterpiece, a perverse work of unhinged genius that can be considered avant-garde, maybe even Dadaist. It sports a standard horror movie plot but refuses to follow a conventional film structure. In fact it has no structure.
The movie is incredibly random. The title refers to killer creatures but in a sense it’s all about the indiscriminate events that occur during the course of the story. One would look at some of these scenes as padding, but when scenes consist of characters finding horror paperbacks and tape recorders in the refrigerator, putting dead cockroaches on another’s cheese sandwich, and delivering long, rambling monologues about non-existent science-fiction novels immediately following a gory scene of cheap, insect-like monsters ripping out of a woman’s uterus, you can’t just write them off outright. They’re all part of Things’ uncanny tapestry. In fact the movie could believably pass for a feature-length version of a Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job sketch. It has the kind of off-kilter, random humor that you’d find in most of Adult Swim’s programming, particularly Aqua Teen Hunger Force. When one of the characters suddenly vanishes Doug deduces that he “must’ve fell into the 3rd, 4th, and 5th dimensions”. Most of the scenes are packed to the gills with such absurd non-sequiturs. I could watch an entire movie of these guys just sitting around improvising goofy shit to say. When Doug gets attacked by one of the Things Don tries to help him but can’t stop remarking how fucking heavy his dying brother is. “You heavy puke!”
Back in the late 80’s the late, great comedian Bill Hicks made a half-hour short film with his friend Kevin Booth called “Ninja Bachelor Party”. It’s silly and incomprehensible but intentionally so and still funny as hell, and it’s the movie I kept thinking of while watching Things. All of the dialogue in “Ninja Bachelor Party” is dubbed by Hicks and Booth, even the dialogue spoken by female characters. In Things most of the dialogue appeared to have been dubbed over in post-production. There isn’t a lot of live sound in the film and certain scenes have no sound at all. What sound effects were created for the film, especially when it came to the sounds made by the creatures, must have been done by Jordan and Gillis making noises with their mouths. Porn star Amber Lynn is the biggest star in Things and her scenes, where she plays a local newscaster delivering reports that often vaguely comment on the events at hand and seems to be broadcasting from what looks like a cable access bunker, were added after the film was completed and a prospective video distributor gave Jordan and Gillis enough money to hire her for additional shooting. Most of Lynn’s scenes have her obviously reading from cue cards because her eyes keep darting off screen. It’s the Z-movie equivalent of Raymond Burr’s hastily shot and inserted scenes in the American version of Godzilla. Lynn’s character (named after herself) has nothing to do with the rest of the movie but it all works. She even gets to talk about George Romero and his court battle over the copyright of Night of the Living Dead.
I love the performances by the four main actors because they never try to be serious. Pachul in fact looks like he’s about to break out laughing in his big scene with Gillis, who looks like a paunchy Charlie Chaplin with a mullet. Bunston plays his character as a complete weirdo from the start. The only real flaw in this movie is that some of the music is actually pretty good. I’m mostly speaking of the songs performed by the group Familiar Strangers (featuring Bruce Roach, who played Fred, on keyboards) which reminded me of the music Bill Hicks did with his band Marblehead Johnson for his stand-up CD Arizona Bay. The end credits theme “Gentle Breeze” is my favorite song in Things. The movie’s theme by Stryk-9 (really actor Doug Bunston, who played Doug) is loud and grating, but some piano music contributed by actor Barry J. Gillis works very well. Most of the other music sounds like it was done on an outdated (for ‘89) Casio keyboard and it’s awful, but once again it works.
My favorite scene has to be Don’s encounter with the odious Dr. Lucas (Jan W. Pachul), the creator of the titular Things, when the mad doctor comes to the cabin to check on Susan’s progress. This scene is glorious for many reasons. The dialogue goes to absurd heights (“This is ghastly, brutal, horrible, INSANE!“) and the voice chosen for Pachul’s dubbing makes Lucas sound like he belongs in a 1970’s chopsocky flick (“Your kung fu is weak! You can’t defeat me!”). Plus Pachul didn’t go to great lengths to look like a mad scientist bent on world domination. He looks more like he should be slinging drinks at a sports bar.
I don’t know how much work went into preparing this transfer, but it appears to be a slightly marked improvement over the picture and sound quality of the version that was on the “19th ½ Anniversary Edition” DVD Gillis and Jordan distributed through their website Things1989.com beginning in 2008. I ordered that disc back in 2009 and it was the first time I ever saw the film. My life has not been the same since. The transfer still looks like it was dubbed off a worn VHS of the movie but that’s all part of its oddball charm.
The 2008 disc had a ton of bonus features that Intervision was wise enough to port over but several of those features were left behind, such as a still gallery, some cut footage, audio outtakes, some alternate trailers, and a “Things Party Version” viewing option that I always thought was pretty lame. Gillis, Jordan, Pachul, and Bunston sit down for a rambling (and often hard to hear) audio commentary that yields some behind the scenes stories and is good for a listen. There’s a 20th Anniversary Reunion video that first appeared on the 2008 disc and originally ran 49 minutes. Intervision cut the show down to 16 minutes so the fun of seeing a roundtable chat with Jordan, Gillis, Bunston, and Pachul hosted by a guy with a ventriloquist’s dummy on his lap that appears to have been filmed in someone’s basement is over before it really begins. The boys do share a lot of interesting stories about how the movie came to be and their reactions to its cult following. Gillis’ daughter Victoria is on hand to mercilessly mock Things every chance she gets. “Behind the Scenes with Amber Lynn” is raw footage taken from the filming of Lynn’s scenes that were added after years after the movie was completed. The feature ran for 43 minutes on the 2008 DVD but for the Intervision release it was cut down by 32 minutes. A pair of vintage TV appearances Gillis made on local Toronto news programs to promote the movie (6 minutes), a Things trailer (3 minutes), and an investor reel for Gillis and Jordan’s as yet unrealized Things follow-up Evil Island (2 minutes) round out the old features included on the new disc.
Intervision has managed to scare up a few new extras. Several members of the Cinefamily get together for an “Audio Viewing Party” where they basically watch the movie, crack jokes, make intriguing observations about the movie, and act like they’d rather be somewhere else. “Testimonials on Things” is a collection of five brief interviews with fans and filmmakers influenced by the film: Paul Corupe, creator of Canuxploitation.com (7 minutes); Jason Eisener and Rob Cotterill, the director and producer respectively of Hobo with a Shotgun (5 minutes); Joseph A. Ziemba and Dan Budnik of the horror and cult film website Bleeding Skull (2 minutes); self-styled Things-ite (the name given to Things super fans) Joey Izzo (4 minutes); and Tobe Hooper, director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Funhouse, who is filmed watching the Things trailer at the 2008 Rue Morgue Festival of Fear with Gillis sitting next to him (4 minutes). There’s quite a bit of fun to be had in these clips. The interviewees are all enthusiastic about Things and the impact it has had on them. Eisener and Cotterill do their interview in kitchen lit in garish red Things-style lighting, and Hooper’s reaction to the trailer is priceless and consists of him repeatedly intoning, “Far out.”
Previews for Intervision releases The Burning Moon (which also plays upfront when you load the disc), Sledgehammer, and A Night to Dismember close the Things extras collection.
It’s virtually impossible to give this movie any kind of rating. It is unclassifiable. Without equal. Good, bad, those words are meaningless. It is what it is. Things is simply Things. Nothing more. Check this movie out at your own risk. Open-minded viewers may either be amazed or driven insane.