: Things

Color, 1989, 83m.
Directed by Andrew Jordan
Starring Barry J. Gillis, Doug Bunston, Jan W. Pachul, Bruce Roach, Patricia Sadler, Amber Lynn
Intervision (US R0 NTSC)

The height of the direct-on-video horror boom during the VHS era resulted in a lot of really strange films; the distinctive ambience, texture, and cognitive abuse conjured up by these films is radically different from the more widespread DVD-era concoctions made with handy consumer cameras. Shot through with fan enthusiasm, these films often have no regard for the normal cinematic conventions of narrative, characterization, or even shot composition. One prime example is Things, a daffy Canadian offering trying its damnedest to masquerade as a California production. Don't be fooled; this (mostly) 8mm wonder doesn't come from Los Angeles, the United States, or possibly even Planet Earth. It'll pull out your brain, fling it against the wall, and have you pleading for mercy by the half-hour mark. Yep, it's that kind of movie.

Living up to its title, this film does, indeed, involve Things. Exactly what those might be is up to interpretation, considering we start with a dream sequence in which a guy named Doug (Bunston) has a close encounter with a demon-masked topless woman whose child he's just sired. Or maybe it's not a dream... Cut to Doug's brother, Don (screenwriter Gillis) and buddy Fred (roach, arriving for a weekend of beer drinking with Doug at a remote house only to find the place empty. Naturally they kill time by unearthing a satanic text and contending with the local insect problem until Doug shows up just in time for his wife to explode in a storm of roaches. Turns out an experimental doctor on TV (Pachul), who's intercut with news reports by porn actress Amber Lynn for no reason, used some unorthodox methods to help the couple conceive, and now the result could kill them all.

Weirdly looped in post-production and full of so many random asides you'll have no idea where the film even started by the halfway point, Things is indisputably "terrible" by any objective standard; then again, it doesn't even seem to be aiming for the goals of a normal film. Arbitrary flatulence, alcohol humor, and rambling monologues rub shoulders with drill and chainsaw mayhem, not to mention a few digressions allowing characters to zap off to other dimensions through a kitchen cabinet. What does it all mean? No one seems to know for sure, but you won't be able to take your eyes off of it.

As with the film itself, trying to apply any sort of objective criteria to the visual appearance of Things is an exercise in futility. It's a movie shot on Super 8 and then completed on video, so it's soft, smudgy, and lovably retro in appearance. It's always going to look rough, but at least the rampant red and blue gel lighting comes through just fine; likewise, the audio created completely in post-production is about as good as the original will allow and does justice to deadpan lines of dialogue like "That guy's got a criminal mind. He's evil. He should be dead." Special mention should also be given to the music score, including one particular five-minute interlude of what sounds like a guy banging a triangle while someone noodles on a synthesizer in the background. "Astonishing" doesn't even begin to cover it. The 83-minute feature is immediately followed by ten more minutes of random Amber Lynn outtakes about her role and career, and more noodling around with the demonic tape recorder.

As the world still waits for Song of the South to appear on DVD anywhere in the world, it's perversly gratifying to see Things get treated in a fashion so lavish it puts most studios to shame. You want audio commentaries? Heck, you get two. First up are director Andrew Jordan with Gillis, Pachul, and Bunston (along with a female guest), in what might be some sort of tribute to the inebriated and frequently digressive drunk commentary for Mallrats. It's a spirited and amusing track, with perhaps more actual structure than the feature itself. Then the Cinefamily gang from Los Angeles (including programmers Hadrian Belove and Tom Fitzgerald, previously seen in an extra for the astonishing Sledgehammer) pops up for commentary two, offering a trivia-laced audience participation accompaniment that will most likely reflect the warped and confused thoughts that form in your own head as you watch the film. You also get a nifty new featurette, "Testimonials on Things," with appreciative appraisals from Tobe Hooper, Jason Eisener and Rob Cotterill (the guys behind the terrific short "Treevenge" and the film Hobo with a Shotgun), Canuxploitation.com webmaster Paul Corupe, and Bleeding Skull's Joseph A. Ziemba and Dan Budnik. Gillis pops up for some incredibly tacky and surreal local '80s TV appearances plugging the film, while the cast and crew reunion to mark its 20th anniversary is captured in all its lo-fi glory as well. The package is rounded out with the original trailer, an investor pitch reel for the unfilmed Evil Island, more backstage discussion with a baffled Amber Lynn, and bonus trailers for Sledgehammer (of course), The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer, and Olaf Ittenbach's The Burning Moon.

Reviewed on July 7, 2011.