Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Halloween 32 For 31: Things (1989)

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Dir. Andrew Jordan

"You have just experienced Things" is as inspired an end credit text as you could get for any film remotely like Things, an infamous no-budget horror film from Canada. Films like this are still a foreign language to me I've only picked a few words up in, an entire subculture around no-budget genre cinema significantly more pronounced in the United States. A few ended up getting released in the United Kingdom, almost all on cheap DVDs, but the Americans have had a greater history of these maligned films, the result of their own idiosyncratic history of the VHS boom where countless obscurities that were never released in the UK were available because of the need for content to sell in the market. Many a person who has greater knowledge in these sorts of topics could, and have reading and listening to their work, have informed me of how far this sub culture in cult cinema goes. Obscurities like Sledgehammer (1983) and Boardinghouse (1982) that sound like an occult language of their own, worshiped on the alter of the video cassette player, with various regional directors I'm only hearing of within the last year as the preachers. Even now, a film like Things is unlikely to get a UK DVD release, because of the cults and phenomenons we hear afar of in the States not reaching over yet, and that because of how the British retail industry works, especially with the costs of getting films certificated, the money or interest needed for an obscure film infamous for being one of the worst films ever made is going to need a larger British contingent of "Thing-ites" to exist to make it viable to release. Last time I check too, you can't watch Things on YouTube either, only reviews from amateur reviewers and the main theme played over and over again for ten hours. I thank the celluloid God the American DVD was available.

From http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_s_30zQFJp4g/TCGbJK_R7mI/

Let's call a spade a digging implement in a spade shape. Things is what happens when two ordinary guys from Canada, director Andrew Jordan and co-writer/star/co-producer Barry J. Gillis managed to get the resources together to make a film, clearly obsessed with horror cinema, but unlike The Deadly Spawn (1983), where semblance of technical cohesiveness on a rudimentary level exists, and in great cases like The Deadly Spawn succeed in being a good film in the conventional way, the result of making Things seems to suggest they had no idea how to make a film in the first place either. The thing, if you forgive the unintentional pun, difficult to use "thing" in my habit of using vague descriptive words, with the film is that it's the least technically competent film I've seen, or one of them, and one of the least comprehensible, but that has meant it's still an experience of great worth if you have the right mindset. Two friends, one J. Gillis, recognisable with his moustache and glorious mullet, visit the brother of J. Gillis' character, whose wife is part of an experimental procedure as they are unable to conceive children. Unfortunately the procedure gives birth to the titular things instead, giant insects that are man eating. That is the only cohesive narrative I can give you as the rest of the film has no cinematic sense to it. The transfer for the version I viewed, the best available version I could've viewed on the first viewing, transferred from film to video, is already hazy, but the technical quality of the original footage would raise the eyebrows of those expecting the gloss of what even a modern day straight-to-video film has. Almost all the film is set in a single house. Sound had to be rerecorded and post-synched, with wooden or outlandish vocals for many of the cast, the sound a messy fuzz. Bleeding red and blue lights are used frequently, drowning entire scenes in the retina burning hues. The things are cheesy models that wobble and wiggle along. And the story itself is a scramble of thoughts disconnected to each other in a stream of wavering acting and abrupt events or dialogue exchanges taking place.

From http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_s_30zQFJp4g/TCINrFIoI4I/

The things of the title and the actual narrative doesn't appear until thirty minutes in. In that time, the thirty minutes consists of actors talking to each other in either the longue or kitchen, drinking beer and a current of garbled content, too much that doesn't make sense one after another to keep up with and rationalise in the cerebrum. The film starts strongly in warning you of this with a dream sequence with a stripping woman in a rubber devil mask, and while nothing supernatural ever takes place, and nothing plot essential happens in the first thirty minutes, it is a sign to inform you of how random Things will get. In the first thirty minutes you get the following - conversations about finding bestiality programming and about how "Some of the stations he doesn't know where they come from!"; the lost Salvador Dali painting Devil's Daughter on a wall and another nearby given to someone by the Queen of England; the characters eating bread sandwiches and adding tap water to their beers; a tape recorder being taken out of a refrigerator and such other things (to forgive the accidental pun again). The result is stupefying and after the plot kicks in, it gets increasingly nonsensical. The result is virtually unwatchable in terms of conventional filmmaking; the virtue I have grown to love within it, instead, being that of the cinematic image separate from narrative is of the most importance, even in a grotty looking, piece of lunacy like this.

From http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_s_30zQFJp4g/TCINr2fswTI/

The things appearing doesn't stop the nonsense even if they try their hardest to make a mess of fake blood out of everything. It doesn't stop J. Gillis, after a character's death, talking about the entire narrative of a fictitious science fiction book his character read for no apparent reason. Or, in-between a succession of gory, homemade splatter effects, including a drill and a chainsaw, characters for an entire ten or so minutes sequences walk through a corridor and examining the corners of the bathroom. Or wishing one another were a midget so it'll be easier to carry them. I admit my patience on a second viewing was waning occasionally in the middle half, but Things' apparent unwatchability is compelling and certainly memorable. A truly bad film is merely dull, and I now consider the worst of cinema not to be dictated by technical competence or narrative consistency, but impact and tone, two things (forgive the accidental pun thrice) Things does have. I haven't even mentioned that the creators of the film managed, despite the obscurity of their work, to their credit and tenacity, to get porn star Amber Lynn to star as an omnipresent news reporter, speaking to no one, or maybe us the viewer, or an imaginary one, in a dark room separate from the rest of the film in a mass of eighties styled blonde hair and a sky blue jacket. Reading her lines at points, obviously, as you see her eyes blatantly looking to her right off screen, her musings are as cryptic and strange, anything from asking an unknown audience abruptly to lock their door and stay indoors, to the copyright issues of George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). There is a random cutaway, extended sequence, to a mad doctor with a female assistance, early in the film, gruesomely mutilating a man strapped to a chair which is never explained. The actual narrative between all this gets odder to compensate. Countless film references appear obscurely or literally out of the fridge. Someone briefly disappears to through the "3rd, 4th and 5th" dimensions. The reference to Salvador Dali is a perverse and an unexpectedly inspired inclusion because, trying to watch Things, I cannot help but think, to the baffle of some people who may read this, of the automatic writing games of the Surrealists as if done by mistake in a no-budget film.

From http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-dr4ptbiKYRc/ThvTAperDcI/AAAAAAAAAKI/sUfKpmvYpeg

The Surrealists admired "bad" cinema for how the mistakes and deficiencies punctured cinematic reality - Things is a catalogue of scenes and moments together that never connect, legitimately surreal even if it was by mistake, with no deliberation but as a mass of uncontrolled thoughts. Things is legitimately weird. I realise on this viewing how bad the film is in context of film studies and film academic structures of how a movie works and is made, but I went to acquire this film on DVD, as many did unless they were the ones who stumbled upon it originally, with this being made clear. Everyone who goes to watch Things has likely went with some knowledge of this, and that wasn't a detraction from it. I knew what to expect after first learning of its existence through Cinema Sewer, which flat out warns you of its tone and content even if the piece about it secretly loved the movie. Nor is this an ironic bad film or lamely terrible...the word "stupefying" is said by me with amazement too. The appreciation I have for anyone who makes a film, having never done so myself, with what resources they could get is always applaudable, many a cult film fan, particularly with no-budget cinema, with the same mindset, a wonderfully humanitarian view of one's fellow man regardless if a film is good or not. I'm closer to a mindset though I've yet to read or hear explicitly about these films, which Things encapsulates, where for it's inanity, amongst aimless scenes, a catchy doom metal riff rock song in the soundtrack, cockroach eating and mind numbing content, where if I was a film maker, I would take as much inspiration from a film like this and it's apparent failures, and do them deliberately in my work to effect a viewer in the same ways. If an existing director was to do this, I'd argue they would create legitimately great cinema. I've yet to hear anyone say that Things pushes the potential for cinema - in form and content - in its skull fucking weirdness and incompetence as much as an avant-garde film can, so I'll say it here myself, knowing what the film actually is, but still able to see the virtue in that.

From http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-MGca9rk2wso/Tz2TfsNnbEI/AAAAAAAACsI/

Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None) - High
Things proves that a lack of knowledge is as powerful for a viewer as a deliberately made film in the same tone is as well. In what was made by people with the passion for films, which I admire, but yet had no idea how to put this film together, it's completely unpredictable in ways filmmakers have failed miserably in trying to replicate on purpose. Things can jump from a pointless joke about paper children to a Amber Lynn musing, with the randomness of a few random scribbles stuck together in any order. Again, I'd argue that if the content in Things was done deliberately, it would've been exceptional in leaving the viewer in a freakish headspace; as it stands, Things is exceptional in messing the collective minds of myself and many others in the same way, stumbling about for its length incoherently.

A Cinema of the Abstract movie?
I admit to being dangerously close to pretentiousness here, if not already there, comparing Things to high art, but as well as being utterly entertaining in its perceived awfulness, I find joy in it in my personal way as, seeing the garbled mess of impassioned z-grade horror onscreen, it as much shows the nature of films, and how you can bend and break it, as you can learn from a "well made" film too. I can see as much of what can be done here with the medium which is as much a reason this schlock is as worthy of covering as the cultural vegetables of experimental cinema. Things will be the flag post for an area of cinema I wish to see more of, poorly recorded beauty that is on the opposite end of the technically proficient films of the same beauty. I can't hate a film either with this level of ridiculous dialogue, pointless amounts of gunge being split and arbitrary things happening that are hysterical in just taking place. It can be mind numbingly slow and patience testing, but never boring.

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