Incredibly Strange Things: The Weirdest Horror Film of the 1980s

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Things, said Intervision’s Carl Daft as he handed over a copy of their 2011 release, “is quite possibly one of the best films ever made”, though his wry smile suggested that this opinion might not be entirely sincere, especially as he compares it to the label’s other ‘masterpiece’ Burning Moon, one of the most appallingly atrocious movies Ive ever had the misfortune to view. Still, what did I have to lose apart from a few brain cells? And so I sat down to watch what might well be the most disastrously awful horror film ever shot.

Things emerged in 1989, at the height of the VHS boom, when indie labels were hungry for product – any product – and low budget filmmakers who were operating at home movie level suddenly found themselves with distribution deals. Thus, Canadians Andrew Jordan and Barry J. Gillis found that their incoherent, poorly shot 16mm and 8mm hybrid that referenced several other movies and dragged a nonsensical plot into the realm of the bad trip managed to secure a US video release, where it was watched by a small number of viewers who were left agog at the whole thing. Once seen, Things was never to be forgotten – no wonder Intervision, who have made a speciality of reviving the lost and unloved direct-to-video productions of the VHS era, were so keen on it.

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Things opens with a man asking a naked woman in a cheap Halloween devil mask to have his baby. She explains that she already has done, and hands over a demonic brat that claws at him. Then the film starts to get strange. Very, very strange.

This is one of the most incomprehensible 85 minutes of film ever released, but the basic story involves two Canadian dicks (Barry J. Gillis as Don, Bruce Roach as Fred), who turn up at Don’s brother’s house for a few brews, only to find it seemingly empty. After they have played a cassette tape of evil sounds and leafed through a book of (unseen) ritual atrocities – both of which they find in the fridge – brother Doug (Doug Bunston) turns up to explain that his wife is pregnant with mutant monsters that burst out of her stomach, the result of some dodgy fertility treatment by a Dr Lucas (Jan W. Pachul). As these THINGS start to infest the house, the survivors do what anyone would do in such a situation – they sit around in the kitchen drinking and holding random conversations. Eventually, some stuff happens and some other people turn up and it all finally comes to a merciful end.

Shot without sync sound and post-dubbed later, Things is almost entirely incoherent. The editing is so spectacularly ham-fisted that it quickly becomes impossible to really follow what is happening – though for the most part, what is happening is ‘nothing’. Instead, we get truly awful actors going through assorted mood swings, muttering and shouting nonsensical dialogue and occasional bursts of horror, all shot in what I assume is Dario Argento-inspired but badly executed swathes of red and blue. The film lurches from moment to moment, at one point cutting in an unexplained and unconnected gory torture/mutilation scene, and the ‘action’ is punctuated with footage of porn star Amber Lynn as a reporter, reading out contradictory news reports about how the hapless pair have been missing for sixteen days or discovered safe and well, despite all the action taking place on one night and not ending well for most of the cast. Lynn reads her dialogue from a cue card that is positioned to her left, so her eye line is continually off. Yet she’s still the best performer here.

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Things is riddled with movie references that are crowbarred in with a remarkable lack of finesse – Evil Dead, Last House on the Left, George Romero and Traci Lords all get name checked, and the THINGS are like a poor man’s Deadly Spawn. The cast appear to be wasted, and that would certainly be an explanation for the post-production style too. This is the sort of film where someone will take his coat off and put it in the freezer and it doesn’t seem odd. It’s a film where the reaction to your sister-in-law giving birth to monsters is to sit around the kitchen chatting, and where we can spend five minutes watching the heroes looking at the ceiling. This, kids, is your brain on drugs. It’s an artistic abomination by any normal standards, and yet…

There are films that are bad, and films that are so bad they’re good. Things is neither – despite what some critics have said, this is just too slow, too incompetent and too confused to really work at a Bad Movie Night. Rather, Things is a film that somehow moves beyond mere badness to become something of a fever-dream experience. It’s the only film I’ve seen that captures, however accidentally, the fractured, nonsensical nature of a nightmare. The production style, the story and the lack of dramatic development actually suggest that all those involved were entirely unfamiliar with how movies work – it’s as if you’ve given a camera and several reels of film to people who had never actually seen a film before and told them to shoot a horror movie. As such, it becomes a curious slice of Outsider Art. Undoubtedly dreadful by any conventional standards, yet clearly a very pure expression of creativity that remains utterly unique. You simply couldn’t make a film like this by trying to.

So while not exactly a rewarding experience, Things certainly deserves to be seen, if only to marvel at the sort of mind that would make such a film and subsequently decide it was good enough to actually show the world. And hell, Things got a 1989 VHS release and is now on a shiny new special edition DVD, so who’s had the last laugh?

DAVID FLINT

BUY IT NOWthings-1989-04

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