I love things that don’t belong. Perhaps because I often feel like I don’t belong, or perhaps it’s because such things are rare and their exclusivity gives them value. For whatever reason, there is stuff in this world that stands out. Weird stuff. Either unnatural or a perverse evolution of nature – it comes to us from outside the usual channels. And, of course, outsiders gravitate towards films like Things.
I must have read about Things before Cinema Sewer found its way into my eager, depraved tentacles. However, I don’t remember much about what was off-handedly mentioned about the film in those days before Cinema Sewer. In any case, there was a write-up of Things (with drawings) to end all write-ups. They panned it. Indeed, they panned the film like there was gold somewhere in that nearly forgotten stream of excrement. The reviewers – and this goes for practically every review I’ve seen – cried out to the heavens. “Why? Why, God, would you allow something like Things to exist? Furthermore, how come you didn’t let me know it existed a little earlier? I could have done with a good laugh.”
Obviously fascinated with all things outrageous and esoteric, I sought the abomination out. Sometimes, the future is easy to read. You know reality is going to bend a certain way. That a certain path will present itself and that is the way you must go. The more people ranted and raved about Things, the more I realized that it was something I would very probably really, really enjoy. Behold, my testament!
This is not a film review… nor is it a synopsis. You can easily find both of those pasted all over cyberspace. It should be clear from the outset that I love Things. Yes, I love it. I will not apologize for my blasphemy and neither should you! The words you now read will hopefully provide a structural platform for understanding this mold-breaking achievement of super 8 and 16mm sacrilege. My intent here is to persuade weird film aficionados to see Things (as Cinema Sewer was tasked before me)… so they, too, might recognize its greatness.
This is the testament which precious few could have excavated from the earth’s dark, liquidy center. Taste the ichor, brothers and sisters! Cult classics are born a certain way. I can only assume they evolved contrary to the flow of life… by way, perhaps, of an eldritch and infernal current. Awesomeness is in their DNA; cult classics simply can’t help it. They must be awesome. And even if they aren’t awesome, at least they are more or less unique. Though we won’t be able to replicate said awesomeness, at least we can probably discover something important about cultish triumphs of art. I am not ashamed of loving nihilistic gems which others would sooner throw away; nor am I brainwashed enough to dismiss the disembodied and disenfranchised voices of cultural outsiders. After all, that is why I venerate H.P. Lovecraft.
First things first. I know; we’re far too late for that, aren’t we? Let go of everything you know about filmmaking, cohesive narrative, and causality. Most reviewers describe Things as “how not to make a movie”. They see the epic failure, focusing on the failure rather than the epicness. Epic qualities which you will never see in big budgeted Hollywood films. This movie breaks down the walls which contain it, support it, and define it. Sure, cinematic analysis from a thousand different reviewers admit that Things transcends its own “awfulness” – as if a film could be so bad that it somehow becomes good again. But is that really the case? Or, is Things transcendent because it rules as Satan should – far down below… in the fire and darkness, beneath the pedestrian values of ignorant surface dwellers.
Are aspects of the viewer’s enjoyment based upon a cacophony of derisive laughter? Absolutely! The heightened shared experience is part of its charm. And yet, we laugh in a different way than if we were watching a regular old bad film. Certainly, there are bits of pop-cultural trash which deserve to be mocked and are fun to openly ridicule with our friends or painfully suffer through in silence (hello there, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps). Yet, the value of those awful films lies in the mocking alone – not in strange, subterranean depths hiding underneath the trashy surface. Seen through particular lenses, I realized the film is transcendent in a different way – not because it’s so awful, but because it’s so God damn unusual – and purposefully so!
There are moments of disillusionment where Things becomes glamorous (as Thomas Ligotti might point out), where the idiocy of ordinary life is ripped away to reveal a gaping hole in the reality of good taste… a swirling abyss amongst the dull normalcy which masks the nigrescent horrors gleaming so bright through the cracks… as luminous as Azathoth’s slimy throne!
The Players: 1) An older, shabbier, and more socially awkward version of Napoleon Dynamite. 2) Canada’s answer to some dude with a mullet and creepy mustache. 3) An average bearded guy who looks extremely average.
The Antagonists: The things themselves are better left to the imagination for now. Please, don’t ask me to explain how they look. Describing them would be almost as much of a letdown as actually seeing them on your television screen. Of course, in the right frame of mind, those things are unwholesomely grotesque beyond words. Unfortunately, as I’ve tried to elucidate in this essay homage, that frame of mind isn’t easily accessed. To fully appreciate Things in all its glory, one has to make peace with the fact that everything good and decent and normal is the lowest form of aesthetic slavery. Free yourselves, I say! Drink deeply of this film and be cleansed in the blood which flows like maple syrup!
Things is pure dream, and that’s exactly how our journey begins. Never mind the fact that we’re already in the middle of this essay. This much is abundantly clear, but the audience assumes that the dreaming character wakes up before the rest of the film gets underway. This is the audience’s initial and probably biggest mistake. The filmmaking, cohesive narrative, and causality emanate from dream logic. One’s first response might be to complain that it doesn’t make any sense. Hell yeah, Things doesn’t make any sense! But then, neither does a dream, or in this case, a nightmare. When our subconscious is active, when our neurons are randomly firing, the mind experiences all kinds of weird stuff. Consider your own nocturnal wanderings for a moment.
Our dream-self enters a room with the intention to do one thing and then our motivation changes on its own. The dream self focuses on unimportant details (like 4 minutes of shining a flashlight in a bathroom) where the periphery is more important than whatever is occurring center stage. When the Suspiria-like sapphire and magenta lighting switches mid-scene or saturates the viewer in unutterable madness. It is to be expected because that’s how dreams are. What a person is saying appears not to come directly out of their mouth. Pictures and sound don’t synch up perfectly. Dreams are not always exciting, there’s a lot of downtime. Some parts are so boring that it fools us into thinking that we’re not inside a dream at all – where making sandwiches, drinking beer, and watching TV perfectly replicate everyday life. Important plot points and gruesome deaths happen in the background (swallowed up by the 4th, 5th, and 6th dimensions!) and in the darkness when we aren’t looking, in the fissures of reality. Music starts up which feels inappropriate to what’s happening before our eyes (Stryk-9 and Familiar Strangers). Discordant sounds juxtapose against banality, horror, and then when the film climaxes, inexplicably there is no sound… or maybe there is? I’m going to have to see Things again very soon. The awesomeness is fading and can only be reactivated by watching it with new, unwitting victims.
Speaking of which, that’s another aspect I love about Things. The characters are just talking to each other like an episode of Seinfeld. For a little while, it feels like a movie about nothing. Jerry and George could be hanging out in Jerry’s apartment just talking about whatever comes to them while Kramer is tending to his pregnant-with-hellspawn wife. The “good stuff” doesn’t happen until the second half of the film, and at that point everything happens way too fast to comprehend.
Best of all, Things has a sense of humor. That’s why it’s not at all in the same realm of hard-to-watch films like Eraserhead. While Eraserhead is also excruciating in its own way, one never hears raucous laughter from the audience. No, that kind of nightmare is of a different sort. And, once the viewer settles in, the terrible vision of Eraserhead escalates in obvious ways. Things does not take itself seriously. The lines of dialog highlight the bizarre surrealism before us. Sentences such as, “I never thought… I’d have to live… with the dead.” And “They ate Susan, they ate her to the skull.” Punctuate the ridiculousness of Things while launching us into a dreamy void of magenta and sapphire surrealism.
What else? Various classic horror movies are referenced, such as Evil Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Last House on the Left. Every once in awhile, the broken narrative breaks even further to accommodate news updates read by 80’s porn star Amber Lynn. While she doesn’t get naked in the film, there is brief, albeit full frontal, nudity at the film’s beginning. How many times have I read a review of Things which started out by describing its off-kilter opening – a girl in a Devil mask starts taking off her clothes. While that scene is not what I saw in my degenerate imagination, it nevertheless had my full attention.
I have a couple friends with whom I can watch bizarre films, horror and science fiction, just about any kind of low budget craziness that might give us a few loathsome kicks. On the night I was initiated into the unnameable brotherhood of Things-ites, it was my wife and I along with another married couple. My friend and I loved it. Our wives… not so much. The women most certainly felt annoyed at the discordant structural integrity. However, they did laugh at the movie and our astounded commentary. So, I’m going to chalk it up as a ‘win’ for everyone involved. Hey, it could have been much, much worse. I might have re-rented Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps.
Andrew Jordan and Barry J. Gillis, the brave actors who gave it their all, as well as, those who choose to follow in their filmmaking footsteps should be applauded. Things is the kind of inspirational, once-in-a-generation film which should be both studied and emulated. They were pioneers embarking on a journey into a blind alley where no one followed. Ah well, Things will remain unique. That’s about it, eh. Fire up the DVD player! Get those demon resurrection passages out of the freezer! The artificial insemination is about to begin. There’s red/blue energy radiating from the places where time and space have no meaning… possibly that masked girl’s bush. Unleash the drill and chainsaw! Troma, eat your fucking heart out… cause this shit is real!
Satan laughing spreads his wings!
Venger As’Nas Satanis
Cult of Cthulhu
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