THINGS (1989)
Directors: Andrew Jordan and Barry J. Gillis
Intervision Pictures Corp.

Don (Barry J. Gillis) and Fred (Bruce Roach) get a ride into the wiles of Grizzly Flats, California to visit Don's eccentric brother Doug (Doug Bunston), who lives in a remote cabin with his pregnant and ailing wife Susan (Patricia Sadler). Before you can say THE EVIL DEAD, Don and Fred discover a tape recorder and a book (the book is actually about Aleister Crowley), but that's quickly forgotten when they discover a supposedly destroyed painting of the devil's daughter by Salvador Dali, but that falls by the wayside when they discover another odd painting supposedly gifted to Doug by the Queen of England. Then there's the rumor that Don and Doug's uncle was horribly dismembered by his own wood-chopping axe years ago in these very surrounding woods. At that point, Susan gives an ALIEN-style (or perhaps HUMANOIDS OF THE DEEP-style) birth to a toothsome creature that devours her ("it ate her to the bone!"). Doug explains that he and Susan could not bear children so they approached “world-respected” scientist Dr. Lucas (“and Jan W. Pachul as…”) - conveniently a Grizzly Flats local - to perform an "artificial impregnation" while he was not otherwise engaged doubling lifespans by exposing brains to ultraviolet light (or pulling tongues and eyes out of unsuspecting patients and instructing his nurse how to amputate limbs with a paper-cutter). Fred inexplicably disappears and soon Don and shirtless Doug are facing off against the rapidly multiplying titular “things” armed only with an electric drill (with a limited amount of extension cord), a hammer (“I hammered your head! Are you alright?”), a chainsaw, and a stick. Meanwhile, former porn starlet Amber Lynn reports the news, which includes the copyright issues surrounding George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the administration of George Bush the elder, jabs at invasions of privacy in American politics, Dr. Lucas’ more legit experiments, and a pair of missing persons named Don and Fred…

Opening with a bizarre sequence in which Doug tells a nude woman in a devil mask that he wants her to have his baby, THINGS is a drawn-out ninety-four minutes of bad – though messy – effects, stupefying performances, and scripting that makes for oddly compelling viewing nonetheless. Even with the contextually inappropriate behavior exhibited by these supposedly frightened characters, it may take a while to figure out whether writers/directors/producers Gillis and Jordan set out to make … or if they saw the rushes and switched gears while post-synching virtually all of the dialogue; it’s the former. Gillis and Bunston are quite awful, but that’s the fun of it (their post-synched performances are as stilted as their original delivery – judging by the extra bit of material on the disc with original audio). Roach gives a slightly better – or maybe more naturalistic – performance in his limited screen time. As Doug’s wife, Sadler gives a pretty bad performance in only two or three lines (she may have been dubbed by someone else, but even her physical performance is lifeless). Pachul is just as bad, but some of his dialogue sounds like trailer hyperbole (“Ghastly! Brutal! Horrible! Insane!”). A clothed Amber Lynn not only gives the best performance (by a long shot), she gives a good performance, although to little effect (she was hired because her image on the poster/cover what the filmmakers reasoned would get people to rent it and was paid $2500 for a day of work; the filmmakers must have shelled out more than that for the day since her scenes were the only ones shot in 16mm). There is some attempt at style in the use of gel lighting and the sound design, but the creatures are nowhere near as technically accomplished, mobile, or amusing as the similar beasties of THE DEADLY SPAWN and Don’s drill – despite the poster and DVD art – is more DRILLER KILLER than SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE. When Fred abruptly turns up wielding a chainsaw, it’s hard to tell if he’s going for Ash or Leatherface.

The film’s pacing is horribly drawn out (the basement scene is a brutal five minutes, none of which is suspenseful); you can predict most of what will happen, but you have no idea of when they’re going to get to it (neither music nor editing give any sort of cues to the scares). Ostensibly set in Grizzly Flats, California, there’s a lot of “outs” that sound like “oats”, talk of the “Las Angeles Institution”, and supposed Sacramento resident Don also tells Fred to “put on the television” (even in the northernmost reaches of the county, we don’t speak like that). THINGS is as far away from our notion of Canuxploitation as possible (no Paul Zaza score, no snow, no Art Hindle…). The score by Stryk-9, Familiar Strangers, and Jack Procher is a varied mix of somnambulistic Casio keyboard, vocal delay effects, and rock vocals. The film's five minute end credits crawl features perhaps as many fake credits as it does real ones (it states that it was shot with Panavision and Arriflex cameras). While it is hard to stop watching, THINGS never quite accomplishes the cut-rate delirium that makes SLEDGEHAMMER (to name another Intervision title) seem like a lukewarm nightmare or a fevered daydream.

The film reaches its ninety-four minute runtime with a minute of Amber Lynn talking about working with John Frankenheimer (who turned out to be a fan) and Ann Margaret on the Cannon pic 52 PICK-UP and an eight minute extended version of the tape recorder scene with its noisy raw audio. I am not certain whether these have always been part of the film or they were non-Easter Egg hidden extras for people who sat through the entire end credits crawl (and they do crawl). Both commentary tracks end before these additional bits. Intervision’s cover art promises “HORROR and BRUTAL VIOLENCE in FULL COLOR” but the sickly color is very much what one would expect from cheaply processed Super 8 film stock (Amber Lynn’s scenes were shot in 16mm and look cleaner and more stable). The film was edited on video with some video switcher titles that are much sharper than the footage behind them (suggesting that the transfer itself may indeed be a good transfer). Other than the Lynn scenes, the audio is post-dubbed (just as well given the loud camera noise heard during the outtake after the end credits) and rendered here in 48K 16-bit LPCM two-channel mono (which probably took a chunk out of the video bitrate, but I doubt it could look that that much better). THINGS was previously released in Canada in 2008 on a limited-run 19 ½ anniversary special edition DVD (obtainable exclusively through the website which featured a rowdy audio commentary with director Jordan and stars Gillis, Pachul, and Bunston (along with Gillis’ daughter Victoria, who ridicules everything from the acting to the seventies and eighties decor) as well as an alternate “party version” audio/subtitle track and a cast and crew reunion featurette (featuring the same commentary participants), as well as some other extras. The commentary and reunion featurette (16:20) have been carried over to Intervision’s DVD edition – this much is obvious since the featurette is touted as a “20th Anniversary” reunion. In place of the party track is a “viewing track” recorded during a Cinefamily screening featuring comments and reactions by four of their regulars (including Hadrian Belove and Tom Fitzgerald, who did a featurette on Intervision’s disc of David A. Prior’s SLEDGEHAMMER), some of whom have never made it through the film before (sort of like the Bleeding Skull Joseph Ziemba/Dan Budnik secondary commentary track on Intervision’s SLEDGEHAMMER but with some better research). One of the commentators mentions a Canadian zine interview with Gillis who specifies his inspiration for making things was a screening of John Wintergate’s BOARDINGHOUSE. They note how the disconnectedness of the dubbing adds to the “dreamlike quality.” One commentator compares the feel of the film to DEMON LOVER DIARY, the hard-to-see documentary which is reportedly far more interesting than the film it documents: the utterly dire DEMON LOVER (1973). They seem fairly certain that the filmmakers intended to create a creepy atmosphere (although they also suggest that they are trying to force the attempts at surrealism). They read from some of the Gillis interview (Vestron refused the film, they approached the Toronto-based Lettuce Entertain You; the film was eventually released by Tri-World, but Lettuce gave Gillis a job).

The specs on the sales sheet for the 2008 edition are not very specific, so I am not sure how which of the other extras may have been ported from that edition (other than the vintage TV appearances by Gillis, which the Cinefamily commentators mention as being on the DVD they were screening). Besides the new Cinefamily commentary, Intervision has produced a new featurette titled “Testimonials on THINGS,” a set of interviews featuring input from TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE director Tobe Hooper (3:36), which may have been included on the previous release since it features Gillis showing the film’s trailer to Hooper at a convention. The testimonial by HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN’s Jason Eisener and Rob Cotteril (5:19), features THINGS-esque red lighting and includes a clip from one of Barry J. Gillis’ music videos that suggests the writers of the TV show “How I Met Your Mother” were not too far off the mark in their portrayal of Canadian pop music. Canuxploitation site creator Paul Corupe (6:39) compares Gillis and Jordan to Wayne and Garth from WAYNE’S WORLD and Bleeding Skull website’s Joseph Ziemba and Dan Budnik contribute some reactions in a segment (2:15) processed with THINGS-esque vocal delay and solarization effects. Finally, THINGS-ite Joey Izzo (3:57) recalls how he kept renting the cassette and then told the store he lost it when he couldn’t buy it off them. He also recalls how he used it as a friendship barometer when he showed it to acquaintances. There is also an investor reel for the proposed feature EVIL ISLAND (2:06) – narrated with THINGS-esque stilted delivery – which features more dismemberment, severed heads, and a large serpent-like creature slithering through tall grass (including POV shots). The ending text informs investors that the footage was shot in 16mm for two-hundred dollars and that they are seeking a million dollars in funding (the THINGS website url is featured on the text screen, so I’m assuming they are still looking for funding). The film’s trailer (2:57) is also included. Trailers for BURNING MOON (also the disc’s start-up trailer), SLEDGEHAMMER (actually the same excerpt that Intervision used as a web teaser before that disc’s release), and JEFFREY DAHMER: THE SECRET LIFE round out the stacked disc. (Eric Cotenas)