1989, Starring Barry J. Gillis, Amber Lynn, Bruce Roach, Doug Bunston, Jan W. Pachul. Directed by Andrew Jordan (Left Field Productions).
It's strange though many people consider Canadian films to be " bad" in general, few have ever witnessed the true depths of our cinematic horror. Case in point: though rarely seen today, Barry J. Gillis and Andrew Jordan's infamously terrible 1989 effort Things is one of Canadian film's most extreme exercises in tastelessness, a stunningly obnoxious 8mm film that somehow hit VHS racks at the tail end of the straight-to-video boom of the 1980s. Shot for pocket change in the bleak suburban wilds of Scarborough, Ontario, Things is nothing less than a violent filmic assault on its audience, putting viewers through a punishing gauntlet of technical ineptitude so heinous that it defies every basic assumption about what constitutes a " horror film."
Pointless, bleak, and claustrophobicyet somehow watchableThings is easily one of the ugliest films ever made, a grueling experience made even more incomprehensible through harshly distorted audio and starkly amateurish cinematography. The frustratingly vapid plot, which follows no detectable logic, is treated as a minor distraction by the protagonists, who spend almost the entire film getting drunk, watching TV, and having completely unrelated conversations full of some of the most jaw-droppingly inappropriate dialogue ever read in front of a camera. Some films may be bad, or possibly so bad they're good, but Things is in a class all by itself, accidentally stumbling blindly beyond the realm of B-horror and into a highly ambiguous realm of cinema artpossibly for better, but mostly for worse.
Even before the credits roll, Things throws the viewer into confusion with a surreal dream sequence that has bespectacled nerd Doug (Doug Bunston) telling a girl in a devil mask that he wants her to have his baby. Giggling eerily, she strips down and shows him a baby carriage, out of which a tiny clawed hand shoots out and grabs himone of the film's few lucid moments. From there, we're introduced to the film's central hosers, Doug's mullet-sporting brother Don (Gillis) and his drinking buddy Fred (Bruce Roach), who have arrived at Doug's cabin for a visit. Finding no one at home, they grab a couple beers from the iceboxmaking only a passing mention of the book on Satanism and the tape recorder curiously stocked next to the two-fourand engage in some mind-numbingly inane dialogue. Since we're also stuck killing time until Doug arrives (or is he still upstairs dreaming of naked devil chicks?), Don graciously turns on the TV so we can watch Groundhog's Day Massacre, apparently an earlier DIY horror effort made by these very same guys. While Gillis' character insults the film and his onscreen doppelganger, we're treated to intermittent TV news segments starring former porn actress, and quite possibly the world's worst cue card reader, Amber Lynn, who receives top billing for her cameo as a fully-clothed reporter. Despite some incoherent cut-aways to a mad doctor ripping apart a corpse, the action doesn't really pick up until Doug finally saunters in frame to make some sandwiches, grab some more brews and entertain his guests by cursing a blue streak and emitting gas at every available opportunity.
Eventually, everyone seems to remember that they're supposed to be making a film, and Doug heads to his bedroom just in time to see his pregnant wife Susan's (Patricia Sadler) belly ripped apart by a parade of ant-like Styrofoam monsters with H.R. Giger-inspired jaws. Doug finally reveals that the monster babies are courtesy of his crazed family physician, Dr. Lucas (Jan W. Pachul), who artificially impregnated Susan. Deciding that they are too far from a hospital to bother with medical treatment, and remarkably unconcerned about the killer creatures running loose in their house, Doug and Don instead crack open a few more cold ones and get to wondering why the lights have suddenly gone off. Even more peculiar, Fred seems to have totally disappeared, a mystery that even the beer-swilling brothers are at a loss to explain, theorizing that he was either sucked into a mouse hole or an alternate dimension. After swapping a few more tangental stories, Doug grossly vomits on camera and the pair heads to the basement, killing off a few of the monsters only when they can be bothered to do so. Don doesn't even seem particularly worried when he accidentally bashes Doug's brains in with a sledge-hammer, since his brother manages to come back to life a few times over the course of the film. As the battle with the fang-toothed ants begins to get gory, Fred suddenly reappears with a chainsaw to help out. Only Don survives the onslaught though, and when the ants retreat to the bedroom, Dr. Lucas inexplicably arrives at the blood-soaked cabin, and accuses Don of murdering everyone. Don, however, has a plan to get back at the evil doctor for unleashing the beasts? or something.
It's hard to imagine what might have run through unsuspecting video renters' minds after they popped Things into their VCRs. Despite borrowing from Alien, Evil Dead, and more than a few David Cronenberg films, this penny-pinching cult item is still unlike anything most viewers have ever seen. The film starts in familiar horror territory, with certifiably gory dime store effects and an abundance of casual, go-nowhere references to Satanism, but when the lights go out after Susan's womb erupts, the film really lurches into beyond-all-hope territory, as each frame of ultra-cheap 8mm film stock is saturated in unnatural red and blue light, creating an undeniably hallucinatory atmosphere. This is further amplified by the film's insistence on avoiding the giant ant plot at all costs, preferring to linger on the trio's lunkhead musings on art, philosophy and filmall seemingly improvised during a drunken post-production overdub session. Instead of thrills or chills, a viewing of Things leads only to feelings of pure bewilderment and unashamed awe at what transpires on screen.
As bad as the visuals get, it's the audio of the film that really tests a viewer's bad movie mettle, with all the dialogue sounding like it was run through a cheap Casio synthesizer and spit back in a slightly different key. Though the quality fluctuates throughout the film, it's not uncommon for the distortion to completely overtake the dialogue, and it's all topped off with a pre-programmed keyboard score that is surely the aural equivalent of working at a Radio Shack in Hell.
Possibly even more disturbing, the pace of the film is unbelievably sluggish, taking literally 20 minutes for the wisecracking brothers to make their way downstairs to the basement fuse box. In one curious sequence, Don wants to go to the bathroom, but he's afraid an ant monster might be waiting to get him, prompting an inexplicably lengthy scene of the pair finding a flashlight and then using it to look at every square inch of the ceiling. Sure, Things is a clumsily-made chunk of celluloid, but it's almost like outsider filmmakers Jordan and Gillis have never turned on a TV before, let alone watched another horror movie, and their interpretation of " entertainment" is as fascinating as it is misguided.
As revealed in Amber Lynn's news segmentswhich for some reason appear to be about the disappearance of Don and Fred(?)Things is supposed to take place in California, but the film is in truth about as Canadian as you can get. From the proud manes of hockey hair and copious beer drinking to one of the film's climactic lines, " The blood is dripping like maple syrup!" watching this film is somewhat akin to being beaten to death with a beaver tail. Soaked in a Canadian blue-collar machismo that would make Goin' Down the Road's Pete and Joey feel insecure, the film actually makes viewers feel like they are spending 90 minutes with a couple of bored, gassy hosers on a Scarborough Saturday night.
Like most films touted as the " worst ever," Things has built up a sizeable cult following over the past few years, becoming yet another " holy grail" for bad film fans. Maybe it's my inner B-movie masochist talking, but no matter how much Things sucks (and believe me, Things sucks quite a bit) it's still an endlessly watchable " experience" that is consistently astounding as it unfolds in all its bizarre glory. Not only one of the worst Canadian films ever made but also a serious contender in the global running, Things is an entirely dehumanizing film event that should be tracked down by curious Canuxploitation fans before it's sucked into a mouse hole and disappears forever.