THINGS: What Do You Want From “Bad”?

Bad film appreciation is a deceptively difficult subject.  Some would argue that no critical criteria could apply to such a pursuit: after all, the audience is knowingly and willingly chasing something that that is bad by sitting down to one of these cinematic defectives.  Thus, why should it make any difference if you watch an Ed Wood, Jr. movie or a Michael Bay movie in search of your badness fix?  It’s all bad so what’s the difference?

The truth is that a set of critical criteria does apply in bad film appreciation.  A good “bad movie” should deliver the kind of otherworldly thrills that you just can’t get from something that works the way it is designed to.  Ask anyone who has ever seen Petey Wheatstraw or Massacre Mafia Style: films like these represent the upper-echelon of bad cinema, hitting you hard from frame one and never stopping.  Their scripts/direction/performances aren’t anywhere near what any sane person would consider acceptable but they go off in their own magical, beguilingly insane direction, throwing something demented at you every minute they’re onscreen.  If you lived on Bizarro World, films like these would be the defining masterworks of cinema.

It would be nice to say Things delivers that giddy rush of good-badness but unfortunately, it does not.  The hard-to-decipher plot suggests an accidentally surrealistic version of a monster movie.  Goofball, beer-guzzling pals Don (co-writer/producer Barry J. Gillis) and Fred (Bruce Roach) go out to visit Doug (Doug Bunston), brother of Don, at his rural abode.  Unfortunately, it’s a bad time for Doug – his wife Susan (Patricia Sadler) has taken an experimental facility procedure devised by the nefarious Dr. Lucas (Jan W. Pachul) and she’s rather ill.

The trio discover exactly what ill means when a barrage of dachshund-sized ants erupt from her stomach and infiltrate the house.  The little beasties are out for blood and the trio experiences periods of fighting them off interspersed with longer periods of aimless chatter and wandering around rooms with flashlights.  As this tale ambles its way toward an obligatory shock finale, it is intercut with shot-on-video interludes of porn star Amber Lynn reading badly from off-center cue cards as a newswoman who reports on horror fan interests and (occasionally) the travails of our heroes.

Things seems to have a lot going for it if taken from a bad-film appreciation perspective: it was made by horror fanatics/metalheads/first time filmmakers, it was shot on 8mm, the story makes no sense, the humor is as terrible as the effects, all the dialogue was post-dubbed and the acting is the worst part of all.  Along the way, you get the occasional memorably awful moment, like the non-sequitur of a monologue where Don responds to the death of Susan by relating the plot of a horror novel he once read.

Unfortunately, moments that transcendently bad only pop up a few times in Things.  It falls short of bad-film classic status because Gillis and his conspirator, director/co-writer/co-producer Andrew London, are as uninspired as they are bad at what they do.  They’ve got the work ethic – a 90 minute 8mm film is damned ambitious – but they lack the kind of deliriously crazy ideas or ambition that would help them attain good-bad status.  Even worse, they lack the most basic understanding of how a story is told and this makes the ineptitude on display numbing instead of amusing.  The end result just drags along in a pitiful  and dull manner, wearing you down as it goes along.  You could condense Things down to a 5 minute highlights reel and have a winner – but watching the full length version is a punishment.

In short, Things is the kind of film that forces you to define your relationship with bad cinema.  Your Humble Reviewer believes that if you love schlock, you should demand as much from it – on its own level – as you demand from “proper” filmmaking.  It should be filled with a passion for storytelling, off-the-wall ideas and  poverty-row ingenuity.  Things has none of the above.  It just sits there, blank-eyed and dead-brained, for over 90 minutes.  In fairness to its fans, you won’t forget it after you see it – and it’s easy to imagine an ironic hipster cult rising up around it, filled with the same people who passionately defend the badness of The Room or Hobo With A Shotgun.  That said, a bad movie should meet you halfway with its insanity – and Things is its own hermetically sealed world of pain.

THINGS (1989) Trailer from Intervision Picture Corp. on Vimeo.