When horror fans debate the worst fright flick ever made, it’s always the usual suspects: Birdemic: Shock and Terror, Troll 2, The Green Slime, Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf, Robot Monster, Astro-Zombies, Manos: The Hands of Fate and so on. Problem is, those films aren’t bad at all. They’re all riotously entertaining misfires that betray a lot of bad decision-making on the part of the filmmakers and lack much in the way of competence both in front and behind the camera; yet, they somehow manage to transcend their awfulness and become something quite wonderful.
I won’t go so far as to say “so bad, they’re good” because I despise that designation. If a film is entertaining, it’s good… period. It doesn’t need to be qualified with “so bad it’s…” And don’t get me started on Plan 9 from Outer Space. Ed Wood’s opus, the so-called worst movie ever made, is, in my estimation at least, one of the best. I defy anyone to watch that passion project with its myriad continuity errors, day-for-night confusion, nonsensical dialogue, sets constructed from common household items and acting so wooden it belongs in a lumberyard and not have a giddy grin from the first glorious frame to the last. Rule of thumb: If you quote a film ad nauseam, you’re not allowed to call it bad.
No, for a film to be described as the worst movie ever made, it has to be the absolute antithesis of entertaining. And I don’t mean boring either. It has to be a movie so wretched that viewing it is a truly excruciating experience. One that is so bottom-of-the-barrel dreadful that just the mere thought of seeing it yet again renders you curled up in a fetal position in the corner of your room, rocking back and forth while foaming at the mouth and grinning maniacally like Renfield in Tod Browning’s Dracula. And the only film that truly wields that awesome power is the beyond deplorable Things.
Directed by Andrew Jordan and co-written by Jordan and Barry J. Gillis, who also acts (if you could call it that) as hero Don, Things was shot in Scarborough, Ontario (a suburb just east of Toronto, population 625,698), and released in 1989. Things was Canada’s first ever shot-on-video regional horror made directly for the VHS market. A very inauspicious debut indeed as Things is nigh unwatchable.
So, you like bad movies, you say? Watch Things. You’ll be on the floor writhing in agony less than halfway through, pleading for mercy. Your hand will struggle for the remote, fruitlessly attempting to turn the damn thing off, and yet, for some strange reason, you won’t be able. Like slowing down to gawk at a horrific automobile accident, you’ll remain bizarrely compelled to continue watching as your brain slowly oozes out your ears and melts onto the sofa. This is a movie so bad it should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention.
Things is notable for being the mainstream (if you could call it that) film debut of porn star Amber Lynn, whose participation consists entirely of video footage haphazardly and incongruously cut into the film where she plays herself as a news anchor, awkwardly staring into space and reading cue cards while reporting on a number of inane news stories that have absolutely zero to do with the plot. Why is she there? Who the fuck knows? Maybe somebody thought the film just wasn’t weird and impenetrable enough and needed yet another level of absurdity. Things is also, though I could be wrong, the only film in the history of cinema where the filmmakers procured an actual “lady of the evening” off the street to provide the requisite nudity. The courtesan was willing to bare all on screen just so long as her identity was hidden by a dime-store plastic devil mask. Hey, everyone has standards.
To discuss the plot of Things is futile as the entire mess is one giant non sequitur. IMDb describes it thusly: “A husband whose fanatical desire but inability to father children drives him to force his wife to undergo a dangerous experiment. This results in hatching a non-human life form in his wife’s womb, and the birth of a multitude of THINGS.”
Such a facile description does not do the sheer inanity of Things any justice, so in the interest of elucidation, I will attempt to decipher Things’ narrative even though I believe unraveling the second law of thermodynamics would be a slightly less Herculean proposition.
Two idiots, Don and his friend Fred, go to Don’s brother Doug’s house. They can’t find Doug, so they proceed to raid the fridge for some beer. Inside the freezer (!), the impressively-mulleted Don finds a book written by Aleister Crowley and a tape recorder. This, like everything else that happens in the film, is the height of hilarity according to Don. (Dude laughs like a mentally-challenged hyena at everything!)
Don plays the tape, and while otherworldly sounds emanate from the speaker, he looks at a stupefied Fred (Fred always looks stupefied) and asks the immortal line “How’d that movie start? The one you’re always talking about. You know that weird one with all those weird things.” He then begins to feel a bit warm, so he takes off his jacket and inexplicably puts it into the freezer for storage! An angered Doug (he’s always angry) barges in and demands the tape be shut off.
Meanwhile, in some other room at some other place, perhaps at some other time as it has absolutely zilch to do with the plot, sadistic experiments are performed which involve lopping off appendages and pulling out tongues and eyeballs. This is all set to squishy sound effects which sound like they were made by someone’s mouth, and most likely were since much of the film’s dialogue was post-sync dubbed by director Jordan and rarely matches the actors’ mouth movements.
Back at the house, the trio spend an interminably long time doing absolutely nothing but sitting around, drinking beer, making cheese sandwiches, randomly farting and hurling insults at each other. Brilliant aspersions such as “Fred, Fred, Fredfrica…Can’t you do anything for yourself…next time you’re coming with me, you’re staying home.”
Soon, Doug’s rarely seen pregnant wife, Susan (because her imbecile husband would rather scream invectives at his visitors and put an insect in his brother’s sandwich then tend to his bed-ridden pregnant wife), screams and gives birth to a papier-mâché monster, which I can only surmise spawns as the house is soon lousy with bargain basement-looking skittering creatures. Susan dies, but no authorities or medical personnel are called because, as Don explains, the house is nine miles from the nearest town and they’re located deep in the woods and there are bears and rattlesnakes out there. (So now nobody can get to the house, but earlier Don and Fred were able to make the journey no problem? Fucking hell.)
Other shit (and I do mean shit) happens, like Fred inexplicably disappearing and Doug getting attacked by a Thing, prompting Don to bonk his brother in the head with a hammer, ostensibly killing him, but that’s what he gets “for being in the way.” Meanwhile, Don must contend with the Things, Doug randomly comes back to life and then disappears again, Fred suddenly reappears wielding a chainsaw, Don keeps hurling insults, Susan is found eaten to the bone, the doctor who artificially impregnated Susan shows up and accuses Don of murdering everybody, Amber Lynn keeps cutting in with her news reports, and it’s all one insanely deranged incomprehensible mess that looks like it was shot by a fourth grader. (Screw that. Fourth graders have more talent than these bozos.)
Things transcends the hackneyed “so bad it’s good” cliché to become “so bad it’s absolutely inconceivable that something this rotten was ever made.” The acting is so atrocious that it’s really some post-modern form of non-acting, and the score – various stock Casio keyboard melodies played on an endless loop – is maddening.
Of Things, Robin Bougie, publisher, writer and illustrator of the must-read underground film magazine Cinema Sewer, has written that it “is the worst movie ever made…[not bad] like the way Troma makes bad movies. I’m talking about bad with the best of intentions, like all of the best “bad” movies. You like tormenting yourself with hilariously trashy, moronic, gory, idiotic bad films?? Things is the fucking king of bad movies….Trust me, you have never seen anything like this in your life. It’s absolutely astonishing in how it is able to mentally wreck anyone who watches it.”
And wreck it does. I have seen Things at least a half dozen times now, so you’d think I’d be inured to its villainy by now. Not so. Each time I give the film a spin, I quickly develop a throbbing headache and a sense of disorientation so profound that it’s like taking the worst LSD trip imaginable. I loathe Things; yet, I masochistically revisit the film at least twice a year. What that says about me, I won’t even deign to speculate.
So the next time you really want to test your mettle as a horror fan, instead of popping in a nasty such as A Serbian Film, give Things a go instead. If you could watch it all the way through without ever hitting the fast-forward button or becoming well and truly insane yourself, you’ve joined a rarefied club which consists of all of maybe 12 members – those who’ve watched Things and have lived to tell the tale.
Just don’t say you weren’t warned.