Sunday, September 15, 2013

Things (Andrew Jordan, 1989)

What might look like a ninety minute how-to-video on how to change a fuse, is actually an expertly made documentary detailing what life was really like in Scarborough, Ontario circa 1989. Just quick warning before I continue: This review is going to contain a number of references that only people from Scarborough, Ontario will be able to comprehend. If this bothers you any way, I recommend that you stop reading immediately. On the other hand, if you're curious about Scarborough, Ontario, hop aboard the next #86 bus leaving Kennedy Station, and prepare to be dazzled, amazed, and bored silly. Nowadays, you can drive around Scarborough for hours and not come across a single male individual who has a head of hair that falls past the nape of his neck. However, back in the late 1980s, you'd be picking them off like flies. Mullet profusion aside, I felt like I was staring directly into a mirror as I watched...Wait, scratch that. Let's do that over again. It was as if I was staring directly into a mirror as I experienced Things for the very first time the other night. Sure, I never once came across any mutant vagina ants with serrated knives for teeth during my many parlous hikes along the unforgiving nightmarescape that is Ellesmere and Morningside. But everything else in the film is eerily accurate. Now, do you have to have first-hand knowledge of Scarborough's "culture" to be able to understand and appreciate the off-kilter artistry that filmmakers Andrew Jordan and Barry J. Gillis are putting out there on a semi-regular basis in this film? Of course not. Yet, given that I have actively participated in some of the bizarre rituals seen throughout this stunning masterwork, I feel I have a distinct advantage over all the other sycophantic smart asses, Queen West hipsters, reformed goths, and the litany of non-practicing Satanists who happen to stumble upon this outre relic of cinematic importance.

Capturing the profound feeling of ennui that was prevalent all across Scarborough during this particular period/chunk of time, Things is best viewed as a satire on suburban angst. It's worst viewed as an action-packed, sci-fi horror thrill ride in the grand tradition of The Deadly Spawn or Creatures from the Abyss. And, I'll admit, I did initially view the film as the latter. Which is the biggest mistake one can make when attempting to experience Things for the very first time.

There's a scene near the middle of the film where two of the main characters can be seen meticulously exploring a bathroom with the aide of a flashlight. Why am I mentioning this particular scene, you ask? Well, it was at around this time that started to feel like I was melting. Yeah, you heard correctly: melting. Struggling to keep my organic structure from spilling all over the floor, I found myself in a constant state of cerebral discombobulation. In order to combat this made-up-sounding but all-to real condition, I devised this clever technique where I would periodically scratch that itchy slab of psoriatic skin located behind my right ear with a screwdriver. This not only prevented me from turning into giant puddle of maple syrup, but it also seemed to enhance the Things experience.

When it comes to experimental and transgressive cinema, names like, Stan Brakage, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jean Cocteau, Derek Jarman, Béla Tarr, Kenneth Anger, Paul Morrissey, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder immediately spring to mind. Well, you can add Andrew Jordan's name to that list, as he, along with Barry J. Gillis, have made the ultimate experimental/transgressive film. Of course, whether or not they were aware that they were making "the ultimate experimental/transgressive film" at the time is another question all-together. In fact, if it turns out they didn't know what they doing, you could argue that makes what they created even more unbelievable, as there's nothing worse than contrived weirdness.

The film opens with a woman doing her laundry in a devil mask. In other words, just another typical day in Scarborough, Ontario. Or is it? It's not the devil mask that's causing me to doubt the day's typicality, it's the fact Doug Drake (Doug Bunston) is asking the devil mask woman to have his baby. I'm always taken a back when I see children running around Scarborough. I mean, who in their right mind would want to raise their offspring in Scarborough?!? It doesn't make any sense. The same goes for whenever I see people exercising in Scarborough. I think to myself: Why are you trying to extend your life by exercising? You live in Scarborough! At any rate, the scene with Doug and the devil mask woman is just a dream. Waking from the dream, or, I should say, nightmare, just as the demon baby the devil mask woman was carrying lunges at him with its claws, Doug goes to the medicine cabinet to fetch his sick wife, Susan (Patricia Sadler), her pills.

As the opening credits were rolling, I swore I recognized the street they were filming on. Call me crazy, but it looked like Plug Hat Road, a small thoroughfare near the Pickering border that connects Meadowvale and Beare Rd. I used to ride my bike in that area, hence, the reason it looked familiar. Wait, you exercised in Scarborough?!? Ha! Ha! You're such a hypocrite. What can I say? I was young and stupid. Whatever. According to the opening credits, the Things theme was composed by Stryk-9.

The reason we were taking a scenic drive across Plug Hat Road was because we're driving along with Don Drake (Barry J. Gillis) and his buddy Fred Horton (Bruce Roach) as they make their way to Doug's cabin out in the wilds of Scarborough. Enjoy the memory of Plug Hat Road, because it's basically the last you're going to see of the outside world for quite some time. C'mon, man. You're scaring me. The film can't be longer than an hour. Oh, it can't, eh? Well, I got news for you, buddy. It's ninety minutes long. Just ninety, huh? Trust me, by the time Things is over, you will feel like you had just spent eight hours sitting in Doug's kitchen.

While I am exaggerating to a certain agree, the amount of time we spend in Doug's kitchen is nothing to scoff at. Seriously, the majority of the damage caused by Things is a direct result of the excessive amount of time we spend in Doug's kitchen. Now, I'll admit, I've spent a lot time in various kitchens all over the G.T.A., but there's something extra bleak about a kitchen that's located in Scarborough. It's almost as if time stands still in a Scarborough kitchen. If you know someone who has a kitchen in Scarborough, ask them to let you sit in it, I guarantee that you will want to shoot yourself in the head at around the two minute mark; which in Scarborough kitchen time is about six days.

Since God doesn't exist in Scarborough, the makers of Things have recast God as Amber Lynn, an omnipotent being with big hair who oversees the spiritual well-being of the suburb's residents with a motherly grace. Every once and awhile, Amber Lynn, who is wearing a blue dress with giant shoulders, will appear onscreen to inform the viewers of what is going on in the world. Though, you have to wonder, is Amber Lynn really the one who's running things, as she always seems to looking off to the side. Who is she looking at? Ginger Allen Lynn, perhaps? Either way, you have to admire a film that casts Amber Lynn as God. It's a bold move.

It's a good thing Amber Lynn's God is here to spruce Things up, as the time we spend in Doug's kitchen with Don and Fred is starting to take its toll on me. In-between finding a tape recorder in the freezer along with a sketchbook that contains quotes from Aleister Crowley and diagrams that are, according to Don, "sick," and tapping on a plastic mini-swordfish, Don and Fred are clearly just as bored as we are. In fact, Fred expresses this boredom at one point by declaring that: "This place is boring." You said it, Fred.

Meanwhile, over in Grizzly Flats, which, I guess, is supposed to be Ajax, Dr. Lucas (Jan W. Pachul) is performing grisly experiments on his human test subjects with the help of a female assistant. Unfortunately, this is the last we see of Dr. Lucas' female assistant, as it's time to go back to Doug's place. Nooooo!

Did you know that Doug's place gets the bestiality channel? And not only that, Doug doesn't even know where the stations come from. After watching "The Ground Hog's Day Massacre," throwing bottle caps at one another, eating cockroach sandwiches, playing with a drinking bird, watering down beer (this part made no sense whatsoever), and appreciating art (Doug has an original of Salvador Dali's "The Devil' Daughter"), Don, Fred, Doug (he was home after all), and the dog (let's call him Wendel), are confronted by an army of ant-like creatures.

Bursting out of his wife's vaginal region, the creatures cause Doug to lose some, if not all of his shit. Luckily, Don is there to regale us with a story he read in a sci-fi novel about a creature who ate every torso in a small Scottish town. Unamused by Don's feeble attempt to "ease the tension," Doug calls Don a dick. Anyway, just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, Fred is sucked into the third, fourth, and fifth dimension. Slowly but surely, Things starts to resemble a filmed nightmare. Bathed in a menacing red hue, Don and Doug spend the next five to ten minutes looking for Fred.

To the outsider, a lot of the antics the characters get up into this film might seem bizarre, or, in most cases, downright stupid. But as someone who has studied the Scarborough mindset for many years, the behaviour seen throughout this film is actually pretty accurate. However, I can't make the same excuse for Jan W. Pachul, as his performance as Dr. Lucas is some of the worst acting I have ever seen. Nonetheless, if you're genuinely interested in Scarborough from a sociological and anthropological point of view, you will definitely want to endure/experience Things, as it's the only truly authentic depiction of life in suburban Toronto ever to be captured on film.


  1. The spirit of the true Canadian everyman really shines through here.

    They get the bestiality network up here!

    The blood is dripping like maple syrup!

    I think Things would make for a great off off off off off off off broadway musical.

  2. What is that, like, seven "offs"? I guess that means Things: The Musical will be playing a theater in Staten Island or something. Nonetheless, I'm going to be first in line for tickets.

  3. Yo! How do I contact you privately? I have a formatting question. (I know, pretty thrilling prospect eh?)

    Nice article too, etc (you always write great articles, it almost seems redundant to say "good job" on every single one. BUT where is Babyface 2????)

  4. Formatting question?!? Warning: I'm not tech savvy at all. (click the fan mail icon in the top right corner)

    Thanks. As for Babyface 2. I remember coming across two versions. Apparently the VCA DVD was missing scenes that were on the Alpha France DVD and vice versa. This confused me. Anyway, I still plan on watching it someday.

  5. Yeah Plug hat road was in it. I wonder what high shool these guys went to.