WARNING: This review contains scary images (and that's just the shirts).
Ok class, pay attention. This is a two paragraph intro to our Monsteur De Jour (it sounds good, go with it). Lumbering from the pages of Marvel Comics and straight to video is the hideous film form of the mighty Man Thing. Those pulpy pages related the sorry tale (oh, will you be sorry) of Ted Sallis, egghead recluse and Government brain pawn who is used by the military to make our fine fighting men and women into battlefield demi-gods. As usual in the Marvel Universe for anyone who is a fan, we discover that 99.9 per cent of super-powered beings all came about as a result of some lab coat trying to replicate the formula which created Captain America. They almost always fail. In fact, they fail so badly and with such uncontrollably bat-crap crazy results that the powers that be always have some other person try again later; like Ted Sallis, whose destiny our dime store movie immortalises (or is it fertilizes?)
Sallis is driven to inject himself with his experimental serum in a magical swamp and as a result is horribly mutated. Transformed into a very tall, very tough shambolic heap of almost mindless plant mass, his new life as the Man Thing involves protecting the swampy Nexus of All Realities from foes mystical and natural. But remember one thing: never show fear, for "all who know fear burn at the Man Thing's touch!" Seriously: as a barely sentient reactionary, the Man Thing will secrete a highly corrosive substance from his body as a reaction to the pheromones in your fear....and melt most, if not all, of you. Keep that in mind, kids. Next time you see a 9 foot swamp demon with red eyes and claws, just play it cool. He's more scared of you than you are of him. Class dismissed, see you in Movie Review down the hall.
Let's get the penis jokes out of the way at the beginning, shall we?
Now, this one could have been good. True, there's not much room for heart-wrenching dialogue and characterisation with a brain dead vegetable man, but there is a lot of room for pathos (and maybe another few Musketeers, too). The sheer humanity of a tale where a man has lost his own and merged with his natural surroundings is so rich with metaphor and allegorical potential that we could have seen the best trilogy since Beverly Hills Cop. The comic books humanely captured the Man Thing's tragic predicament with imaginative writing and haunting visuals. The production team for this movie certainly had the chops to match them: producers of X Men, Blade and Spider-Man were all on board. The problem was Man Thing was one of those characters who you only really knew about if you had your Captain Midnight Decoder Ring. Casual comic fans, meh, they might have heard of him (whilst confusing him with Swamp Thing) but your general member of the public? They sure as heck won't have heard of him. Now, if I were a movie producer, I'd see a golden opportunity to craft a character anew for a viewing audience with little to no awareness of the property. Few preconceptions and fewer expectations would spell almost unlimited creative freedom and artistic omnipotence! Do you hear? Ahahahahahahaha!
They screwed it up, of course. For producers with that kind of pedigree and one would think bank account, it must have been a sparse month on the cash front. Filmed mostly on land they probably didn't have to pay for because who the hell would ever want to shoot a movie on it and with a special effects budget that makes I Was A Teenage Werewolf look like Return Of The JedI, what we get is as much a tragic mess as our titular hero. The actors on the other hand do a solid job for the most part with the material. Let's get to it shall we? You're up front in the boat. Oh, and bring the weed killer.
Check that crap out. Can you even see a thing? I hate swamps! Wait, what was that noise?
Our show opens with some night shots of the misty emerald doom that is the Everglades. I don't know about you, but you wouldn't get me into a swamp for love or money. A swamp at night you couldn't get me into for chocolate money. I mean, aside from the reptiles, knife flicking gangs of hooch squirrels and general things which break the water with their spiny backs only to disappear hissing, it is compass hell in there. One wrong turn and you're lost for all time writing your memoirs on lily pads. Just when you think it can't get any creepier, a disembodied voice of the Old and Wise school starts telling us that there is a place called the Dark Water, where the Spirit of the Swamp lives. Evil industrialists have brought their feelthy Capitalist peeg dog ways to the area, which peeves off its guardian spirit no end. We then get a quick five second visual acid trip involving slime trails, animal carcasses, chemical barrels and the rising vengeful skeleton of the swamp spirit (we can call him Man Thing). Hey, we might be in for something not-too-bad here! Sure, it had the hackneyed tribal elder voice and the "all businesses are nasty" conceit, but hey.
See the chemical barrels, lightning, wind and reanimating spirit skulls? I hate swamps.
Wait, is that a bunch of hooched-up teenage kids on a hormone kick in a swamp at night? Gee, they seem to be having a good time. I sure hope nothing happens to them. Hey, that girl is breaking off for a passionate tryst amidst the vines! Ah, young love. Is it not always Venice in summer? They're going to wish it was, because Florida in June doesn't like tourists, no matter what Mickey Mouse tells you.
When you're hopped up on wowie sauce and eight miles high on pheromones,
the world is a rose garden: a rose garden that can corrode your nads off.
The modern, cynical generation are born knowing the tropes our ancestors had to learn the hard way. You never go into the woods at night. You never have sex if you're under 45 and you never, ever follow a potential mate into the forest/alleyway/abandoned farmhouse no matter HOW hot they are. Billy missed that memo.
I guess we shouldn't feel bad though: see that logo on his shirt? That's the bad guy industrialist's
logo, so whatever he gets he deserves.
Pursuing his lovely squeeze, Billy does show some sense in telling her to return to the fire as the swamp is dangerous. To the strains of "Tainted Love" which are about to become extremely relevant, she pays him no heed and bounces off like a peroxide gazelle into the murk. Despite his fears about the spooky goings on down in these parts, he follows right along. Can you think of one good reason why he'd do that?
I can think of two.
Poor Billy. This is probably his first shot with this girl, as he doesn't know she's this crazy. As happens to all souls who want to branch out and try new things, he finds the world all too ready with branches of its own to fry new dinks. Billy is yanked into the gore-spurting embrace of our heroic (trust me) Man Thing, who leaves his girl with a little something to remember him by, namely his left ventricle.
We segue to daylight and our human hero, whose appearance is refreshingly void of stereotypes. He is brooding his way upriver (or is it down?) with hopes of starting a new life. He is obviously a man with a troubled past and his Southern boatman companion doesn't bother him much with questions. This gentleman also avoids your typical Southern stereotype, only by calling our human lead "Boy" would you ever guess he was from there.
One of these guys is the hero. The other is from The South. I'll give you a moment.
Kyle (he was wearing the shades, did you guess right?) reports for duty as Bywater (because it's by the water) Sheriff. He meets his deputy, Frasier, who appears to love his job about as much as the rest of us. He is angry that a concerned parent is on the 'phone enquiring as to the whereabouts of her son. Frasier hangs up saying he doesn't know and shakes his head. Kyle says hi, scaring the deputy to death. Kyle, unfortunately, looks about ten years younger than his deputy, so can't quite provide the gravitas the part of a brooding hero requires. Frasier is disappointed too and tells Kyle he was expecting someone bigger. The reason: the last sheriff went insane. So that's why you expected someone bigger? Huh? We find the ex-sheriff's office is a shrine to the many missing persons of late as Frasier expounds the local belief that a deceased Indian Medicine Man, Ted Sallis, is supposed to have put a curse on the burgh. So Ted is no scientist here then it seems, at least not one with a certificate.
Oddly as Frasier continues to relate the tale, he suddenly seems darn emotional. Husky voiced and dewy eyed, he says how another boy vanished the previous night. Yeah, that would have been his mother on the 'phone, you douche. A call from the coroner summons the pair to examine Billy's corpse which has turned up after a night in the swamp's tender embrace.
Billy looks like a cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Night of the Living Dead. It's not a bad make-up job either from the crew. Thankfully, he stays dead as Frasier barfs and Kyle stares, stoically. Mr Schist, local industrialist, calls Kyle away to a disturbance at his plant, which is apparently not too uncommon.
While you're at it, bury that shirt.
Kyle and Frasier arrive to find a Schist worksite being disputed by locals. They're angry at Schist's schisty ways and, frankly, they're tired of his schist. Kyle tries the old "take the shades off to better communicate" approach and gets a kick in the balls for his trouble. He arrests the offender by throwing her over his shoulder. She's a feisty one too, caring little for her own record to serve a higher kind of law, namely the tribal and the natural.
This is Terry. She'll be your heroine for the evening. Note the fine line in nostril flaring.
Schist, on the other hand, doesn't give a schist about tribal or natural law. He paid for this land and he can do what he pleases with it. He tells Kyle the real troublemakers are the protesters, especially one Rene fella who lives out in the swamp. Schist and his henchman Jake remark how young Kyle looks to be a sheriff, so it isn't just me. Schist says that was the idea. Does this mean he had a hand in Kyle's appointment? The evil wheels of capitalism grind back into motion, but as they churn the earth, a ghostly growl can be heard from the land itself as it is sundered...
Left to right: Jake, Schist and Kyle. Note the schist eating smile.
Back at the hoosegow, Kyle is getting a lecture from Terry on how getting hauled in sets a good example for third-graders. She is passionate about the land on a personal and ancestral level. She also reveals that Ted Sallis was the tribal leader, who absconded with Schist's money to the tribe so his fellows didn't see a cent. Honestly, Man Thing's a frikkin' hero in the comics, I'm telling you.
Kyle decides to mosey on into town. Now, a town over-lorded by a man named Schist has enough stinky hints about it. Sadly, it's also situated in Merdeau County, which if you translate from the French comes out as "Sh*twater". You're not telling me the scriptwriters weren't high fiving each other on that one.
You think "Sh*twater" is bad? Try pronouncing the one under it slowly a few times.
The classic moment of the saloon doors opening and all the locals going quiet at the sight of the new guy actually happens here. Kyle shrugs it off though and orders a drink. It may also be the coolest diner/bar/local store in the world because it's selling voodoo dolls for $8. We again meet Terry and one Pete the Indian who freaks Kyle out with his wasteful habit of tipping sugar all over the counter. Then this guy shows up nose-breathing at Kyle's back:
This is Mike Ploog. Not the real Mike Ploog, just his celluloid namesake. The real Mike is one of the greatest artists ever to grace comics and an original contributor to the printed adventures of Man Thing. In respect to Mike, I'm going to call this wild-eyed barfly Senor Spielbergo.
Spielbergo offers to show Kyle some things, if he has the courage to believe. I don't know about the rest of you, but when a wild eyed man in a neckerchief manhandles me at a bar and offers to show me scary and unbelievable shit, I accept with no questions asked. Before Kyle can however, Wayne and Rodney Thibadeaux, two more charming locals, scare Spielbergo away and try to intimidate our sheriff. They fail. Pete the Indian, however, succeeds, gripping Kyle's arm as the lights flicker and telling him that "no man can stand against it alone...there's something out there, waiting..." Spielbergo lurks some more, then we change scene. I bet you ten bucks Kyle orders out next time.
I was going to insert a wry caption for this picture, but Kyle's face says it all.
Very briefly, we see Sarah, the nimble young thing from our opening sequence, now wheelchair bound in a local hospital and brain dead with shock. She's been half way to outer space since Billy got a backwater tracheotomy right in front of her, but just as Kyle turns to leave she leaps onto his back screaming like a banshee. Another quick cut seemingly through the eyes of the Man Thing brings us equally briefly to Pete, who is lost in the power of an unnamed rite which seems to be drawing the Man Thing's attention. Yet another cut and we are back at the Schist hole.
Schist says he's had some serious property damage carried out last night. He presumes that Pete and Rene (mentioned earlier) who are behind the attack, not to mention Ted Sallis being thrown up again as yet another town-skipping-money-stealing varmint. Kyle isn't swayed however and decides to wait for some real evidence. On that note, he decides to check out the swamp, alone, In a hostile natural and social environment. An eerie shadow flits past his car, and carries right on flitting until it finds its way to the Schist plant. Jake presumes it's Rene up to his old Commie tricks again, so aims to enrich his diet with a lead salad.
Guns and guts keep us safe from the Hippie!
Jake empties a gazillion rounds into the under growth to no avail then takes off after the shadow. Kyle, on the other hand, is doing a Resident Evil Hard Mode and saving his ammo, despite hyperventilating at midnight in a swamp with no back up. You've got to admire his balls. The shadowy figure reveals itself in dramatic fashion to be none other than Rene LaRoque, trouble maker, mystical type and three time winner of the Bywater Yul Brynner Lookalike Competition.
Tell me I'm wrong.
Rene tells Kyle to go home or die then vanishes into thin air. Schist side, an innocent security guard is cowering in fear inside a work hut. This gent looks like the kind of guy Ridley Scott would have killed messily circa 1979, and this movie's director doesn't feel much different. The guard (who is playing Resident Evil on "Easy") empties both barrels through the door before being yanked explosively outside by an unseen force. Game over. Kyle makes it back to his jeep, visibly shaken; him, not the jeep. He guns it and is about to head home for a nice night's nightmares when his windshield wipers get a real challenge.
Quiz Time! Do you think this is Frasier, or the old sheriff? Oh and ARRRRRGHHHHHHHHHH!
Over at the coroner, we find out the cadaver is Jim, the old sheriff. Did you get it right? Predictably, Ol' Man Alligator has nummed on Jim pretty good, so the coroner, in a thorough 5 second autopsy, writes it off as a reptile attack. The 'phone rings as it seems to always do when Kyle is with the coroner, resulting in a visit to a Schist work site, which is the usual result of said 'phone call. This time however, our heroic coroner gets to go on a field trip to the site.
A man is dead. A community mourns. On the upside, the coroner changed that freaking shirt.
It's sunrise before Kyle and Coroner Dude get to the site, which is odd. Anyway, Frasier is there and looks like he just saw my last utility bill. The actual reason is that last night's security guard has been found in a condition not much better than the old sheriff. Kyle is lost for answers, so is Coroner Dude. There follows a line which cracked me up and I don't know if it was meant to be darkly humorous, but faced with a nightmarishly mutilated corpse and enough plasma to fuel the USS Voyager, the coroner lights one up and Kyle asks him if it's really necessary to smoke.
Like a Marlboro would make this crap any worse.
Schist shows up and looks genuinely distraught at the death of his employee. Maybe he isn't really such a bad guy, after all. The Thibadeaux brothers from earlier, well they seem to be real nasty, as a quick exchange between them and Kyle proves out at their shack. Kyle doesn't want them taking the law into their own hands and trying to skin Yul Brynner. Briefly we once more cut to Pete who is incanting on his back porch in front of a very serious looking shrine. It's still a mystery to we the viewers what he is doing, but he sure as shoot knows.
Night descends and Kyle and Frasier boat off into the primordial darkness of the deep swamp. The Thibadeaux twins are down there too enjoying a late night campfire supper. Thin Thibadeaux steps out for a poop in the vines but slips and falls in it. Yeah...that's what I thought, too. He returns to Chunky Thibadeaux and they boat off. Kyle and Frasier are going to have to visit Ploog (Senor Spielbergo) but Frasier turns chicken shit straight out of the gate. I personally don't blame the man because right round the corner, Chunky Thibadeaux is getting this kind of treatment courtesy of our barely glimpsed Man Thing.
Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow.
Kyle leaves Frasier at the locked Spielbergo abode and takes off solo again. Thin Thibadeaux is still looking for his brother. He finds him. Want to see?
I'd like to take this opportunity to once again inform you that I hate swamps.
Thin Thibadeaux then meets a sudden and violent end as branchy appendages pull him into the water. Deputy Frasier ventures deeper into the swamp as Kyle once again meets Yul Brynner, who strings him up by the feet and tells him that Ted Sallis was no money-stealing town leaver. The land was actually sold by Yul himself to earn money for the tribe. The spirit of the Dark Water is angry and will not rest until the theft of its oil is ended. Enter a relieved Frasier, who is then hoisted into the air and dismembered by a still infuriatingly out of focus Man Thing. Spielbergo appears and takes Kyle back to his shack to show him the previously offered amazing stuff. Like all monster hunters, Spielbergo's photos are, shall we say, ambiguous.
It's right there, man! It's the Man Thing, man!
Kyle visits Terry at her school and asks for a visit with Pete. Pete informs him that Ted Sallis was the tribal elder and few who knew him believe the tales of his thievery. Pete speaks of the magic swamp and the guardian spirit of the Dark Water who seeks a blood-for-blood revenge. So who died to make Man Thing go ape crap? Was Ted murdered? Will someone hurry up and tell me? The Man Thing is going to kill everybody apparently. Kyle and Terry kiss passionately, Schist shows with Jake (who we find out is Schist's son) to threaten Kyle before the two Schists throw their heads back and cackle with evil laughter.
By this time, Kyle's had enough. He decides to pack some heat and solve things the two-barrelled way as Terry warns him about the swamp. I wish she'd warned Pete, who wanders waist deep into the Dark Water with predictably chiropractic results. But at long last we see our title star!
There he is! Can you see him? What do you mean "no"?! Don't look at me like I'm crazy!
Schist and Jake are running around the swamp packing heat and looking for Yul Brynner who's also lurking about. The coroner calls Terry to tell her that the horribly mutilated, leech covered, dismembered and alligator chewed former sheriff actually died of kind-of natural causes (geez, that is the deadest guy I have ever heard of) and was shot in the back. Why? By whom? It's never revealed. Meanwhile, the fearless Spielbergo hunts the Man Thing as Kyle does the same, but with a lot more sense and dramatic hyperventilation.
Papa Schist, trigger happy and strung out like a violin convention, opens fire at a sound and plugs Ploog. Scratch Senor Spielbergo. In a cool bit, Jake creeps through the swamp only to have Yul Brynner reach out from under the murky waters, grab his gun and perform some amateur dental work on the Schist son. Scratch Jake.
The pitiful, perforated plight of a pepper-plugged Ploog. He liked swamps. Look where it got him.
Schist finally comes face to face with Yul. Schist admits to killing Ted Sallis and burying him under the oil rig (thus extremely tenuously linking Sallis and the Man Thing who rose from a skeleton near the rig), then caps Brynner and wings Kyle who shows up with Terry. He utters the immortal line, "Yew shooda kept yaw Yankeh nose outta dis, boy!" before Man Thing finally performs his first quasi-heroic act in the entire flick. He pokes five ferny fingers through Schist, five others into a barrel of toxic ooze then proceeds to channel the ick into Schist's body.
Yew shooda kept yaw Schisty nose outta dis, boy!
As the Man Thing turns to menace Terry and Kyle, Brynner pops out from under the swamp poop and blows himself, the rig and Man Thing to kingdom come as our hero and heroine flee. Only, Man Thing doesn't die. He survives for 5 seconds, sees Schist's evil work reversed then dies. R.I.P. Ted Sallis, you were a fine Elder and an even finer flora-based otherworldly indiscriminate killing machine.
So, there you have it. A moral tale about the dangers of environmentally exploitative Capitalism, a down-home yarn about traditional Southern community values and the greenest tinged movie you will ever see in your life. You can't say fairer than that. Now, it only remains to tuck you all into bed, leave you some milk and cookies and recommend that if you're ever down Merdeau way and hear an unearthly growl, a human scream and see lots of wind and lightning? Check the underbrush, look amongst the trees and behind every vine...there just might be a Man Thing in your swamp.
Written in August 2012 by The Mighty Royce and used with his permission. No refunds.