Sunday, 13 January 2013

Adventure into Fear: The Man-Thing Movie

A few months back (much as now actually), the lack of anything decent on TV had me trawling Amazon for cheap DVDs to watch, all dirt cheap and usually preowned. I still have a through to watch and most were just about worth the money but last night I finally watched Man-Thing.

It's got a horrendous reputation so the £1 or so I paid seemed a fair price for something that was bound to suck. Each time I went to my pile of DVDs, I'd look at Man-Thing and think "No, can't handle that tonight". Even the DVD cover has no credits whatsoever (though mentions Man-Thing was created by the same serum that created Captain America, which was never established in the movie!). With only a few choices left, I finally succumbed and put the DVD on.

Two points: I generally don't like swamp settings: they're wet and manky and reek of decay to me, representing death far more than the life-sustaining environs of DC's Swamp Thing mythos. I've also never really liked the Man-Thing: I think I've only ever read a few stories (plus a few guest appearances) and he strikes me as a catalyst for stories and not a true character himself: unable to communicate and not even sentient, it's hard to relate or empathise with something that just shows up, goes "Rah!" (metaphorically) and sods off again.

Set in the Florida swamps but shot in Australia, the film was produced without Marvel Studios' supervision and they vowed never to allow that to happen again as a result of the film. Originally intended for a Halloween release riding on the success of Marvel characters on the big screen, Marvel wisely pulled the film back and release it straight to DVD, coinciding with a premiere on the Sci Fi Channel.

Loosely based on a Steve Gerber story, the movie finds new sheriff Kyle Williams arriving in the swamp town of Bywater and investigating the growing list of missing people and the eco-warrior attacks on an industrial complex set up in the swamp. Local Native Americans say that the area called the Dark Water contains the Nexus of all realities and is protected by an ancient guardian.

Essentially a mystery (What's happening to the townsfolk? What's the Guardian? What's the mysterious killer?), the film starts out as I thought it would...opening with a pair of rutting teens getting slaughtered, one having the other's blood splattered all over her naked chest, seemed like a 70s exploitation throwback and unnecessary to the story but the location actually resembles Florida. The overuse of a green filter gets tiring and the lack of any deep characterisation makes the film feel like a typical SyFy/Horror Channel product but at about halfway through it's hour and a half running time, something switches.

There's a scene where a night guard is facing down the approaching Man-Thing and suddenly the tension ramps up. Soon the back plot is revealed, Ted Sallis is mentioned and we witness a pretty effective creation sequence for the man-Thing. Storylines come together, the Man-Thing gets increasing presence on screen and there's even a few Easter Eggs: I caught the character named Mike Ploog but missed Val Mayerik and Steve Gerber (no shouts for Man-Thing creators Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and Gray Morrow).

When we finally see Man-Thing, he's actually a fairly imposing creation though looks more like the movie Treebeard or the comics' Groot. He has the distinctive flashing red eyes, sort of a trunk (his face is a bit undefined, loose roots mainly) and large hands of the comics, looking better on screen than any still you will have seen, but they've  given him Dock Ock-like (or should that be Spidey-like now :) ?) branch tentacle things sprouting from his back.

So, it may only be a 2 star (out of 5) cheap movie but considering its a basic monster movie, it's not all bad and though I'd never choose to, I could probably sit through it again...and considering I'm waiting for the po-faced, overlong Dark Knight Rises to come way down in price before I pick up the DVD because it rounds out the trilogy but was pretty interminable (other than comedy Bane), that's saying something...


Tone said...

Still sounds a whole lot better than the Ghost Rider movies.

Nige Lowrey said...

Actually, I think it was...I quite liked the movie Ghost Rider as a design but the stories, especially the second, fell flat...