Thursday , May 23 2024
Sci-Fi Channel's Direct-to-Cable showing of a Marvel Comics monster tale. . .


Can’t say I wasn’t warned – advanced word on the direct-to-Sci-Fi-Channel comics adaptation was pretty harsh – but I’ve long had a soft spot for the original Marvel Man-Thing comics, so in spite of all the warnings, I had to watch the flick’s cable premiere. Kind of like those dumb movie heroines who go into the swamp even though they’ve been repeatedly warned not to, I just don’t know what’s good for me. . .
What I viewed was a fairly standard low-rent horror flick. Even opened with the drive-in movie staple: the horny teenaged couple who venture out into the swamp, only to have the title creature pop up on them in mid-embrace. We don’t get to see the creature yet, of course, only a large-busted actress assaying the kind of palsied scream that Brian DePalma ridiculed in Blow Out. The beast doesn’t put in a full body appearance until the movie’s final showdown – at which point it becomes at least twice as large as the shadowy figures that’ve been quickly dashing in the movie fore- and backgrounds.
The movie’s primary plot (credited to Hans Rodinioff) is about a string of disappearances and killings that occur in the swamp alongside the southern small town of Bywater. Doesn’t take long for new sheriff, Kyle Williams (Matthew Le Nevez), to realize the killings are connected to the Schist Petroleum oil rigs that’ve been erected in the swampland – most specifically the solitary untended job that’s in the deepest, darkest center of the swamp. Owner F.A. Schist (Jack Thompson) is the kind of unrepentant bad guy capitalist who doesn’t feel the least bit self-conscious about cackling villainously in the cab of his truck as he imagines dire things happening to that damned nosy sheriff. All his underlings are broad old-style Southern racists (“You can’t trust ’em,” one proudly proclaims, “Indians and Coloreds alike!”), while his crew-cutted foreman son is such a dimwit, he thinks nothing of firing off a semi-automatic rifle at a figure running near the oil rigs. Within this realm of B-pic stereotypes are two walking victims named after two of the original comic’s creators, Steve Gerber & Mike Ploog. I bet they’re quietly proud.
Fighting Schist is a loose affiliation of environmentalists and Seminoles who are just as likely to fall to the movie’s monster as the swamp’s despoilers. Though the creature is alleged to be the area’s “guardian,” it’s fairly indiscriminate in its selection of victims. Where the old Marvel Comic established the Man-Thing as the agent of others’ fate (“Whoever knows fear, will burn at the Man-thing’s touch,” said fear nearly always being the consequence of a character’s guilt), the movie version is just your standard shamblin’ beast with red eyes and a lotta rooty tendrils waving all around it. He/it’s just as likely to tear an innocent deputy apart or shake a kindly tribal elder man to death as impale a thuggish Cajun with a root.

Director Brett Leonard delivers a couple of decent jolt scares that would’ve probably worked better on a big screen (most effectively in a hospital sequence where the big-busted teengirl instantly freaks out after Sheriff Kyle asks the nurse to “Tell me if anything changes”) and plenty of moody shots of the swampland spiked with sudden unexplained ripples and sped-up Sam Raimi-esque camera swoops. But he’s defeated by a budget that shouts Cheap! Studio! Setting! every time we see the creepy bayou. Our hero and heroine (a third grade teacher who’s called a “hippie bitch” during a confrontation with Schist’s hirelings, as in: “Why don’t you frig a tree, you hippie bitch?”) are on hand for the big confrontation between the Man-Thing and the Environmental Rapist – and, of course, the big rig gets blowed up unconvincingly. When we arrive at the end credits to learn who to blame for the entire shoddy enterprise, Sci-Fi has reduced ’em to microscopic size in the left-hand column and then sped it up so quickly that all the guilty parties are masked.
Sci-Fi probably did all concerned a favor – though thanx to Internet resources like IMDB, it’s none too difficult to identify the culprits. In the annals of horror moviedom, there’ve been plenty of weak movies built around monsters in a swamp setting (Alligator People, Legend of Boggy Creek, et al), but you’d have to look long and hard to find one as bad as Man-Thing. Even Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing, the 1982 kid’s flick version of DC’s competitor swamp denizen, had enough sense of exploitational basics to spice its nonsense with shots of a topless Adrienne Barbeau. Would that Man-Thing had a comparable level of anything-to-goose-the-audience-awake crassness. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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