DVD Review: ‘Things’ and ‘The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer’
DVD is objectively "better" than VHS (and Blu-Ray is objectively "better" than DVD) but that doesn’t mean VHS is “bad.” In fact, there’s something kind of beautiful about the VHS aesthetic, and not just when viewed with nostalgia goggles. When that magnetic tape degrades it becomes a great equalizer, giving both timeless classics and utter crap the same kind of “found footage” quality that makes every single tape feel like a discovery… as if by watching the VHS you are in some way preserving a film forever in your memory while the actual physical copy of dissolves in front of your eyes. While most DVD and Blu-Ray companies pride themselves on cleaning up every single frame to produce the most pristine picture quality possible,Intervision seems dedicated to preserving the VHS aesthetic, giving their two new releases – theCanuxploitation horror “classic” Things and the haunting The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer – an uncanny feeling. Although only one of the movies is technically “good,” both are “Must Have” discs for horror and genre enthusiasts everywhere. Let’s take a look…
THINGS (dir. Andrew Jordan, 1989)
Things belongs on every list of “The Worst Movies Ever Made,” and I mean that as a compliment. Barely a minute into this god awful canuxploitation knock-off of The Evil Dead my girlfriend and I looked at each other and realized that this living through this experience would be as conducive to bonding as having a first child, and twice as painful. Things stars co-writer Barry J. Gillis, Doug Bunston and Bruce Roach as a bunch of guys who meet up at a tiny house in the woods. There, they… hang out in the kitchen. Eventually one of their wives dies while giving birth to… “things.” They look like potato bugs with sharp teeth and spend most of the film sitting on top of things. Well, other things. At one point one of the protagonists spontaneously gets sucked into another dimension off-screen, disappearing for the bulk of the film, but that seems like an afterthought.
Describing the experience of watching Things with mere words would be like constructing the scale model of the universe with Lincoln Logs. The medium is simply ill equipped. The confusing Super 8mm photography, the haphazard editing, and the post-production dialogue that sounds like every actor was nursing a hernia while during the recording session all contribute to an otherworldly feel that puts the VHS from The Ring to shame. Porn star Amber Lynn repeatedly interrupts the film for no particular reason from a work shed and gives the news of the day. A brief interlude pipes in from another film entirely showing people getting slaughtered for no reason that I can understand without the benefit of expensive drugs.
Occasionally there are vaguely comic references to movies like The Evil Dead, causing the brain to briefly question whether the film’s awfulness is an intentional creative decision, but the human brain just can’t handle such a paradox. “Somebody wanted Things to come out this way?” Heads would likely explode trying to figure that one out. Things is a hypnotically awful glimpse into an alternate dimension in which certain details are familiar enough to latch onto – that’s definitely a kitchen, for example – but where, on the whole, reality has folded in on itself to become an ugly pantomime of sanity and reason. There is no hope. There is no escape. There is only… Things.
Things is a “Must See” movie. Now, usually calling a movie a “Must See” indicates that it is good, but this time it describes only a life-altering experience which every individual must at some point undertake, for better or worse, not unlike losing one’s virginity… or dying. Intervision has included more special features than a movie like Things normally deserves, including an audio commentary with the filmmakers, interviews from the likes of Texas Chain Saw Massacre director Tobe Hooper and a 20th Anniversary Reunion with the cast and crew. I have not had the opportunity to watch these features due to time constraints, but I eagerly look forward to seeing the filmmakers’ attempts to explain themselves.
You must see Things.
CRAVE Online Review (Film): 1/10, or possibly 10/10
CRAVE Online Review (DVD): 8.5/10
THE SECRET LIFE: JEFFREY DAHMER (dir. David R. Bowen, 1993)
The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer is a genuine discovery. The film is a hypnotically straightforward look at the killing spree of American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer from 1978 to 1991. Jeffrey Dahmer murdered 17 people during that time period, and although I wasn’t counting I suspect we see every one of them on screen. But while the film is extremely violent and genuinely upsetting I never got the impression that director David R. Bowen and writer/star Carl Crew are going for cheap exploitation. Crew, as Dahmer, narrates the film with a cold, almost monotone expression of Dahmer’s inner thoughts which caters perfectly to Bowen’s matter-of-fact direction. This is what happened, delivered without flash or even much judgment. It may not be entirely accurate (the film admits as much in a pre-credit title card), but it feels genuine. And it’s truly compelling.
Carl Crew stars as Jeffrey Dahmer, looking for all the world here like an Aryan Javier Bardem. For years he’s fantasized about having total dominance over his relationships, which comes to a head after a sudden, passionate killing of a hitchhiker at his grandmother’s house. The horrific act swiftly becomes routine: Dahmer meets men, gay men mostly, and brings them back to his house with the promise of cash in exchange for nude photographs. Dahmer then murders them all in at first mundane, and later inventive ways, like an artist grown bored with traditional styles. While it would be overstating The Secret Life’s quality and artistic significance to equate it directly with the works of Terrence Malick, the film nevertheless glides along at an similarly peaceful pace, quietly off-setting the gruesome contents of each passing scene.
The acting ranges from perfectly decent to amateurish but that only cements The Secret Life’s snuff-film tone. Horror aficionados will probably find it reminiscent of Bob Clark’s similarly strange 1974 film Deranged, which told the story of serial killer Ed Gein in a mostly direct fashion as well. I was strangely caught up in the world that director David R. Bowen crafted here and was disappointed to discover that it was his only directorial effort. Like Things, I was unable to delve into the special features in time for review but eagerly await the opportunity to listen to Bowen and Carl Crew’s commentary track. That track is the DVD’s only special feature apart from some trailers, but combined with a strong, albeit still VHS-y transfer it makes for a fine presentation.
Whereas Things is a “Must See” due to its utter strangeness, The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer is a “Must See” for horror fans due to its mysterious quality. It’s not quite genius but undeniably confident. What it lacks in cinematic accomplishment it makes up for in narrative consistency, committing to its dark subject matter without ever shying away or giving in to exploitation. It’s a fascinating film and highly recommended.
CRAVE Online Rating (Film): 8/10
CRAVE Online Rating (DVD): 8/10