Monday, September 8, 2008

The Damned Thing

I’ve been buying the Masters of Horror releases on DVD since they started putting them out, since I was gullible and believed them when they said there would be no season sets (Season 1 now available for peanuts). The series has been uneven in quality, but what isn’t? The latest release is The Damned Thing, based on a classic short story by Ambrose Bierce, adapted by Richard Christian Matheson, and directed by Tobe Hooper.

Before I get into it, I would like to raise one issue that bewilders me. The script of The Damned Thing bears almost no resemblance to the original story. There is a creature which sometimes appears to be invisible, but that’s it. So why not present it as a completely original work? I doubt very much if the name Ambrose Bierce is much of a draw (Richard Christian Matheson is probably almost as popular), and the story itself isn’t famous, at least not overly so. This happens a lot, where someone acquires the rights to a literary property, then discards everything except the name. If anyone can think of a reason for this, please let me know.

Anyway, the Matheson version of the story concerns a Sheriff in a small Texas town (Sean Patrick Flannery). As a boy, he watched his father go berserk, slaughter his mother, was chased and shot by his dad, then watched as his father was ripped to shreds by an invisible monster. Still bearing scars and a limp from the shotgun blast, he has grown up to be paranoid, although I would cut him some slack, considering. He is estranged from his wife and son as the result of this, and does a considerable amount of moping. He is bedeviled by the local newspaperman, who seems to devote himself to infuriating everyone in town. (As someone who grew up in a small town, I can tell you he wouldn’t last a month). The sheriff’s moping is disturbed when The Damned Thing returns. It drives everyone around into a homicidal frenzy. The funniest part was when all the sheriff’s neighbors show up heavily armed and angry. He locks them in the basement “for safety” with their weapons. Cue rattling gunfire, and a woman screaming “They’re all dead!” Hope you weren’t counting on their votes, sheriff.

It turns out The Damned Thing was freed from deep in the earth years ago by the sheriff’s father while drilling for oil. Instead of being grateful, TDT conducts a vendetta against the family of the man who freed it, showing up to kill them on their birthday (The Damned Thing has a well kept planner, no doubt). It is occasionally invisible as in the original story, but usually looks like a sentient oil slick. It is unclear as to whether it is supernatural in nature, or just an unknown phenomenon as in the original story.

I had high hopes for this. Almost anyone who reads horror has a lot of affection for Richard Christian Matheson, and Tobe Hooper has some impressive credits. But, to me, it was a mess. No explanation of The Damned Thing is ever given, nor are its actions explained. It had a couple of interesting moments, but that was it.

There were some bright spots. Ted Raimi is entertaining as always as the local priest, and if you are a gorehound, there are some pretty icky scenes. (Personally, I don’t have anything against gore, but want it to serve the story)

I would be remiss not to point out my Beautiful Wife enjoyed it. As she is a lot smarter than I, you might want to heed her opinion instead.

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