﹛﹛It＊s night time, and we＊re at a teenage party in the middle of the woods. A boy and a girl are making out, and soon enough she is luring him to the middle of the swamp. ※You heard the stories about this place!§, he yells. The boy is somewhat scared, but she pushes for it. It doesn＊t take long before she takes her top off, to which he calls out ※holy shit!§, and they＊re having sex in a strategically placed canoe in the middle of the swamp. Just as the poor guy finally gains his confidence, a hidden figure impales him and pulls his body into the dark. Blood splatters across her bare breasts as she screams. This would be common ground for your average slasher flick, but as the naked blood soaked girl yells in pure horror, the title screen of the film reveals to us that this is Man-Thing, the forgotten R-Rated Marvel slasher based on its comic book character.
﹛﹛※Holy shit,§ indeed.
﹛﹛Just as Man-Thing completes its 50th anniversary, we＊re going to celebrate by revisiting the 2005 movie of the same name, directed by Brett Leonard and known to very few. But first, let＊s take a look at what came before in the super-hero genre that tried (and failed, to some extent) to mix horror with comic-book characters.
﹛﹛Horror is not unfamiliar to comic book adaptations. Films like 30 Days of Night, The Crow, Constantine and Ichi the Killer come to mind when we think about horror comic book movies. But while based on comic books, most of them are designated from the outset as being adult horror tales, far from the super-hero world of Marvel and DC; and while anti-heroes such as John Constantine have their share of crossovers with the super-hero world, they＊re not super-heroic per se.?
﹛﹛Let＊s look at the ※big leagues§. A movie like Blade 每 a Marvel character that by definition had its roots in horror 每 worked as a horror film (and a good one at that), but was also an action film (a great one at that). Neveldine/Taylor＊s underrated Ghost Rider 每 Spirit of Vengeance tried to infuse the strange and bizarre possibilities of the character (he＊s almost a Jason Voorhees type figure in that movie), but the duo∩s vision was frequently hindered by producers fears of fully embracing the genre (and that＊s saying something, because Avi Arad is also the producer of Man-Thing). Spawn had some hardcore horror imagery but was restrained by its PG-13 rating. You could say that Fox＊s New Mutants was the most promising ※out there horror movie§. The teaser trailer itself didn＊t even look like a super-hero property. However, the movie itself didn＊t fulfill the promise, eventually surrendering itself to the clich谷d, CG-fueled third act superhero battle.
﹛﹛I＊ve saved Wes Craven＊s Swamp Thing for last because the character is DC＊s equivalent of Man-Thing. The most well known cousin, if you will. Both monsters and their origin stories are very similar, but plagiarism topics aside (that＊s a conversation for some other day), DC＊s creature movie was more of a horror-comedy, uncertain of what it wanted to be. The character also received a now defunct TV series in 2019, elevating the monster series by taking inspiration from Alan Moore＊s defining run. But even at that, it was more of a horror/drama, rooted in the serial format that allowed for the exploration of other genres.
﹛﹛Thus far, the one property of Marvel to get a full-blown horror movie that lived (and died, perhaps) by the genre＊s rules and tropes was the company＊s C-list character, Man-Thing.
﹛﹛Horror does come from the strangest places, indeed.
﹛﹛During Marvel Comics＊ bankruptcy in the late 90＊s, the company sold the rights to some of its properties at a bargain price. They were acquired by companies such as Fox, Sony and Universal. Man-Thing was under Artisan Entertainment, a company that was soon acquired by Lionsgate. After the success of movies like X-Men and Spider-Man, everybody wanted to have a crack at a superhero film, no matter which one.
﹛﹛Producer Avi Arad, known for his outdated interpretation of what a super-hero character can be on screen (Looking at you, Amazing Spider-Man films), was once among the most powerful in Hollywood, with huge influence on movies such as Sam Raimi＊s Spider-Man and Bryan Singer＊s X-Men. If in present times we can see how nuanced a super-hero movie can be, there＊s this old-fashioned approach to classic tropes these early movies have that, for better or worse, set them apart as charming gems of their time. And as much flak as he gets, Arad might have been onto something, because he saw in the many Marvel properties that were under his wing an opportunity to expand their characters into other genres. Enter Man-Thing.
﹛﹛With an initial budget of US $30 million (not bad for a horror movie), Man-Thing was shot in Australia. Brett Leonard (The Lawnmower Man, Virtuosity) was helming the film, written by Hans Rodionoff (The Hollow, Lost Boys: The Tribe). It had a troubled production process, with its budget burning unnaturally quick compared to the delivered filmed material. ※The one hiccup we had was the one project we didn＊t micromanage. We were not going to the Outback, there was so much going on. We will never do that again. We should never have trusted anybody that far away without our supervision§, Arad said at the time. After several walk-outs during the movie＊s test screening, there was no way they would risk themselves by releasing Man-Thing theatrically in the US. The film instead premiered on the Sci Fi Channel in 2005, grossing $1 million from its release in international theaters. And reviews were mostly negative.
﹛﹛Created in 1971 by writers Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Gerry Conway, and artist Gray Morrow, the character of Man-Thing first appeared in Savage Tales #1. Ted Sallis was a biochemist doctor working on a recreation of the super soldier serum, the same one that granted Captain America＊s powers. When technological terrorist group Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) tried to get ahold of their notes, Sallis destroyed the files, fled with the only sample of his formula, and injected it in himself. After his car crashed into the swamp, serum and swamp energies turned him into a creature that is one with the swamp＊s ecosystem, devoid of any intelligence and memory. With glowing red eyes, the creature responds only to negative emotions, its touch burning anyone who shows fear in its presence.
﹛﹛A character that was pulp in essence, with stories that treat him more like a supporting, ominous force that intervened in the main human characters＊ stories, often with some Tales From the Crypt-like moral ending, Man-Thing eventually found its roots (pun intended) in Steve Gerber＊s story arcs. Considered by many as the definitive stories of this character, Gerber turned the creature into a Shaman-like figure, adding magic elements to the mythology (the monster crossed paths with many sorcerers from the Marvel universe, including Doctor Strange). And the character became the guardian of the Nexus of All Realities, Marvel Comics＊ door to all the multiverses that, for some reason, was located in the swamps of Florida.
﹛﹛Now, while the movie surprisingly addresses the Nexus of All Realities?in ※blink-and-you-miss-it§ dialogue (something that made this Man-Thing fan very happy), it doesn＊t follow the originals too closely 每 and if it had to sacrifice the slasher parts for this, I think I＊m fine with what we got. After all, when would you see a Marvel movie that starts with that 80＊s slasher-type of scene I mentioned up above
﹛﹛In the first minutes of the movie, Peter Horn (Rawiri Paratene), an elderly shaman, explains via voiceover, a la one of those counselors telling stories by the campfire: ※it is here that the spirit of the swamp lives. This place was always filled with life and beauty, but evil men have changed that. With their drills, their pipes, greed and murder. Now the swamp cries out a warning. A time of retribution is here§. If this was a sequel, you bet you＊d have previous kills from Man-Thing intercut with this intro narration. Here, Ted Sallis was a Shaman and Seminole chieftain that disappeared in Dark Waters, a Native American sacred land (which also makes Man-Thing a kind of Native American folkloric monster movie). Like in the comics, the monster is more of a background character. We follow young sheriff Kyle Williams (Matthew Le Nevez) as he arrives in Bywater, a small town in Louisiana, and starts to investigate the rising number of missing people by the Dark Waters. As bodies pile along the way, he discovers the secrets behind the guardian spirit that inhabits the swamp.?
﹛﹛The tropes of these silver age super-hero movies 每 despite how outdated they might sound 每may have been exactly what made Man-Thing work. There is a reason for this: if horror can expand and become more poignant, its tropes seem much more of a filmic tradition (specially in slasher movies) than other genres. So if the early super-hero movie was compromised to the bone in following these tropes, Man-Thing does the same with the kind of movie it intends to be. As a slasher, the film knows that its secondary characters and their idiosyncrasies is what matters, despite how despicable or memorable they can be. Besides the couple in the beginning having sex, we have the outsider young sheriff (and his faint-hearted deputy played by Alex O＊Loughlin) in a small town that for some reason is really hostile towards him; the creepy rednecks (John Batchelor and Ian Bliss as the Thibadeaux Brothers); a crazy conspiracy theorist (Robert Mammone as photographer Mike Ploog, named as a tribute to Man-Thing＊s artist); the wise, cautionary elder; the corrupt corporate guy (Jack Thompson as Frederick Schist, filling in for the 80＊s evil yuppie trope); and, of course, the blue eyed blonde love interest (Rachael Taylor as Teri Elizabeth Richards). If only we had a pack of stoners.?
﹛﹛Man-Thing has the tropes, but noticeably it is not one of those throwback 80＊s slasher movies. There＊s an old fashioned feel to the production that reminds us of old monster movies. It takes itself seriously for the most part (there＊s some comic reliefs here and there, like when a character says ※it＊s the Man-Thing, man!§). There＊s also a lot of artificial fog, pulp-esque cheesy dialogue, and atmospheric shots of the swamp as our monster theme song plays. There＊s almost a na?ve quality to it, something that detracted from most of the extremeness of the horror films from the 2000＊s. This lack of self-consciousness ends up making Man-Thing more interesting than it should be, actually. That＊s not to say there＊s no feeling of camp in it, of course.
﹛﹛The movie screams ※low budget,§ but Brett Leonard gives his best with what he has, and even at that, the swamp sequences, shot on a tiny set, actually end up giving that old monster movie vibe that nails that claustrophobic feel just right. I wonder what a black and white version of this movie would look like. The film has this greenish look, either in its color grading or in costume designs and art direction, most noticeably in the morgue scenes. It＊s a swamp monster movie, after all, and it doesn＊t look so bland as it might sound. We end up seeing, probably because of the budget, more of the aftermath of the kills than the kills themselves, which eventually becomes kind of a bummer. But the movie makes up for it in the last 20 minutes, when the creature presents itself in all its practical effects glory (blended with CG), after glimpses of it throughout the film, and even delivers a creatively grotesque final kill that should make all horror fans happy.
﹛﹛Created by Makeup Effects Group Studio, the creature design and execution are actually pretty good, creating an imposing and menacing monster, close enough to the comics while being its own＃ thing. The same can be said for the corpses, which Leonard clearly is passionate about, really giving time for them to shine along with cinematographer Steve Arnold. There＊s a hilarious exact same reaction shot of a corpse that is used twice in the same scene, with two separate characters, just because the director probably thought it looked cool. And it did, indeed.?
﹛﹛Man-Thing is by no means a great movie. Its often frustrating pace and the lack of explicit kills might throw some people off, but I can＊t help but feel most of comic book fans＊ problems with the movie has to do with it being a simple slasher, which is what the movie always set out to be. If it sometimes does drag, it＊s hard not to admire the attempt of being an old fashioned monster movie among the ※torture porn§ fever of the period. It＊s one of those ※how did this get approved?§ kinds of films, joining the group of comic-book adaptations such as Roger Corman＊s Fantastic Four and other B-level eccentricities. It is an ※OK§ movie that can be pretty awesome sometimes. And it＊s hard to not find a weird satisfaction as the Marvel logo flips on the screen with a horror musical score. There＊s some perverse feeling of delight in seeing a poster from Man-Thing that says, ※From the producers of Spider-Man, Daredevil and X-Men§.
﹛﹛Really, it＊s the kind of comic book adaptation that we may never see again.?