Mr. Stitch

tn_mrstitchWell, not too many people got a chance to examine the evidence, but MR. STITCH was the first solid proof that Roger Avary could stand on his own without reminding anybody of his video store co-worker Quentin Tarantino. Two years after winning an Oscar for PULP FICTION he was directing a DTV movie. Of course around here we know there’s no shame in that, but I guess it was not the original plan, just what happened when him and Rutger Hauer couldn’t agree on anything, according to this old Entertainment Weekly article. Sounds like they really didn’t get along well at all. Could’ve been worse, I guess.

mp_mrstitchIt’s not an easy movie to get ahold of. I’ve seen pictures online of an ugly, Hauer-centric VHS cover – the DVD I rented was a region 0 Asian import with equally questionable art. So what’s the deal, is this movie terrible? The beginning had me worried, with opening credits worthy of a home made wedding video and some dicey low budget computer effects. But it turns out to be a clever and well-executed variation on Frankenstein, which is a famous story that I would recommend if you haven’t heard of it before. Look it up.

Most of the movie takes place in a white void, where clearly-untrustworthy scientist Dr. Wakeman (Hauer) teaches life lessons to a man-made human (Wil Wheaton, the main kid from STAND BY ME) covered from head to toe in weird white bandages with the texture of a shar pei. He speaks in a measured, intelligent tone and is very inquisitive. He isn’t allowed to read The Bible because the doctor says he’s not ready for fiction yet. He also has super strength, is followed around by a floating eyeball the size of a beach ball, and he seems to have memories from the body parts he’s made of. When they take his bandages off he’s a Leatherface type patchwork quilt with different races and skin tones spread throughout. The makeup is by Tom Savini (who also has a cameo) and it does a great job of being repulsive without any blood or guts.

The human jigsaw puzzle look makes no sense on a literal level. He even has a mix of different hair colors, and one of his fingers has a long, painted fingernail left over from the original owner. But it illustrates the clash of philosophies within the project. “The Outfit” funds him as a super soldier, but some of the scientists on the team are trying to do something more poetic, combining all races and genders into one perfect human. They gave him no genitals and balanced his parts between male and female so he wouldn’t have a gender, but he chooses to call himself a man, explaining that it makes people more comfortable to consider him one gender.

Even Wakeman must have interests beyond creating a killing machine, otherwise why would he teach him about books and music? But of course regardless of what they do or don’t want him to be, they can’t control it, and as the fox says, chaos reigns. As the creature learns more he becomes more curious, more rebellious, and makes more decisions about what he wants in life. He names himself Lazarus.

The story is mostly a series of conversations between Lazarus and Wakeman or Lazarus and the psychiatrist Dr. English (Nia Peeples of HALF PAST DEAD fame) as he begins to understand the world, piece together (get it? piece together?) his past lives and deaths, and question his situation. The minimalistic white sets are a smart way to keep the budget down, but don’t worry, the world of the movie expands eventually and there’s even some good action (although I question the skull-faced smoke plume after a car goes off a cliff. It’s like they tried to do show-offy 2000s type visuals on a $5 budget and a decade and a half too soon).

Alot of little touches go a long way to implying an interesting futuristic world. There’s the occasional weird biomechanical device full of Cronenbergian slime, the security guards drive dune buggies on and off road, American soldiers wear skeleton makeup like child soldiers in the Sierra Leone. In the building where Wakeman’s lab is housed ordinary people in suits and lab coats walk past identical, non-descript offices with doors matter-of-factly labelled with what goes onside, even if it’s “CHEMICAL WEAPONS.” Some viewers might find this laughable, but I think the mundane-ness is horrifying and all too believable.

The idea of Lazarus having flashbacks from his dead body parts is one of those sci-fi/horror things that clearly doesn’t make any sense but has been done to death anyway. But I like how it’s handled. It leads to some poignant scenes (I don’t use the word poignant that often, so please enjoy these two uses of it here) and some intense ones. There’s a great car crash scene shot from inside a rolling car. Pretty scary.

Hauer pretty much acts as you’d expect him to as a mad scientist. I didn’t notice any clues that there was trouble or that the movie was reworked around him getting kicked off. Ron Perlman also has a small role.

But the movie entirely depends on Wheaton’s performance, and I think he gets it just right. He sounds like a guy who doesn’t really know exactly what it’s like to be human, but in some ways is more thoughtful than somebody who does. So he’s both inhuman and humane, scary and sympathetic. He’s kind of a ticking time bomb because we know his strength and see his impatience with the way these doctors are treating him. But we definitely side with him. Get the fuck out of there if you can, Lazarus.

Nobody ever calls him Mr. Stitch, by the way. I’m glad, because that would be mean.

From what little I’ve been able to find about this movie it seems like its reputation is not good, but I gotta say I really enjoyed it. The article says it debuted on video and then played the Sci-Fi Channel. Compared to the movies that do that these days it’s CLOCKWORK ORANGE. I mean, nothing against Gatoroid, I’m sure he’s a nice guy. I’m just saying this has more smarts, style and entertainment value than the kind of thing they make now, in my opinion, although with less tendrils.

This entry was posted on Saturday, March 5th, 2011 at 1:46 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “Mr. Stitch”

  1. That was quick. Thanks a lot.
    Also that German VHS cover makes me chuckle, thanks to the tagline: “Roger Avary, Oscarwinner and writer of PULP FICTION, with his new Frankenstein.” I swear, this is exactly what it says and not a half assed, weird sounding translation of it!

  2. Seems like Tarantino should hook a buddy up and finance a wider distribution.

    Also, I read FRANKENSTEIN a few years ago in college, probably in my Honors English 313: Obscure Romantic Lit class, no big deal. You guys probably can’t find a copy now; it’s very rare, only for scholarly types. But if you do, you might discover for yourself that it’s the best novel ever written by a female.

  3. They mention it being a pilot for a TV show. Was it going to be something where every week we learn about a different body part and the story of said body part?

  4. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    March 5th, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Is this what sent Rutger Hauer into exile for so many years? I was very happy to see him pop up in Batman Begins and Sin City a few years back. Since then he seems to have wandered off again. I hope Hobo With A Shotgun brings him back in a big way.

  5. Sternshein, that is an interesting idea for a show. With the right person helming the project I would watch it.

  6. That would kind of make sense because they say he has over 80 people in him. He could be traveling around completing unfinished business for all of them. But if I understand correctly Avary denies it ever being a TV pilot. That would be weird if that was what him and Rutger disagreed about.

  7. {QUANTUM LEAP flashbacks}

  8. There’s a Rutger Hauer comebakula joke here somewhere.

  9. It sounds a bit like BODY PARTS, starring Jeff Fahey. I really liked that when I was 12, but it doesn’t hold up great. It has that confusing, messy editing you associate with films that have been tampered with by producers or needed a lower rating or maybe it’s just a not-so-good editor in the first place. Anyway, the guys arm is from a killer and so on…



  10. “a any”. My new sign off. That’s what I deserve for typing this on an iPhone.

  11. “{QUANTUM LEAP flashbacks}”
    Shoulda kept that one in your back pocket for a SOURCE CODE review.

  12. Today is Dean Stockwell’s 75th Birthday, so I think it was appropriate.

  13. CJ, we celebrate that a little more intensely here.

    Shall you join me in putting on some makeup and doing some Roy Orbison karaoke?

  14. BODY PARTS was a fun, nasty, unpretentious little action / horror movie (Eric Red!!) of the type that used to get zero attention in the mainstream press (i.e. Premiere and Entertainment Weekly) but had in-depth coverage in Cinefantastiqe and Fangoria, and could be trusted upon to reliably deliver thrills and chills and usually at least one or two genuinely memorable sequences. Absolutely nobody seems to make those kind of movies anymore. Maybe they go straight to DVD now, but I doubt it. The glory days of discovering a great genre movie that had B-Movie subject matter but A-List acting, writing, special effects, stuntwork, cinematography, ect, without the A-List hype was, I would suggest, from roughly 1984 and THE TERMINATOR to maybe 1993 or so. Not even ten years. Damn. Now almost any movie that gets wide-release distribution is hyped to the moon and often is of deeply sub-par quality. It ain’t fair.

    MR STITCH, meanwhile, sounds deeply pretentious and not much fun at all. I remember hearing about it, seeing stills, and then it just vanished off the radar. Now, reading this review, I’m not too surprised. They did it better on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, frankly.

    Avary is just–y’know, all the stuff about Butch and the gold watch and the psychos in the pawn shop, ect, in Pulp Fiction was originally from this original script Roger Avery wrote called CHAOS RISING. Which is universally described as not very good. Tarantino adapted that stuff into PULP FICTION and discarded the rest, but I think that petty much sums up Avary’s work, y’know? He may be a good writer of individual parts and peices but can’t assemble a really top-notch whole.

  15. CC, it’s funny you should mention not getting any press because Body Parts got huge amounts of press because it came out around the time they caught Jeffrey Dahmer and, I believe, they took the movie out of theaters because it was too close to the Dahmer story. Nevermind the fact that it shares no resemblance at all.

  16. Here is part of an article on that.

    “There is little doubt that Jeffrey Dahmer’s horrifying revelations sent the country, if not the world, reeling. Para­mount Pictures Corporation imme­diately pulled ads for their new horror movie, Body Parts, throughout the Mil­waukee area because of the pain and suffering the victims’ families were ex­periencing, and Wisconsin’s largest movie theater chain pulled the film completely from their schedule.

    “We pulled our TV ads out of sensi­tivity to the tragedy in Milwaukee, even though the storyline is not related at all to what happened,” said a spokesman for Paramount. The movie, based on the novel Choice Cuts, is the story of a criminal psychologist who loses an arm in an automobile accident but receives a new arm after undergoing an experi­mental procedure. The new arm was that of a murderer.

    “There is some concern, naturally, over the subject,” said an executive of the National Association of Theater Owners, who suggested that theater op­erators in Milwaukee feared a negative reaction from the public if the film opened there. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s really bad timing.”

  17. I really did like this movie. I’m going to go back and watch it.

  18. Well, I didn’t mean BODY PARTS specifically (although I’d forgotten about the strange coincidence with Dahmer); I just meant how those kind of medium-budget genre films weren’t talked about much on TV or in newspapers or big magazines prior to release. About two weeks before it’s release date suddenly trailers and commercials would start showing up, print ads would run in the papers, posters would appear in movie theaters, and people like me would start trying to find out as much about it as possible, usually via the aforementioned Cinefantastique / Fangoria / Starlog articles. There were exceptions (I remember BLUE STEEL getting some coverage because Jamie Lee Curtis was in it) but for the most part, those kind of movies felt like the alternative rock-type defiance of the big, star-powered, high-profile films that got all the publicity.

  19. The Sophisticated Panda

    March 6th, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Any NYC-based readers may remember those guys that sold printed screenplays outside of NYU. The scripts had day-glo covers with cheezy fonts/artwork. Most of them were classics, like Chinatown or Casablanca, but they sometimes sold new/unproduced scripts. Back then, I managed to purchase the Tarantino version of Natural Born Killers, a really early version of Face/Off, the James Cameron Spiderman and Avery’s Mr. Stitch. I hadn’t realized that Mr. Stitch was ever made into a film. I loved it on the page and thought it read like a nicely twisted stage play for the first 2/3rds. It was so divergent from regular screenwriting structure that it probably was a bad influence on me (or good influence on me, depending on how you look at it) after I read it. Now that there are a few popular sci fi-themed plays popping up in New York, perhaps Avery (or someone else with his help) could mount this as a play?

    The other “big-time” screenplay that I remember buying was “The Ticking Man”. It was noteworthy because it sold for some ungodly sum even though I thought it was really terrible. Any dtv/dtdvd productions of that floating around?

  20. “As the fox says, chaos reigns.” My new tagline!

    I’ll just add that Willem DaFoe would be a great Dr. Frankenstein, or the Monster. Or Dracula for that matter – oh, wait….

  21. Panda, there was a shop in Cambridge, MA, that sold screenplays too, and almost the exact same way! Brightly colored construction paper covers with pictures of the stars on them, ect. And some of the same titles, too; and a lot of unproduced scripts or scripts that were currently shooting, months before they were released. Wonder if both vendors were part of a national network or something.

  22. If THE TICKING MAN is about a guy who infects himself with a virus to take revenge on the world, it was made as a boring TV movie named DOOMSDAY MAN, something like 10 years ago. (Although I heard that Sam Raimi was almost directing it as theatrical feature, but then he landed his SPIDER-MAN gig.)

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