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A Look Back At The Man-Thing TV Movie (Yes, It Exists)

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Of the many praises that have been sung about Werewolf By Nighta great deal of them center around the relationship between Gael Garcia Bernal‘s titular lycanthrope and the massive pile of plants that is Man-Thing (Carey Jones/Jeffery Ford). Formerly a biochemist known as Ted Sallis, Man-Thing was transformed into his mossy alter ego due to an injection of an experimental compound and encountering magical forces within a swamp. Although Man-Thing has appeared in other Marvel television projects including episodes of The Super Hero Squad Show and Ultimate Spider-Manhis biggest claim to fame before Werewolf by Night was the TV film titled…Man-Thing.


The Troubled History of ‘Man-Thing’

Man-Thing sprung to life in 2005 due to a deal between Artisan Entertainment and Marvel, which sought to make film and television projects based on 15 characters from the House of Ideas’ stable. Among those projects, which included Thomas Jane‘s take on The Punisherhas Man-Thing project was on the table. It’s not hard to see why: even before the Marvel Cinematic Universe had sprung to fruition, Marvel heroes had found cinematic success in the form of Sam Raimi‘s Spiderman films and the first Blade movie. However, a wrinkle arrived when Lionsgate purchased Artisan, meaning most of the planned projects would never see the light of day.

Undaunted, director Brett Leonard continued to film in Australia, and a completed print of Man-Thing was ready by 2004. However, test screenings wound up scuttling the film’s release as they were apparently so bad the audience walked out before the film’s ending. In the end, Marvel decided to put it on the SyFy Channel (then known as the SciFi Channel) in 2005. Man-Thing would eventually receive a theatrical release in other countries – namely parts of Russia as well as the United Arab Emirates and Spain.

While discussing the film’s setbacks, the Make-Up Effects Group of Australia co-founder Nick Nicolau freely admitted that a large part of production issues stemmed from the attempt to mix a physical Man-Thing suit with digital effects. But the physical suit was only meant to be a stand-in, and wound up being a major part of the production due to a diminishing budget. “They were going to use our suit as just a stand-in for a CGI creature,” he said during an interview. “Every meeting we went in to they said, ‘we just need the shape and size, as the suit will be replaced.'”

RELATED: ‘Werewolf By Night’s Screenwriter on the Jack/Elsa Dynamic and Bringing Man-Thing Into the MCU

Part of that budget also included a music video from the band Azure, with the appropriate title “The Man-Thing Lives Again.” Once again, a depleted budget and the shift from a theatrical release led to Marvel pulling the plug. The studio also didn’t want advance footage of the film or its titular creature to leak before the film premiered on SciFi. However, one of AzUR’s members eventually cobbled together enough footage and put up his version of the music video on YouTube. While the video isn’t currently available, it apparently featured a dancing Man-Thing – which in and of itself is something I think the world definitely should see.

What Was the ‘Man-Thing’ Film About?

The film itself takes a horror-tinged approach to the Man-Thing, which in theory isn’t a bad idea. However, it’s the execution that winds up dooming the film. Kyle Williams (Matthew LaNevez) is tapped to become the sheriff of the sleepy town of Dark Waters, and to investigate a series of missing person cases that began with local shaman Ted Sallis. Williams and his Deputy Eric Fraser (Alex O’Laughlin) get swept up in a web of conspiracy and murder. Meanwhile, the Man-Thing continues to stalk and kill the residents of Dark Waters.

Perhaps the biggest problems with the film lies with the Man-Thing himself. Instead of a silent yet intelligent being, he is depicted as a cold-hearted killer – get in his way and you’ll pay the price. The changing of Ted Sallis from a scientist to a shaman opens up another can of worms, especially since Mark Conan Stevens, the actor who plays him, is not of Indigenous descent. But the biggest flaw comes from the kills. In the comics, the Man-Thing possesses an acidic touch that burns whoever fears him. In the Man-Thing movie, he just uses his branches to stab people to death and even fills a man’s body with oil. This more or less reduces him to a simple slasher, and takes away a great deal of the horror.

The Look of Man-Thing Could Have Used Some Work

The look of the Man-Thing is also lacking, due to the practical and digital effects never quite meshing. The Man-Thing does admittedly have a frightening look, as he sports a crown of branches atop his head as well as a more muscular look than the comics. But the digital effects result in a blurry look, taking the viewer out of the picture. While the effort to utilize both digital and physical effects is admirable, the film would have had much more impact if Man-Thing was a fully practical effect.

Ironically, Man-Thing features an actor who would go on to star in another Marvel project. Rachael Taylor stars as local schoolteacher Teri Richards. She strikes up a relationship with Williams, and even helps find threads that connect the rise of the Man-Thing to local crime lord Rene LaRoque (Steve Bastoni). Taylor and Williams’ report is one of the few good things about the film, and she would go on to play Trish Walker in Jessica Jones.

When all is said and done, the Man-Thing film remains a curious artifact in Marvel’s film history. It came at a time when superheroes were not quite the pillar of pop culture that they are today, and it had a lot of promise but could have worked on the execution. It also shows that nearly any character can get a second chance, as the Man-Thing in Werewolf by Night has now become a fan favourite. Not bad for a guy who only had a low-budget cable movie to his name at the time.

Man-Thing is currently available to stream on Tubi.