Soft Matter (2020)

It’s the ‘80s all over again. It’s The USA Network’s Commander USA’s Groovie Movies and Night Flight (check out our “Drive-In Friday” tribute) all over again. It’s an ‘80s retro-dream of renting Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case one too many times. And, based on the theatrical one-sheet’s tagline: “Everyone is a science project,” this is Weird Science (1985)—if John Hughes was a fresh-out-of-film school teen, ready to take on Hollywood with a sci-fi/horror on-a-shoestring comedy.

It’s a 16 mm-to-35 mm blown up drive-in flick and SOV retro-joint threaded on one sprocket and I like it.

Soft Matter is a film that I “get” because of my enjoyment of Ed Hunt’s The Brain, Peter Jackson’s Braindead and Bad Taste, and Adam Rifkin’s The Dark Backward, along with Surf Nazis Must Die, Severed Ties, The Toxic Avenger, and, going a further back, The Undertaker and His Pals. I’d even toss in those ’80s Big Box VHS/SOV horrors (but Soft Matter has a clever humor element they don’t) of Boardinghouse (1982), Sledgehammer (1983), Truth or Dare (1986), 555 (1988), Spine (1986), Things (1989), and Gorgasm (1990); however, I mention these SOVs in the context of their Ed Woodian heart, passion, and tenacity: the production quality of Soft Matter is far superior.

Soft Matter is one of those “WTF did I just watch” type of films—like our recently reviewed Michael Reich greymatter-screwjob that is She’s Allergic to Cats. And to that end: you’ll enjoy the washed out, retro-‘80s video touches of this film’s opening titles sequence in relation to Reich’s similar retro-romp.

So, before you hit the big red streaming button: If you’re not familiar with those movies, you may want to peruse those reviews, and maybe watch their respective trailers, to get yourself up to speed to enjoy Connecticut screenwriter/director Jim Hickcox’s feature film debut (he has six shorts under his belt, along with production credits on thirty others; he knows what he’s doing behind the camera).

But seeing Hickcox was born in 1982—and knew not the joys of growing up during the burgeoning cable television and home video store universe—I’d have to say Hickcox’s O.D’d on one too many hours of my nieces and nephews’ Nickelodeon kid-coms, FOX KIDS airings of the Canadian horror anthology Goosebumps (based on the tween novels by R.L Stein), and Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim (now that I watched, along with MTV’s Liquid Television; if this was the ’90s, and Soft Matter was a short, it would be Liquid-programming).

And that brings us to this: A one-too-many-hits-on-the-bong world where Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water collides with Lloyd Kaufman’s The Toxic Avenger as two immortality-obsessed scientists (like in the WTF’er Re-Animator) DNA-splice incognito in an abandoned hospice. And the secret of life lies in the aquatic helixes of sea creatures—all with the goal of re-engineering man as an indestructible cephalopod (hey, isn’t that what the god complex’d nerds in Underwater did?).

Of course, all mad scientists need to be stopped. So, to that end, two plucky graffiti artists decide to create an art space in an abandoned building—the same building where Squid-Man and Lobster Boy are bubbling in petri dishes. Together, they help defeat the mad scientists and rescue an ancient sea goddess from her mop bucket prison.

If you’re in the mood for lots of hammy glob n’ goo n’ squish n’ slimy retro-‘80s, or ‘90s, fun—depending on your age and pop-culture references—then you’ll enjoy the horror/comedy mash-up that is Soft Matter.

It’s out now on DVD through Wide Eye Releasing. And at a brisk 70-minute runtime, Wilcox’s work is worth a what-the-hell watch with its homages to 1951’s The Thing from Another World and 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon. And besides: look what happened to Peter Jackson after his early works . . . so watch Jim Hickcox’s feature film debut now, so you can brag to your friends were “hep” to him, then.

Disclaimer: This movie was sent to us by its PR company and that has no bearing on our review. But based on the trailer and its wacked-out premise, we would have purchased our own copy of Soft Matter.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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