‘Digging up the Marrow’ (2014) Review

“When we do find monsters and when these things come up from the ground or ascend upon us… I just want to be there to be like… I told you so.”

I’m technically on vacation this week (which is why there was no Monster Sketch Monday. Here’s an older review for this week’s Fear Flashback, and I’ll be back on the stick for next week!

I’ve been wanting to watch Digging up the Marrow for a couple of years, but felt like I might enjoy it more if I’d actually seen a few Adam Green films first. So I rented all three Hatchet movies earlier this year. I ended up liking them more than I expected, in part because they got funnier and more self-referential as they went along. Not high art, but obviously made by someone with a love for the genre and a willingness to not take themselves too seriously.

And then I promptly forgot to watch Digging Up the Marrow. When I was casting about for a theme this weekend I saw that this was also available on Shudder and ham-fistedly mashed it up with Boggy Creek for the double bill, though this is more a mockumentary (a docudramedy?) than Boggy Creek.

The Medium
Digging up the Marrow is streaming for subs on Hulu and Shudder – and in WAY better quality than Boggy Creek. I hate you so much, Cheezy Flicks. It can also be seen with ads on Tubi and The Roku Channel, as well as rented/purchased on the usual outlets.

A Blu-ray release is also available, and I keep thinking I should pick it up if only for the commentary track, which features artist Alex Pardee and Ray Wise in addition to Green.

The Movie
Filmmaker Adam Greene is making a documentary about monsters. The director of the Hatchet series and creator of the TV series Holliston really, REALLY likes monsters, as do most of his friends and the people he interviews in the opening (including GWAR’s Oderus Urungus). He then reveals that among all the endless parade of items (interesting and otherwise) that he receives from fans he’s also gotten an impressive package of material from a retired police detective, William Dekker, that claims monsters are real. Green decides to make Dekker the focus of his documentary.

Then he goes to meet Dekker and it’s Ray Wise! And I’m both happy and disappointed. Disappointed, because the whole point of making a ‘documentary- in which the ‘actors’ are playing themselves is to make it seem realistic. If you know they’re real people then everything that happens to them on screen has an added level of verisimilitude – it’s easier to suspend your disbelief when weirdness starts up. Then you see an actor – a well known actor – and he’s NOT playing Ray Wise, actor. That balloon of suspension deflates a bit.

But I’m also happy, because Ray Wise! He’s so much better than this movie deserves. He’s not just phoning it in or hamming it up for a genre film, either. I think I’ve seen him play so many over-the-top roles, characters with ticks and exaggerated facial expressions that I’d forgotten how good an actor he really is. This is a really solid performance – good enough to actually pull me out of the film and think “damn, he’s really good” during his first scene.

Green comes off as a bit of a dick through the process of making the documentary. He’s pushy and snarky and a little too concerned with how he comes off on camera. It’s probably a calculated persona – an exaggerated version of his real personality – but as he’s our primary character, the audience surrogate, it gets a little tiresome watching him do the “are you with me?” shtick at the camera or his cameraman. I’m way more invested in Dekker and his story about The Marrow, a place underground where real monsters – castoffs from society – live.

There’s a bit of Cliver Barker’s Nightbreed in this – the idea of a society of monsters living apart from the mass of humanity. That the entrance to The Marrow is also found in or near graveyards reinforces this somewhat. The creature designs – based on paintings by Alex Pardee (well worth a Google search if you’re interested in macabre art with a whimsical twist) – are all pretty good and the effects are primarily practical, which I appreciate immensely. I do wish Green didn’t spend so much time talking about how good they are and how it’s impossible to do them as practical effects – because it makes you look at the monsters harder when they do appear and… well, yeah, they look like practical effects.

Dekker takes them on nighttime trips to an entrance to The Marrow, but he’s very cautious in what he allows Green and his cameraman to see. There IS something going on, but it’s all vague and dark and inconclusive. Even a surprise reveal of one of the monsters doesn’t convince Green’s family and friends – including an incredulous Kane Hodder – of the reality of the situation. That Dekker’s background doesn’t hold up to scrutiny and that he’s constantly lying to Green about details (like how many people he’s approached with his story) and even Green himself – despite desperately wanting to believe – begins to doubt.

And there IS something weird going on with Dekker. There’s a chained and padlocked room in his house. There’s the way he avoids talking about the artist who has drawn portraits of the various creatures. And there’s what he does at night in the graveyard when Green isn’t with him.

All of this is quite fun and there are some really good moments – the monsters are cool, Ray Wise is awesome and funny (the names he gives the creatures and the seriousness with which he does so is a hoot) and Green manages to put together a decent narrative, even if it drags a little in the middle. I feel like the idea might be a bit better than the film is capable of delivering on, but there’s still plenty to enjoy.

I also think they missed another story possibility here. While the one that’s told is interesting enough, I could easily see them focusing on the (excellent) artwork a bit more. Switch the center of attention a bit and you’ve got an updated version of “Pickman’s Model.”

The Bottom Line
I liked Digging Up the Marrow a little more than I think I probably should have. That might be down to watching it so soon after The Legend of Boggy Creek. Even a McDonalds burger tastes like filet minion after you’ve eaten a dodgy sausage.

Author: Bob Cram

Would like to be mysterious but is instead, at best, slightly ambiguous.