Film Review: Digging Up the Marrow

A meta-variation on Clive Barker's 'Nightbreed,' 'Digging Up the Marrow' tackles all the same questions–what makes a monster, are they good or bad, et al.—with considerably less grace and intelligence.
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Fresh-faced horror director Adam Green, whose credits include Hatchet (2006), impressively squirm-inducing survival thriller Frozen (2010) and the TV series “Holliston,” plays himself (more or less, probably more) in Digging Up the Marrow, about a kid who grew up but never grew out of loving monster movies. And as the movie's opening, shot at Comic-Con, demonstrates, he's not alone: The place is full of perfectly respectable adults willing to say surprisingly revealing things about why they're still devoted to the stuff that entertained them as kids, the best of the bunch being actor Tony Todd, a very large and imposing fellow even if you don't know him as the star of Candyman, who says that as a lonely only child he thought of monsters as his friends.

The story proper gets going when Adam is contacted by a retired California police detective named William Dekker (Ray Wise), who claims that he's spent years observing a colony of monsters–he believes they're deformed children who ran away from a world that was cruel to them–who live in an underground city, like Clive Barker's Midian, located in a desolate corner of public park land near a cemetery. He even has a bunch of drawings he's commissioned that he swears are accurate depictions of the strange creatures he’s seen (done by artist Alex Pardee, a specialist in macabre imagery, though they look uncannily like Barker's own monster drawings).

The fictional Green sees a win-win documentary subject: Either Dekker is a fascinatingly deluded super-fan who's constructed a complex alternate-world monster mythology to compensate for the deficiencies of his own sadly ordinary life, or he's found a nest of actual monsters living on the fringes of ordinary society. Green would rather it be the latter–it's cooler–so he's delighted the first time they capture a few seconds of something pretty monstrous-looking out in the woods. The trouble–and surely he, of all people, could have seen this coming–is that no one believes him. "Who does your creature work?" asks his pal Tom Holland (real-life director of Child's Play), totally impressed in exactly the wrong way.

If it's not already abundantly clear, Digging Up the Marrow is a movie chiefly for diehard fans, steeped in horror lore and suffused with a love for the genre in a way that feels sweetly nostalgic, given that these days horror (like comic books) is big business, not a vaguely disreputable corner of the universe pandering to lonely misfits with too much imagination, too few social skills and a sad lack of sensible ambition. You know who you are.

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