It Waits (2005): Out of the Woods

A decent albeit flawed monster movie with amazing lineage: Matty with the skinny on a long-gestating project that links everyone from the director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to the co-creator of The A-Team.

“They’re interested in me for the lead in a Stephen J. Cannell film in Vancouver — a horror picture. There’s a creature that lives in the wilderness and it’s terrorising the area. If I do it, I’ll play a senior forest ranger getting near retirement. In case it does happen, I’m growing a beard for it now.”

The Sadist’s (1963) Richard Alden there, in conversation with genre historian Tom Weaver c. 2004, and as later published in Weaver’s 2008 interview book, I Talked With a Zombie. Alden hadn’t appeared on screen since Lindsay Anderson’s 1989 TV movie Glory! Glory! but, for a moment in the early ‘00s, the Cannell-produced IT WAITS (2005) was poised to be his comeback. Alas, It Waits had already spent a fair whack of time in development hell — and Cannell wasn’t done noodling with it yet. 

Conceived by Richard Christian Matheson and his then writing partner Thomas E. Szollosi way back in the late ‘70, It Waits proved an appropriate name. Despite the script passing through such luminaries as Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg, it sat dormant for over twenty years before finally being given the green light by French producer Phillipe Martinez. One of six flicks that Martinez was planning to shoot here in the U.K., in Liverpool [1], It Waits was mounted as a $6million vehicle for Dolph Lundgren and was ready to start shooting on 14th July 2003 until issues surrounding locations put the kibosh on it. By October ‘03, the project had been placed on indefinite hold, with the granite-jawed Lundgren confirming he was no longer involved. 

Cue Stephen J. Cannell.

The co-creator of TV hits The Rockford Files, The A-Team, and 21 Jump Street had recently inked a deal with IDT Entertainment/Anchor Bay to produce five horror movies at a cost of $1.2million a piece, which IDT/Anchor Bay would distribute on DVD in the U.S. It Waits was saved from turnaround and became part of Cannell’s roster, which also included Demon Hunter (2005), The Garden (2006), The Tooth Fairy (2006), and Left in Darkness (2006). However, with Cannell’s rescue came change: he rewrote the script. The prolific goggle-box scribe’s adjustments were price-driven to begin with, due to the sizable budget cut. But as Cannell and director Steven R. Munroe (who’d been attached to It Waits since the Martinez version) continued to tinker, the role that Lundgren was marked to play and, then, Alden was completely overhauled, shifting from a grizzled forester to one substantially less so. It was switched from a burnt-out veteran named Mike to Danielle ‘Danny’ St. Clair — a twentysomething lass essayed in the final iteration of the film by Cabin Fever (2003) star Cerina Vincent. 

Now, in the finished It Waits Vincent isn’t bad. Neither is Dominic Zamprogna as her fellow ranger/boyfriend. There’s just a little disconnect. On a purely cosmetic level, they seem far too young and far too pretty. And conceptually, the massive chunk of ‘character-building stuff’ (read: trite melodrama) that occupies It Waits’ opening half hour is soapy, mawkish, and hoary in that thinks-it’s-more-profound-than-it-actually-is kind of way. Alcoholism and survivor’s guilt served 13 Reasons Why-style. Vincent and Zamprogna do an admirable job with the material they’re saddled with, but It Waits’ dramatic beats would have been more interesting and believable with maturer, more seasoned characters (i.e.. Alden). As is, there’s no grit, gristle or dirt — literally and figuratively (given the sylvan location and the claret that eventually gets splashed about, Vincent remains suspiciously clean throughout).

Thankfully, It Waits is worth persevering with. Post sluggish inaugural stretch, the last hour is solid monster movie fun. Sure, none of it rises above the routine, as evidenced by a wealth of effective yet familiar cattle-prod jolts that are all accompanied by an appropriately shrieking sound effect (within the space of five minutes you get: the ol’ cat-bolting-from-nowhere gag; a ‘blood-drenched dead body dropping from the ceiling’ spot; and a monster that appears in front of someone, vanishes for the reactive POV, and then springs up behind them again for the kill). But Monroe is a strong directorial hand and he utilises the film’s British Columbia scenery beautifully, amplifying the wet-slicked woodland’s natural eeriness by pumping the night sequences full of dry ice and shrouding the farthest reaches of the frame with thick, foreboding shadows. 

As noted, the gore is tasty. A severed bonce in a shed and a Cannibal Holocaust (1980)-esque sphincter skewering are genuine highlights. Best, though, are a couple of neat ideas that Munroe and Cannell posit — ideas transposed from Matheson and Szollosi’s original screenplay. The first is that the monster — which, per the Alien (1979) dictum, Munroe only allows us to snatch glimpses of for much of the film — isn’t a mindless, feral creature but a cunning and malevolent force that deliberately toys with Vincent. Munroe then tips It Waits into survival horror territory as Vincent leads a resourceful fight back against the beast from her twenty-foot high watchtower. The second is that the reason the monster is targeting and tormenting her is because it’s attracted to the grief she feels after the death of her friend in a drunk driving accident (Vincent was at the wheel). While clumsily info-dumped by Eric Schweig’s stranded indigenous teacher, Vincent sells the notion perfectly, her verisimilitude providing a great deal of depth and rendering the immediate impression you’re smacked with during It Waits’ extended preamble — that she’s been badly miscast — almost moot. In terms of her character’s profession, maybe. In terms of her arc, not a chance. 

And when said monster is presented in totality in the film’s last third, Munroe reveals it to be a nifty humanoid-thing, realised via a mix of excellent CGI and brilliant man-in-a-suit practicalities. Inspired by the Wakinyan of Native American folklore — a powerful sky spirit —  designed by Tony Gardener, and vividly brought to life by creature performer/stuntman/FX artist Matt Jordan (whose form extends to the eponymous Mansquito in Tibor Takács’ ace 2005 joint), visually, It Waits’ monster is drawn as much from genre history as it is Sioux mythology. In addition to Gardener paying homage to his own iconic Half-Corpse from The Return of the Living Dead (1985) (look at those skeletal faces), there are unmistakable hints of the Scorpio Demon from Split Second (1992) and The Creeper from Jeepers Creepers (2001) to it as well. It’s incredibly cool to behold — and there’s the added, smirk-inducing bonus of it wearing a Lux Interior wig, too.

[1] Of this slate, only Digital Reaper (2004) was made.

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