The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993)

The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb

Directed and Written by Dave Borthwick

Run Time: 60 min

There are very few movies that I find haunting, even moving. The kind of movie that I just can’t get out of my head after seeing it. This is one of them. "The Secret Adventures of TomThumb" is a short, poignant, and disturbing film. It features both animated ‘creatures’ and live actors in the same scenes, creating an unnerving effect; a nightmarish mixture of reality and imagination, both inhabiting a dark, gloomy, insect-infested world. Insects abound in TSAOTT: every corner, every wall, every window crawls with chattering, scurrying spiders, flies, and beetles. It is truly a fascinating world of shadow, gloom, paranoia, and even beauty. A world where light is at a minimum, and decay reigns as the darkness closes in.

The story itself revolves around Tom, an immature "boy" only a few inches tall. (His deformity was caused by a bug being accidentally smashed into his vial of "fluids" at the insemination factory.) Tom’s parents love and care for him, but eventually lose him to the Gestapo like "collectors" who burst into his house one night and take him away to a mysterious lab populated by mutants and monsters of all description. After befriending a half-skeleton / half-mechanical creature, Tom escapes the factory and joins forces with another "tiny" man: Jack (the giant slayer). Tom and Jack return to the factory and enter its main power core which they destroy, thus annihilating the evil scientists and themselves.

Whew. That was the summary. Now let’s take a closer look:

The Secret Adventures of Tom ThumbWe open at the "Super-Seed Auto Insemination Plant", a horrible, automated conveyor belt with 2 rows of jars moving down the assembly line. One row of jars is ‘male’, the other row is ‘female’. A mechanical device squirts goo into the jars which then go further down the line where they are ‘zapped’ by an electrical spark. Viola. The miracle of life reduced to its nightmarish minimum.

A flying insect of some sort lands on a set of gears and is ground to a pulp. A bit of the insect, a head, a wing, some goo, who knows, drops into one of the jars, thus spawning the mutant Tom.

The Secret Adventures of Tom ThumbAt the Thumb apartment, a horrible looking rat-bat-spider thing crashes through the living room window. We see Papa sitting at a table while Mama lies in bed enduring labor pains. To kill the time, Papa is playing with a rat in a cage. Well, not just any type of cage: the rat is wearing purple high-heels and tied upside down by its feet.

Moths flutter against the window.

Flies crawl over the walls.

A spider emerges from behind a picture hanging on the wall which reads: "He careth for you."

Eventually the labor pains climax and then subside. Mama reaches her hand under the sheets only to remove them covered in blood. In her hand is the tiny figure of a baby. Papa takes the baby from the shocked Mama and washes it off in the bathroom sink.

A pair of chicken feet sticking out from under a wet rag in the corner.

Papa takes the tiny infant back into the bedroom and proudly shows him to Mama.

The Collector stands outside, staring up at the apartment. Hissing, shivering, as if smelling out the location of the mutant baby.

Papa Thumb puts on his jacket and leaves the house…The Collector tails him from a distance. In a dark alley outside a "Puppets and Toys" shop, a mangy dog ruts in a garbage can while a spider looks on. Papa Thumb digs through a garbage can, tossing aside bits and pieces of broken toys until he spots what he’s after: a set of tiny doll clothes for Tom.

The Secret Adventures of Tom ThumbThe Collector steps out from the shadows and hisses at Papa Thumb. Papa looks aside and scurries back to his apartment. As The Collector fades back into the shadows of the alley, a toy in the window of the shop begins laughing maniacally. It leans forward, taps on the filthy glass of the window and laughs again. (A scene which I found strangely disturbing.)

One night, Papa is showing Tom a card trick, Mama prepares dinner (cleaning flopping silver fish) and all is well. The clock strikes an hour (not the correct hour), and a knock is heard at the door. In bursts a pair of Collectors who scoop Tom up and toss him into a steel box.

Tom is taken to the "Laboratorium" where he is immediately rendered unconscious with a jolt of electricity. A bizarre experiment is carried out on him (Tom morphs and transforms into a series of horrible shapes and images). Eventually Tom is picked up with a pair of tongs, flung into a steel bedpan and thrown into a tiny cage.

The Secret Adventures of Tom ThumbLooking around, Tom notices another cage next to his. Through the grill of the door, a skeletal-wire arm reaches out and tries to open its cage. Unfortunately, an unseen figure (we only ever get to see a huge pair of rubber gloves) snatches Tom from his cage and carries him off for another round of horrible experiments.

A computer readout indicates that Tom’s mother’s status has been changed from "Mother" to "Terminal".

By the way, I use the word "nightmare" a lot in this review, but there is no other word that describes these scenes as well as that one does.

Back in his cage, Tom collapses from exhaustion and despair. (We see him laying alone in his cage sucking his thumb…another scene which I found rather moving.) Tom is awakened when his door opens. The odd creature who was imprisoned next to Tom (I’ll have to call him Friend from now on), has managed to escape and beckons for Tom to follow him.

Tom and his Friend now journey through the Laboratorium in search of a way out. They pass cage after cage of imprisoned mutant animals and monsters: some with wires into their brains, a skeletal cow bound to a rack and being repeatedly drilled by some sort of devilish machine, a charred animal of some sort smashing its head against the cage bars in despair…Truly haunting images.

After walking a bit, Tom and Friend discover a series of trolleys that speed along metal rails carrying unknown contents to distant locations within the Laboratorium. As the pair stand to the side to let one of the trolleys hurry past, a pair of rubber gloves comes out of the wall and opens the main energy core. (The words "Isolated Metabolite Particles" are stenciled on the side of the container.) Energy crackles as lightning bolts fill the air…then the core doors close and the gloves withdraw. Tom peeks into a small porthole while Friend shakes his head in warning.

The Secret Adventures of Tom ThumbContinuing onward, Tom and Friend come across more horrible experiments and desperate creatures. One creature, imprisoned in a tank of clear fluid, is merely a mouth and a hand. The hand taps on the glass and points towards a switch on the wall…a switch that will kill the power in that particular bank of doomed creatures. Heeding its plea for help, Tom throws the switch and the poor creatures in the room give out moans of relief and die. However an alarm goes off and Tom and Friend run for their lives, barely escaping by jumping down a waste pipe.

The Secret Adventures of Tom ThumbTom and Friend emerge in a toxic swamp, far outside the city. A tiny man, wearing protective clothes and salvaging junk from the waste, spots Tom and fishes him out from the sludge. When Friend emerges from the pipe, the villagers panic upon seeing its horrible appearance and begin throwing stones at it while it desperately tries to free itself from the pipe. While Tom screams and begs them to stop, one villager finally stabs Friend in neck, killing it. Tom, now utterly alone and friendless, is led back to the village.

Jack takes Tom under his care and lets him stay in his home. Through simple sign language, Jack explains to Tom that he is gathering weapons in order to go into the city and kill the ‘giants’. Said weapons consist of salvaged hypodermic needles that he has filled with poison.

The Secret Adventures of Tom ThumbBack in town, Papa Thumb is drowning his sorrows at the local pub. This pub scene is an absolutely fascinating sequence of shots: a blend of insects, booze, spiders, transvestites, living bowling pins, and shadows. It is absolutely fascinating to watch. Anyway, Papa Thumb ends up going home with the local floozy and awakes the next day to see a fly covered Santa crucifix on the wall.

we see that Jack has headed into the city on his suicide mission to kill the giants. Tom tags along, and the first giants they spot are Man 1 and Man 2 (sort of, kind of, "friends" of Papa Thumb, in a universe where friendship does not, and can not, exist). The two men are passing time watching insects fight to the death on a wall. Jack gets into position on top of a cement post, poison darts at the ready.

Jack shoots poisoned needles into the men’s necks, sickening them, and knocking them unconsciouss…but not killing them. As we shall see, Jack uses the men as messengers, tying a message to one of the men’s sleeves.

The Secret Adventures of Tom ThumbLater that evening, the two men have bandaged their necks with dirty rags and pay a visit to Tom’s father. They show Papa Thumb the message: a map leading to a windmill outside of town, where Tom will be waiting for him. Discovering that his son is still alive, Papa Thumb breaks out the drinks.

The next day, Papa Thumb travels to the windmill where he is reunited with Tom. Jack hides in the shadows, but Tom convinces his father that Jack is a friend. Papa Thumb puts Town in his satchel, and reluctantly also brings Jack along for the journey back into town.

Back in the city, we see Man 2 nursing his stinking neck wound, which is now oozing green slime and pulsating under the tattered bandages. Papa Thumb happens to pass by and joyfully opens his satchel and shows Tom. However, when the man looks inside the pouch and also sees Jack, he recognizes him as the one who shot him with the poison needle and tries to kill them. Tom and Jack jump from the satchel and into a drain pipe while Papa Thumb fights to protect them. While Tom watches, the man gets the better of Papa Thumb and bashes his head in on a cement stairway.

The Secret Adventures of Tom ThumbNext we see a Laboratorium employee eating dinner. (The dinner wriggles and writhes on his plate, still alive…) He has a camera mounted on the wall behind him which is focused on his back. Watching the monitor in front of him, he spots flies that land on his back which he quickly reaches around and flicks into a bug-zapper.

You’ve got to see this movie.

Under the table, Jack and Tom have entered the room via an air duct. Jack pulls out a poison needle and stabs the man in the ankle. (I think this man might be The Collector, but I’m not sure…) When the man regains consciousness, he realizes that Jack and Tom are perched on his shoulder…with Jack holding a poison needle to his jugular vein. Forced to obey Jack’s commands, the man takes on a dark overcoat and takes them to the Laboratorium.

The Secret Adventures of Tom ThumbOnce inside the Laboratorium, Jack kills the man with a jab to the neck and Tom shows him the way to the energy core. Tom opens the door to the core itself and him and Jack climb inside. An intruder alert goes off and a huge pair of hands reach in through the containment wall and attempt to grasp Tom and Jack. As the hands get closer, and closer, and closer, Jack pulls out a metal club and smashes the core itself.

A huge explosion occurs. Jack and Tom, screaming, are flung against the walls of the chamber and enveloped in a blinding, white light.

In the afterlife (Heaven?), we see a baby’s room. In the only scene that is not filmed in stop motion, Tom’s mother and father are holding a normal size newborn baby as sunlight streams into the clean, beautiful new room. Mama and Papa look at the baby and smile, cuddling and snuggling their precious child.

Papa looks over onto the wall and frowns.

Flies, crawling on the wall, scurry over the wallpaper and form a halo over the shadow of the baby’s head.


Dennis Grisbeck (June 2005)

1 comment to The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993)

  • guts3d

    I think that if I had seen this as a kid, it would definitely have warped my mind! The Santa crucifix was particularly disturbing. Another great review, Dennis!

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