Santa Sangre, and six more movies

The Neverending
Film Festival


Five of today's seven movies are frickin' weird. Three of those frickin' weird movies are worth watching, and one's great.

The two more-or-less normal movies are both quite good too.

• Fatal Pulse (2018)
• Jigsaw (1962)
• The Man from London (2007)
• Santa Sangre (1989)
• Shock Treatment (1981)
• Smashed (2012)
• Snowy Bing Bongs Across the North Star Combat Zone (2017)

Best of the bunch is Santa Sangre. Worst of the sludge is The Man from London.

— — — 

Fatal Pulse (2018)

Avant-garde or experimental films are always a chore to watch — "Oh, it's art, not really a movie, yawn" is my reaction — but this is from anti-moviemaker Damon Packard, who never lets art stand in the way of a good time.

Fatal Pulse is lovably and intentionally incoherent, a mockery of a thriller. It's an homage, a collage, and a middle finger to Hollywood. Maybe it's a mockery of avant-garde, too. 

It opens with an Andy Rooney essay from 60 Minutes, but Rooney's famous curmudgeonality is exponentially more curmudged. Rooney-not-Rooney drones on for a couple of minutes, and it's damned funny as it inches further and further over the top. That's the vibe of the whole movie, really.

Then the young white guy who's been watching 60 Minutes sees an ad for an upcoming horror movie, and he's mystified because he's in it. Then he gets back-to-back phone calls from US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf and former Vice President Dan Quayle. Other characters in the movie include Dick Cheney, Robert De Niro, William Friedkin, Julia Roberts, and Sade, none played by themselves.

This was made in 2018 but it reeks of the early 1990s. The dialogue is flooded with '90s advertising slogans, movie titles, and catchphrases, so you'll appreciate Fatal Pulse more if you were alive and cognizant 25 years ago. I was alive, and borderline cognizant.

"I wrote the laws that people are breaking here tonight."

Is there a plot? Slightly, technically. Something about space aliens or monsters or some shit, but it's actually about a man driven insane by advertising and pop culture. That man might be Damon Packard, or it might be me or you.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Jigsaw (1962)

Written, directed, and produced by Val Guest (The Day the Earth Caught Fire), this is based on a novel set in Connecticut, but the film relocates the story to England. Which makes sense — Guest was British. 

There's been a very minor break-in at a real estate office, where the perp stole the leases. Back in the pre-computer era, there might only be one copy of such documents, so the cops' first suspicion is that one of the tenants, behind on the rent, had absconded with the proof of his debt. 

All this becomes a more serious matter when a corpse turns up.

Despite being about murder, the script and characters have enough wisecracks that it's funnier than some comedies. It's also quite frank for its time, with lines about "sleeping around" and one-night stands.

The mystery's clues are revealed so delicately that at first I didn't understand the ending, until I backed it up and watched the last five minutes a second time. But that's my fault; I'd been opening a can of cat food at the wrong moment.  

Jigsaw is a mystery worth solving, but don't look away. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Man from London (2007)

Tilda Swinton specializes in odd movies, and a lot of them are good or great. This one's Hungarian, and Swinton speaks the language fluently, but The Man from London is overlong, visually dark, ominous, self-important, and boring. It's half an hour between the movie's few conversations, or feels like it. 

It's based on the novel L'Homme de Londres by Georges Simenon, and here's the basics: A man throws a suitcase off a boat. Another man picks it up. It has stacks of money in it. The love of money is the root of all evil, so trouble ensures, but it ensues very slowly. Everything happens slowly here. People walk slowly, talk   slowly,   argue   slowly,   eat   slowly,   and   think      very         slowly.

High points include several minutes of footsteps and nothing but footsteps as a man walks across a shadowy dock, two old men playing chess, a girl eating soup, and a man flipping the same two levers 75 consecutive times. Several scenes have a loud tick-tocking, and it's so loud it sounds less like a clock than a rhythmic game of ping pong. 

The film has absolutely lovely noir-style photography, and rave reviews all over the internet, so the problem is obviously me, not the movie. I do sense that there's a story in there somewhere, maybe even a message or a point, but The Man from London is such a tedious crawl it only technically qualifies as a "motion picture."

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Santa Sangre (1989)

A boy grows up in the circus, and sees some crazy stuff. It leaves him scarred for life, and when the movie starts, he's an adult in a zoo-like mental ward. Then we flash back to see what drove him nuts, and nuts is the only possible end result. 

The boy's pet elephant dies, gets a grand funeral, but then gets eaten. He's given the world's finest full-frontal tattoo at about age 8. Bloody murder by knife. Mom pours acid on her cheating husband's genitals, and he responds by chopping her arms off. After this, the boy must act as his mother's arms — something which must be seen.

There's a little girl whose childhood is similarly tortured, perhaps more so, and she and the boy become best friends, but they're not going to the sock hop together.

Also, there's a church dedicated to a rape victim's blood, Down Syndrome kids enjoying their first taste of cocaine, and a man rips his ear off and tries forcing a woman to eat it. Naked female corpses rise from the dead, an enormous boa constrictor comes out of a man's pants, and it's all beautiful, and it concludes with a Bible quote that's the perfect punchline. 

Santa Sangre is operatic but with no singing, and very little dialogue. It's from Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, Holy Mountain), with a script by Jodorowsky and Claudio Argento (brother of Dario). Several members of the Jodorowsky family have prominent roles here, but it's not a home movie.

What it all means you'd have to ask Jodorowsky. He's 93 now, and still making bizarre movies.

To me, the message of Santa Sangre is that life is a circus, and it's completely insane. The only way to make it bearable is to embrace the insanity, and try to find someone whose insanity aligns with yours, so you can share a sack of peanuts and enjoy the show.

Verdict: BIG YES. An absolute masterpiece.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Shock Treatment (1981)

This is a shockingly bad sequel to Rocky Horror Picture Show. Richard O'Brien, author of the original, wrote this, and several of the same characters are back, and some of the new songs are OK, but Shock Treatment has none of Rocky Horror's attitude or message, nothing remotely sexy, and there's no Tim Curry. 

Rocky Horror started as a stage play and ran for years, undoubtedly being tweaked and improved along the way, before it became a movie. This was written directly for the screen, so its problems never had a chance to be fixed, and it has lots of problems.

Brad & Janet have been recast. Instead of Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon, they're Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper. They're married now, but almost never together on screen. Janet has become a TV star, and she's keeping Brad in a giant bird cage.

As the kids say these days, I can't even, and neither should you.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Smashed (2012)

The title is usually all I know before watching a movie, so I thought Smashed would be about car wrecks, or someone getting drunk one night. My mistake. It's about a woman named Kate, as in, "My name is Kate, and I'm an alcoholic."

In the movie's first scene, Kate is drinking a beer as she steps into the shower, then swigging whiskey as she drives to work, and then she pukes in front of the first grade class she's teaching. By that point, I was pretty sure she'd end up in AA meetings by the movie's end, and she does.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars, and gives a winning performance, as always. Aaron Paul plays her husband, and yes, he says "bitch," twice. Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, Mary Kay Place, and Octavia Spencer have supporting roles, and they're all earnest and fine.

That's what I'd say about the movie, too. It's earnest and fine. The obsessively cheerful musical score seems at odds with the story, but that's a small complaint, and it's the only complaint I have.

Experts say that about one in eight American adults are alcoholics, so it's a huge problem. Why then is it so rarely addressed in a movie, except for laughs or violence?

Alcoholics Anonymous helps people, but I don't know squat about twelve-step programs, except that you have to talk to God or a "higher power" or some such shit, and that you're supposed to be endlessly honest.

In the movie, Kate's character takes AA's edict of honesty so seriously that she tells her boss she's an alcoholic. God, no, I was thinking. Don't do it. Honesty is nice but you gotta know when to lie or obfuscate the truth, and it's dumb to be that honest with your boss.

Here's an honesty. Booze doesn't do much for me, but I am an eating addict. When I'm bored, I eat. When I'm stressed, I eat. When I'm eating, I enjoy it so I continue eating. That's why I'm fat.

The big reveal — not sure I'll follow through with this, and I emphatically don't want to hear anyone's encouragement to do so — is that Smashed got me to start poking around the Overeaters Anonymous website, where I'd never been before. They have online meetings, so I wouldn't have to actually be with people, and that's a big plus because I hate people as much as I love eating. So maybe I'll attend a virtual OA meeting, after eating this gallon of ice cream.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Snowy Bing Bongs Across the North Star Combat Zone (2017)

Three theater geeks play around for the cameras, with silly singing and dancing, and comedy that's more strange than funny. When strange is piled on top of strange high enough, though, you gotta laugh.

It helps that this film is short, about half the length of a feature, and also helps that I watched it at 3:30 in the morning, short on sleep and already in a good mood. 

"Remember, if you want pizza, and you want more than eleven and less than 13, Pizza by the Dozen is the only way you can do it."

Creative visuals. Absurd musical numbers. Pretty women in skimpy costumes. They're a troupe called Cocoon Central Dance Team, and they're having a good time and it's infectious.

Produced by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, a/k/a Daniels (Everything Everywhere All at Once, Swiss Army Man).

Verdict: YES, especially at 3:30 AM.


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   



  1. Did I mention Damon Packard to you? I hope so, he's one of my favorites. His wiki page is worth reading, he's had an interesting life.

    His masterpiece is still "Reflections of Evil." One of my favorite films of the 21st century. There are several versions / lengths, but if you like him, you'll want as much as you can see. Believe it or not his character, obese (no offense) and wandering the streets selling watches, always brought to mind your time vending on the Ave in PL. There's also an AMAZING section where he recreates the early Spielberg directing for Universal TV in the 70s, just dead-on and hilarious:


    His mockumentary about George Lucas / Star Wars is also superb, wipes the floor with the half-dozen other, more well-known, bootlicking fanboy tributes.

    "SkateBang" is a killer short:


    A recent work, "Howl of Winterland" / "Howl of the Unvaccinated" is without a doubt the single greatest statement of the COVID Era. Forget all the handwringing editorials and news specials and flaccid feature films from the corporate lackeys. We may not agree with this politics (I think he's anti-vax) but this 20-minute short conveys all the confusion and madness and absurdity of the last three years, and it's laugh-out-loud funny and very frightening too.


    Also surprised you dug "Santa Sangre" - one of my favorites as well. Can't decide which I like more, that or Jodo's "Holy Mountain."

    1. Sorry, that was me, "Claude Reigns" AKA "Claude Forgets To Sign In Before Posting"

    2. You've been my chief source for good movie recommendations, but I'm 90% sure Damon Packard was a result when I googled 'subversive movies'. I really liked Fatal Pulse, though, and I am way up for more from him.

      It surprised me at first, that he was using real and famous people's names as characters. Is that lawsuitable? It's marvelous, though.

      Reflections of Evil is on my watchlist, and I assume a longer cut is better, but my copy is only 1:14 and there's supposed to be an elusive hour and a half version somewhere.

      Hey, thanks for the Spielberg bit. Not only was it fun, but it nudged me toward Something Evil. Early Spielberg, and written by Clouse (Enter the Dragon). Must see! Downloading now!

      Santa Sangre is my only Jodorowsky, an error I plan to fix soon, but I've seen it a dozen times.

      Thanks for all the good tips...

    3. Spielberg's early TV stuff is hit or miss for me. I think his pilot for "Columbo" is the best, probably just because, you know, PETER FALK. If you haven't seen Falk's work with Cassavetes, recommended. All Cassavetes is recommended.

      Spielbergo's early short "Amblin" is wonderful. But mostly it's all about "CE3K" and "Raiders" for me.

      I have at least three versions of "Reflections" and dozens of other shorts by Packard, if you need 'em.

    4. I don't know any of Spielberg's TV stuff except Duel, but I have some early Spielberg on my watchlist. Like you, I mostly know his big budget stuff.

      Probably I saw his Columbo episode, because I always loved that show as a kid, but the director's name meant nothing to me. Gotta add it to the list.

      It's a long list. Hope I can get through it before my time is up.

      Am I right that the longest Reflections is the one I'd want to watch?


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