Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Reflections of Evil|
Actors: Curtis, Heatherton, Hamilton, Turner
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Teenager Julie died of a PCP overdose 20 years earlier, but now searches from beyond the ethers for her little brother Bob, an obese watch-seller, who is dying of sucrose intolerance.
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A work of demented genius
H. F. Gibbard | Dark City, USA | 02/14/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's hard to describe Damon Packard's experimental comedy/horror/satire masterpiece "Reflections of Evil." I've never seen anything quite like it before. Stylistically, it bears some resemblance to cyberpunk films like "Tetsuo: the Iron Man" and low-budget gross-out films like "Street Trash." But there's really nothing out there like this film anywhere.
"Reflections" is a study in contrasts. Throughout the film, the ugliness of present-day L.A., which Packard presents as a place of paranoia, hatred, and gushing bodily fluids, will be interposed with haunting scenes from a 1970s dreamworld. The plot, such as it is, is built on the wanderings of Packard's character "Bob," a grotesquely obese character who reminded me of Orson Welles' slovenly sheriff in "Touch of Evil." Bob is stuck in a hellish parody of Hollywood, constantly confronted by hostile dogs, police, and street people. The eccentricities of the people he encounters might be funny, except that Packard doesn't leave things at the point of comedy; he presses on until we realize how pathetic his characters are, and then it isn't funny anymore.
Bob is pathetic himself. His life resembles the ancient Greek version of hell, Tartarus, where desires that cannot be satisfied torment the afflicted forever. Bob has an addiction to sugar, and he inhales food (rendered with grotesque sound effects) to try to satisfy his endless cravings. He tries to sell junk watches to everyone he knows, but he never makes enough money to do anything but restock. The only person he relates to on a human level is his mother, who chides him constantly about his overeating.
The film is a disappointment in some ways. The street scenes go on way too long. Perhaps Packard watned his film about hell to literally put the audience through a hell of boredom, but that detracts from the bravura set pieces that otherwise fill the film's first ten and last thirty minutes. (I am describing the director's cut here, which is the version I saw.)
The first ten minutes of "Reflections of Evil" reveal its disturbing yet entertaining potential. We begin with a phony Tony Curtis intro, taken from some other DVD, into which Damon Packard's name and the title of his film have been clumsily dubbed. As Curtis drones on, stills from "Reflections of Evil" are clumsily inserted into his monologue. Curtis promises us a Serta mattress commercial with Joey Heatherton which, sure enough, soon materializes on the screen in all its seventies-era gaudiness. Packard shows a brilliant flare for superimposition, as scenes of him vomiting are later interspersed with Heatherton's increasingly shrill pitch for Serta, complete with explosions onstage.
The film's beginning also contains a promo for the Wednesday Night Movie of the Week, which turns out to be the credits for this film. These credits run over a spot-on parody of a cheesy sixties film, complete with a girl in a billowing, nearly transparent dress running in slo mo in front of a bunch of vintage apartment buildings and gardens. (This girl, as it turns out, is the older sister of the Packard character, who will be featured later in the film. She died in the 1970s and is somehow still stuck there. Her search for her brother "Bobby" will be as close to a plot as this film has.)
The credits are followed by more 1970s commercials, disconcertingly overdubbed with shrieking violins from Bernard Herrmann's score from "Psycho." The morbidly obese Packard character Bob then materializes across the street from the elderly couple's home. Packard soon falls and slides down the sidewalk in the first of many signs of physical corruption. (Packard is a great physical comedian; he takes more pratfalls in this movie than anyone since the 1920's.) His character has been gorging himself of liquor candies and he soon throws them up in what must be the grossest vomiting scene of all time.
The movie rapidly loses coherence after that, and becomes little more than a string of set-pieces hung loosely together. Wandering the streets of a hellish version of Hollywood, Packard (who apparently has died and gone to some kind of hell) becomes mired in bizarre parodies of "Poltergeist" and "E.T." (In fact, the whole film is a relentless hate-mail to Steven Spielberg. It later features a "Young Steven Spielberg" set piece that is bizarre and hilarious, and a weird ride at Universal Studios (after a gay tour of Hollywood) called "Schindler's List: the Ride.") Toward the end of the film Packard witnesses a bizarre version of a Lord of the Rings trailer and a demented "Star Wars" parody. He then locates his sister at the Universal Studios theme park, where he learns the real truth about himself and his destiny.
I won't even attempt to describe the rest of the plot, except to note that it is uneven and the good parts can be like gems in a pile of manure. The film is a prism of bizarre sound effects, editing, and special effect distortion. I don't know if anyone will like ALL of this movie, but cult film fanatics will certainly find parts of it quite entertaining.
UPDATE: An update, March 26, 2005
In the previous review, written in February 2005, I described the original director's cut of "Reflections of Evil," which was the only version available at the time. It is now possible to purchase a commercial version of ROE, which is significantly different from the original. I want to give some impressions of this new product (the "Vital Fluid" release), available through Amazon marketplace sellers.
The commercial version is quite a bit shorter and (most likely because of licensing issues) omits much of the creative sampling of sound effects, video clips, and movie music that made the original cut so haunting. The focus here is on Packard's own footage, rather than his jarring montages of cinematic found objects. There is an upside and a downside to this. The upside is that Packard's own stripped-down narrative is allowed to shine through, in all its gritty surrealism. Moreover, the editing makes the film more watchable and even a bit more coherent. There is also some new footage, but not a lot.
The downside is that we lose Packard's brilliant use of cultural archetypes and clever superimpositions. It is heartbreaking, for example, to see the "Golden Guru" sequence stripped of its original soundtrack ("Wooden Ships" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young). There are many such losses throughout the film. In the original, Packard was a sort of cinematic Walter Benjamin, assembling and recombining cultural detritus in often breathtaking ways. Only a bare outline of this survives in the commercial version.
The new version also has some DVD extras, including deleted scenes (kind of humorous, given the non-narrative nature of what does appear in the film). There is also the sort of "making of" featurette we often see on DVD releases, with a twist: some (most?) of the stuff shown in the featurette does not appear in the film! We watch Packard create a Kung Fu sequence, for example, which was to show him battling a martial arts expert with numchuks by throwing shirts at him. This is reduced in both versions of the film to a street scene of a guy swearing in Japanese. It is interesting to watch Packard at work, but it's almost a shame that this sequence wound up on the cutting-room floor.
To sum up, in the commercial version, Packard is more like John Waters and less like Quentin Tarrantino. ROE is still a powerfully original film. People who didn't see the first version may find this one more watchable. Those who saw the original may be interested in this new version, for its contrasts with the original. As for me, I intend to hold on to my original version as well as the new one.
A good movie which DVD version differs greatly from theater.
Patrick Poulin | Montreal | 04/29/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I won't review aesthetically this movie, which is a great oddity situated somewhere between John Waters' cinema and Lynch's Eraserhead. I will only indicate that the DVD version is shorter than the theatrical version I've enjoyed at Fantasia festival, Montreal. The experience of disorientation is therefore and sadly shortened (as it is altered).Great buy indeed - but look for the full version, if it exists."
One of those really good but really bad movies
chemosh6969 | 04/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have to be honest in that I had to go online to find out what the plot was. My friend also watched it and had no clue either.
Except for a few parts throughout the movie, it is basically the same crazy stuff going on which is funny in small doses. It took me a few weeks to make it through this movie and it was all worth it for what happens in the end.
If you are looking for a rollercoaster ride of a movie of the damned, then this is what you are looking for."