SAINT BERNARD (2013)
Directed by Gabriel Bartalos
Written by Gabriel Bartalos
Starring Jason Dugre, Katy Sullivan, Peter Iasillo Jr., Jack Doroshow, Warwick Davis, Bob Zmuda, George Clayton Johnson, Albert Strietmann, Peter Strietmann, Adria Pearl, Andy Forrest, Matt Rose, Charles Schneider, Brian Steele, Kurt Carley, John Deall, Benoît Lestang, Jim O’Donoghue, Efren Gudino, Grace O’Doherty, Justin McLoughlin, Paul Michael Bolan, & featuring The Damned!
Absurdist horror is a hard pill to swallow for some. I understand why. Most horror deals with the fear of the unknown (be it something as simple as what is making that sound in the shadowy closet to more complex horrors involving otherworldly fears the mind can’t even comprehend). There is a satisfaction had with being able to identify, quantify, understand, and hopefully overcome the horrors in horror films, hence the big reveal of the monster and the hint of its defeat in the final act of probably 90% of mainstream horror films. But absurdist horror isn’t like that and it often leaves you more confused and even a little frustrated by the time it all ends offering up next to no resolution or at the very most, something you have to bend your brain around a few times in order to have a vague notion of what it all meant. SAINT BERNARD is one of those absurdist horror films. It’s also a really fantastic ride, despite the fact that I’m not sure I understand it all.
I think SAINT BERNARD begins with a young boy named Bernard who has one dream; to become a musical composer. Brandishing a conducting baton whittled down from a two-by-four, the young boy seems to be taught by his uncle, conducting an orchestra that isn’t there and listening to music that seemingly only occurs in Bernard’s head. The scene soon juts forward to Bernard as an adult (played by Jason Dugre) who seems to have a nervous breakdown in front of his orchestra and a full audience (including his parents). Bernard himself tells the viewer, “This is when I lost my mind.” And this is where the film goes from slightly odd to downright batshit. Flitting from decayed urban landscapes to the desert to underwater to the open road and back again, Bernard finds the severed head of a dog and meets various different people (including LEPRECHAUN’s Warwich Davis and the band The Damned) looking for guidance, advice, or simply survival to find his way back to sanity and purpose.
I guess I could wrack my brain and try to divulge the secret meaning behind all of the images and sounds I was affronted with during the span of this film. I feel it deals with searching for purpose after suffering a crumbling disappointment—of course I could be completely wrong.
The thing is, about twenty minutes in, I let all of this go. Instead of trying to figure everything out, I simply sat back and enjoyed the barrage of amazing effects, gory gratuitousness, weird antics, and bizarre sounds. Director and writer Gabriel Bartalos has worked on some amazing films providing amazing special effects for everything from TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE 2 to DARKMAN to GODZILLA to the BASKET CASE series and beyond. A lot of these amazing effects are on display here, beginning with the disgusting severed dog head, but also showing fully automated faces, practical effects monstrosities, severed appendages, and splatters upon splatters of blood. There is a history in horror that many effects gurus are given freedom to direct scenes involving their effects, but this film proves that Bartalos can actually make an entire film. With only one other film under his belt as filmmaker (SKINNED DEEP, a film I immediately bought after seeing SAINT BERNARD), Bartalos is someone I will definitely be looking out for.
There is a thru-way for this meandering fever dream. Barnard is the person we experience this entire nightmare through not unlike cult filmmaker Jodorowski himself in such films as EL TOPO and SANTA SANGRE. Not all of it makes sense or follows the regular laws of our reality. Instead, it feels like quite a few dreams thread together with one guide. SAINT BERNARD is only for those who like their horror experimental and dirty. It’s not for everyone. But I hope it does find its audience because I am one who might not get it completely, but loved every depraved and wicked moment of this trippy horror masterpiece and would love to see more movies like it.