Tartarus (2005)

Dave Wascavage may be known for Suburban Sasquatch, a movie that has horror on the surface and all heart inside. And while there are moments of mirth in that film, Tartarus presents a different and darker side of the filmmaker.

Its protagonist John (Juan Fernandez, who has been in all of Wascavage’s films, even appearing as the bigfoot in the aforementioned cryptic shot on video wonder that introduced me to the director’s films) is a horrible person. He’s cheated on his wife with her sister and ruined their entire family. He steals money from his clients. He smokes crack. He hits people with his car and just drives away. In no way should he be the hero of any movie.

And yet here we are. Juan is trapped in a nightmare that looks Fire In the Sky in its big black gray eyes and says, “I can make a more frightening movie with effects that look straight out of the Spirit store and a PS1 cut scene.”

This is a movie where a CGI UFO kidnaps Juan so that an alien can puke CGI vomit all over him and then go beyond threatening him with the worst thing that can happen to a heterosexual brute and then go further, abusing him with a strobing phallus and backdoor venturing vacuum cleaner while the lead screams, swears, threatens, begs, cries and flop sweats against the trash bag and discount store created interior of an interstellar vessel.

There are moments of CGI fields of mushrooms in Wascavage’s Fungicide that look like the kind of blacklight posters that I couldn’t figure out in Spencer’s back before it all started to feel safe, strange artwork that I’d see on the backdoor of my insane cousins’ bedrooms that smelled like stolen Pabst and the worst weed that Southwestern PA could belch out. And then those moments are compounded here, extended, injected in the eye, dosed, slapped hard in the face and then screamed at for hours until they achieve a Stockholm syndrome need to convert you to a side they fought against for so long.

West Chester, PA is a wild place, a town where the kids had to pull progressively worse pranks on one another to keep from abject boredom until culture had to notice them. And there, under the rock, waiting to blow your mind way more than skateboard and pills hijinks lies this film, a seventy-plus minute journey into a neon and cathode lit hellscape that I keep thinking and obsessing and dreaming about.

If I start sneezing metal, I’ll know that I’ve been abducted.

You can watch this on Tubi.

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