EDITOR’S NOTE: This was first on the site on January 30, 2023. As I’ll be exploring the films of director and writer Philip Cook this week, this movie has been reposted with lots of added new material.
Gordon Hauge (Mark Redfield) gets fired, kicked out of his apartment and dumped by his wife Maggie (Gage Sheridan) all in one day, then wrecks his car and wakes up under attack by the Ragmen and Shadowmen of purgatory, the world between heaven and hell. He soon meets others who are trapped here because they ended their lives in a moment of noble sacrifice, all united in combat against the dreaded Despiser, a horrific blast of 2003 CGI that crashed into our planet when his spaceship slammed into Russia in 1908 and caused the Tunguska event.
Despiser feels like a Canadian movie but it’s made in Virginia.
It has the tones of a faith film but is packed with tons of violence.
And it feels like parts of The Wizard of Oz, The Stand and Lord of the Rings yet has so many strange ideas inside it that it feels like nothing else. Or, as the official site says, director and writer Philip Cook “was intrigued by the idea of an alternative world like ours, recognizable but skewed, dark and ominous—a blend of our culture mixed with macabre fantasy. This concept became the purgatory, a place where, after death, one’s soul is purified of sin—by suffering. But in this story, something has gone terribly wrong with it. It’s no longer a clearinghouse for confused souls; it’s become bottlenecked, out of balance and fraught with conflict.”
Keep in mind that this isn’t a movie with a multimillion-dollar budget but instead is a combination of green screen shot on video footage and all the CGI money could buy in 2003. If you liked the strange worlds that show up in Fungicide, good news. This goes even harder, if that’s possible. It feels like if you stare at it long enough, you’ll be able to see a sailboat in its pixels.
Cook was a vet by the time that he made this, as he had already written, directed, edited and/or photographed hundreds of commercials for clients ranging from The Washington Opera to MTV. Before that, he worked on Nightbeast for Don Dohler, Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor and was the director of photography for Godfrey Ho on the Cynthia Rothrock movie Undefeatable.
When he made this movie in 1998, no one was making movies with a stylized look like this. It’s accepted now — just look at how The Mandalorian has been filmed — but in the five years it took to make, Cook said that “the audience was jaded because 3D was everywhere. Special effects aren’t special anymore.”
I disagree. No movie anywhere looks like Despiser.
It even has some intriguing heroes beyond Gordon, like Nimbus (Doug Brown), a soldier who has been in purgatory since World War One, kamikaze pilot Tomasawa (Frank Smith), Jake (Michael Weitz) and Charlie Roadtrap (Tara Bilkins).
Joe Bob gave this three and a half stars and had these totals: “Forty-nine dead bodies. Five gun battles. Three crash-and-burns. Four motor vehicle chases. One sucker punch. Two body-transformation scenes. One hydrogen explosion. One Viking funeral. One peasant riot. Flaming church. Flaming car. Upside-down crucifixion. Grotesque insect destruction. Doll-stomping. Gratuitous shipwrecks. Kung Fu. Grenade Fu. Bazooka Fu.”
For those that look at the cover image for this and instantly think, “I need to know more,” or loved staring at blacklight posters at Spencer’s or played enough Gamma World, this is for you. It’s definitely for me.
I really can’t recommend this movie enough.
You can watch this on Tubi.