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Thursday, May 16, 2019

SAINT BERNARD -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

Okay, who else thought this was going to be about a big monster dog like "Cujo"?  Me too, but SAINT BERNARD (Severin Films, 2013) is so much more than that, thank goodness. The first thing we see, for example, is a raw chicken on the verge of a parachute jump from an airplane.  Things just get way weirder from there.

For those of you who have always wished for a sequel to ERASERHEAD, this may be as close as you'll ever get.  In that film, however, it's the rest of the world--the real world, so to speak--that's bizarre and surreal, and the hero, Henry, tries to make sense of it. 

Here, Bernard lives in what we know as the everyday world, but can only perceive it all through his own full-blown insanity. So his attempts to find a place in the real world and live a "normal" life become nothing more than a series of incredibly bizarre waking nightmares. (These are just my interpretations, mind you--yours may be completely different.)

We first meet him, in the only part of the movie where he actually looks happy, as a young boy who wants more than anything to be an orchestra conductor.  In the first surreal segment, which I can only deduce is a figment of Bernard's unbridled imagination, we see a wood carver fashioning a baton for the boy from a large chunk of wood, which he then wields as confidently as baseball ace Roy Hobbs swinging his "Wonderboy" bat in THE NATURAL.

Bernard has the gift of discerning musical patterns from things in everyday life--clocks ticking, water dripping--but has trouble making such orderly sense of life itself.  His grown-up self, played by Jason Dugre (SKINNED DEEP) will be no less confused, and we'll discover that he has become progressively removed from what we would consider "sanity."

This manifests itself in what must be some of the most bizarre, surreal imagery ever created for a motion picture.  Most of it springs from the fertile and clearly fervid mind of writer-producer-director Gabriel Bartalos, whose special effects expertise has graced many films such as DARKMAN, UNDERWORLD, and FROM BEYOND.  His production designer also deserves much credit for helping to create some of the most freakishly strange environments and props imaginable.

Bernard's descent into madder madness is also represented by the stark white tuxedo that he always wears. It starts out clean and pure, like Bernard's innocent, unsullied nature, and then gets progressively soiled and stained as he is forced to interact with reality on both an intellectual and tactile level.

The whole thing really gets underway when Bernard attempts a concert performance which is on a grand scale in his mind, but in actuality is nothing more than him making an ass of himself in front of a few family and friends in a near-empty concert hall. This is where we still see traces of the real world outside of Bernard's twisted perception, and how it is made utterly strange by the deep-seated insanity which has overtaken him.

At one point midway through I realized that I was looking for a story and not finding it. But in the middle of this jumble of grotesque, senseless imagery, there was a kind of story, which was the story of Bernard looking for a story in his life and not finding it.  As an aspiring musical conductor he looks for the tick-tock beat in everything which he can control and cajole with his "Wonderboy" baton.  But it is nowhere to be found.

Just like in most nightmares, nothing makes sense and that's how they are designed to torment us.  Bernard strives for stability and resolution, and either he is too insane to find such things or the world around him is too insane to offer them. The more he searches, the crazier the nightmare becomes.

Each person Bernard meets, or thinks he meets, is more incomprehensible than the last, as are the situations surrounding them.  Trying to seek help at a police station involves climbing through a trap door into a hallway that's ankle-deep in broken bottles and trying to communicate with a monstrous troll referred to as "Chief." 

Meeting his potential love interest, Miss Roadkill (Katy Sullivan), in an alleyway goes from an act of icky sexual aggression on the part of this whacked-out street harpy to sudden, extreme horror when a truck runs over her legs and turns them to bloody stumps.  The driver, who actually has no legs himself, then berates her for spoiling his driving record while hopping around emptying a large bag of table salt over her gaping wounds.

Oh, and I left out the part about the clumps of barbershop hair that have gathered and entwined themselves into stick figures stalking the streets, which for some reason come to Bernard's aid.  The disembodied head of a St. Bernard dog figures into all of this as well, which, in one amusing scene with Andy Kaufman's pal Bob Zmuda as a money-grabbing priest, sort of becomes a symbol of religious faith if one wishes to mentally pursue such things.

I won't even go into the finale--my mind is still trying to process it. It does involve Bernard's weird Uncle Jack, and a creature that's the pinnacle of the film's makeup and practical effects artistry.  One final mention of the story's continual references to wood and water. And look for Warwick Davis atop a huge pile of--you guessed it--wood.

I spent the entire running time either trying to make sense of it all, or trying to make sense of the fact that none of it made any sense. Sometimes I labored to find the symbolism in what I was seeing--I know it was there, some of the time anyway--and sometimes I just sat back and let the weirdness overtake me. Either way, I was totally engaged with SAINT BERNARD from start to finish, and felt a little more crazy and a little more sane for having watched it.

Buy it at Severin Films

Special Features:
    The Making of Saint Bernard


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