Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Szurek Zone: THE JAR (1984)

Now, don’t ask me the director’s name, for the credits of this bottom budget mishmash were too illegible to decipher (The name is George Toscano -- Ed.). Don’t ask me why he and the screenwriter couldn't come up with anything coherent, or why nobody with any degree of professionalism participated. Don’t ask me why, only months after the videotape came out, the box at my local outlet was visibly dirty, battered, beaten and already starting to turn yellow. Don’t even ask me what it’s about, for after seeing it, I’m still looking for a person to explain the plot to me.

Basically, it looks like a bunch of “spooky images” strung together, with virtually nothing to hold them in place, and since execution is so crude and amateurish with abysmal dubbing, comatose dubbers doing people who look like they weren’t too talented to begin with, and lighting which makes it hard to see not helping any, the “spookiness” rarely comes across as anything more than a five-year-old trying to be artsy-fartsy. Let’s try to be optimistic and hope that the incoherency is due to some truly brainless cutting. And yet, there are other scenes which call out – nay, SCREAM – for editing. Like in some of Jess Franco’s films, there are moments not even meant to be suspenseful wherein a person slowly ambles from one room to another and we’re forced to endure their every step. At one point, a man seats himself in a chair and remains there doing nothing, not even posing thoughtfully, for several minutes. Action has a habit of being elongated or ending before we know what hit us. There is a four or five minute sequence of the hero driving, but he apparently had no destination. Poor editing tells us in the middle that an opening automobile accident is integral to the supposed plot, and yet, we aren’t even informed it happened until then. Instead, we see a bloody figure, and don’t know how he got that way!

The bloody figure is brought to a man’s apartment to be cleaned up and, while there, vanishes into thin air, leaving behind a glass jar emblazoned with the face of one of the Bava/Argento demons. The symbolism, if that’s what it is, eludes me. The apartment owner keeps running into the bloody man, who it turns out died in the accident, but it’s never quite clear what he presently wants. The apartment owner repeatedly throws the jar away, but it always returns. He smashes it to smithereens a couple of times, but it returns intact.

In black and white sequences which seem to indicate astral projections, he powerlessly witnesses murders committed by and upon extras without names. Then he apparently stumbles upon Hell, but “Scream of the Damned” not withstanding, Hades is somebody’s backyard with a smoldering barbecue. During another trip, he watches soldiers buying it on the battlefield. What does this all mean? Despite the lack of “psychic ghoulishness” inherent in such films as COMBAT SHOCK, ERASERHEAD, BLOODY WEDNESDAY, THE RULING CLASS and to an extent even ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK and DRILLER KILLER, we wonder if it means he’s going bonkers. He vacillates in wondering about that, too, and his girlfriend is sure of it. The ending tries to explain why these things have been happening, although it was still too vague for me, but one thing certain is that it wasn’t “all in his head” after all. If we needed any further reassurance, there’s a clichéd “the nightmare is starting anew” wrap-up.

THE JAR is absolutely stupefying, even more incoherent than NEON MANIACS, IGOR AND THE LUNATICS, GREY MATTER and the BLOOD COUPLE cut of GANJA AND HESS. If you like being confused, see it. If not, a firm thumbs down.

[Originally published in Temple of Schlock #19, August 1989]

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