Reviews

Tartarus (2005)

There will never be a moment in time when aliens aren’t cool. By that logic, the same goes for Tartarus.

John has spent his life scamming people for large sums of money, cheating on his wife, smoking crack, and committing hit-and-runs against people in wheelchairs. But now, he has been abducted! BY AN ALIEN! This extraterrestrial buddy has less in common with E.T. and more in common with the Marquis de Sade. In order to repent for his sins, John is taken to a spaceship with garbage bags for walls. John is strapped to a gooey table that looks like a Swamp Thing appendage while the alien chops off his limbs with a machete, attacks his penis with an alien vacuum cleaner, and committs sodomy with a plastic tube. At one point, the alien looks like it’s about to go in for a kiss. But John spits in its face and says, “You fucker!”

There’s a lot going on in this movie. 

Since the early 2000s, no-fi videographer Dave Wescavage has done a great job of turning West Chester, Pennsylvania into his own private cosmos. His work is notable because of the tools he uses to bring it to life. Armed with a digital camera, his immediate family, and CGI resembling Playstation 2 cutscenes on bad acid, Wescavage makes movies like no one else. Fungicide and Suburban Sasquatch (his first two films), are equally enchanting and frustrating. They’re psychedelic adventures featuring grown adults battling eight-foot-tall mushrooms and a Sasquatch who throws cars. But they also rely on exhausting repetition and ironic posturing. Watching these movies is like trying to run five miles after two hours of sleep and three beers — you want to make it through, but it’s just not physically possible. Tartarus is something different.

Feeling like Close Encounters of the Third Kind as interpreted by an outsider video artist with an iBook G3, Tartarus sends the Wescavage aesthetic into overdrive while removing the stench of irony. Without that, there’s nothing to distract us from what really counts. I’m talking about immersive 16-bit hellscapes, neon-soaked spaceship interiors, and armchair psychology that would feel right at home on an episode of The Jerry Springer Show. Combine all of that with the male sexual violence and some disorientating nightmare logic, and you get a fascinating headtrip that feels like a Christian morality video on Drano. But beware! The structure is jagged and cyclical. There’s no resolution to anything. And at only 78 minutes, it still feels 20 minutes too long. But I can’t think of another movie where an extraterrestrial projectile vomits CGI barf onto a guy’s face before ripping off his whitey-tighties for some butt play.

The last credit in this movie reads, “Tartarus never ends.”

We can only hope.

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