Reviews

Bruce Toscano

USA, 1984

Credits

Review by Teddy Blanks

Posted on 17 October 2008

Source Magnum Entertainment VHS

Categories 31 Days of Horror V

“I… I… I… I… ,” spouts a stuttering computerized voice, “I consume the lifeless moments of shadows. The flickering seconds of memories. I stand on the edge of darkness. I am the night.”

In blackness, The Jar begins with this quasi-poetic sentiment, beaming with art-horror ambition. The film that follows this rather pretentious sci-fi opening never fully delivers on the promise of its VHS cover art: we never get a clear shot of the monster, who appears in this illustration to be a cyan-blue cousin of Ghostbusters’s Slimer, oozing out of grandma’s cookie jar. But it does continue to pump out a near constant barrage of meticulously story-boarded, if blurry, botched, and poorly edited, moments of David Lynch-inspired surreality on a shoestring budget.

The set-up is pretty slim. One dark and stormy night, Paul, a character whose only discernible characteristic is that he has a beard, is in a car accident. The other driver, an old man, leaves Paul with what he calls a “bottle,” wrapped in brown paper. (I’m not sure the reason for this naming discrepancy. Perhaps it was decided at the last moment that The Jar sounds scarier than The Bottle?) Paul stares blankly at the thing for a while, unwraps it to see some sort of buck-toothed gremlin living inside, and is subsequently subjected to an hour or so of dream sequences and mildly spooky phenomena, interspersed with a handful of mundane dates and some awkward sex with his upstairs neighbor.

The Jar is moody and vague, washed in green, yellow, orange, and fluorescent light, tacky and soft. Director Bruce Toscano’s giddy approach to cheap special effects and stylized filmmaking reminded me of the shorts my film student friends used to show in college. Like those movies, in which 19-year-olds played cops and special agents, hoping to make The Matrix of mini DV, The Jar is a good example of what happens when you have a lot of ideas for shots, but no money or story to tell. We are treated to a bathtub full of blood, a disembodied head under soil in a flowerpot, a full-blown crucifixion sequence, and dozens of shots of dripping faucets.

It is perplexing to see a movie whose makers are so clearly in love with the film medium completely miss the mark on what filmmaking is supposed to do. Extreme camera angles focusing on specific motions or certain objects can be effective tools for moving along a story or enhancing its meaning with symbolic imagery. But in The Jar, these weird shots are there seemingly for no reason. Paul puts down a glass of water on the table: we get a shot from the inside of the glass. Several times, the camera will just creeps up on him, as if in the point of view of an approaching monster, only to end with him standing still and looking confused.

To be fair, it’s possible that the camera is so erratic because it is mimicking Paul’s mental state, on which he gives us constant updates. “I must be losing my mind,” he says out loud. And later, “my imagination is getting carried away,” and “I’m panicking for no reason.” Presumably, Paul talks to himself because if not for his vocal self-reassuring moments and the strange, brief conversations he has with Crystal, his neighbor and passing love interest, The Jar would have no dialogue at all.

Come to think of it, nixing the love story subplot, and the dialogue altogether, might have been a better way to go. The Jar, despite being a piece of trash, often succeeds, due in no small part to its pitch-perfect analog-synth score, in creating an impressive, semi-spooky, surreal atmosphere. This atmosphere is ruined whenever anyone talks, and not only because of the bad writing. Every word in The Jar is post-synched. Any nuance or expression in either actor’s performance is stripped away by the slavish devotion to match what the person is saying to their filmed mouth movements. Over-enunciation, the strange drawing out of certain words, and a few of the wimpiest screams I’ve ever heard all help drag the jar down from so-bad-it’s-funny to unbearable.

It’s hard, though, to hate this movie. It is something of a miracle that it was even distributed in the first place. The Jar is an eccentric, ambitious, surrealist C-movie, brazenly unaware of its own limitations and full of crazy ideas. Maybe it’s better if you’re stoned.

Information from VHS Sleeve

The Jar

Year
1984

Run Time
90 minutes

Director
Bruce Toscano

VHS Distributor
Magnum Entertainment

Relevant Cast
[none]

Relevant Crew
Obscure Size (music)

Tag Line
It Blows the Lid Off Terror.

Rating
[unknown]

Clamshell?
No

Quote
[none]

Masterpiece?
No

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