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Reflections Of Evil (2002)
Writer and director: Damon Packard

review by Richard Bowden

Financed by a private trust fund, lasting well over two hours, written, directed, starring, and largely distributed by Damon Packard, Reflections Of Evil is one of the more interesting independent feature to emerge from America in the last few years. An unrelenting assault on American consumerism in general and Hollywood in particular, it also manages to have a go at such targets as the Bush administration, Vietnam vets, police, the chemtrails controversy, redneck TV viewers and dog lovers. 'Introduced' and tail-ended by a coiffeured Tony Curtis obviously speaking elsewhere (key passages of which are patently re-edited and overdubbed to apply to the new film), Reflections Of Evil is punctuated throughout by other 'found footage' - notably that which insistently advertise tacky 1970s' goods or promote the ABC movie of the week.
   Packard plays Bob, the overweight hero of his film. His bemused and oppressed character dresses in multiple layers, favours baggy pants, and lugs round a baggy hold-all from which clothes hang down. Headphones and radios drape in a clutter round his neck. He survives by tramping the streets of LA, selling - eventually giving - watches to anyone who will listen to an apologetic sales pitch, although he never succeeds in making any profit from his enterprise. Aptly, given the sweet-coated object of so much of the film's scorn, Bob is addicted to sugar. Repeatedly punctuated by irrational rage and displays of self-loathing, his business patrols also include excessive consumption of cakes and candy - which, in an early moment worthy of John Waters, leads to a spectacular vomiting on the sidewalk. Back home, or at a restaurant, his mother upbraids the 400-pound Bob for being so weak-willed and disgusting, and the two constantly bicker. Interspersed with Bob's unsteady progress, is the vision of a woman (who, we later learn, is his dead sister) wandering the streets, then a studio - looking anxious in a pink negligee. The two will finally be reunited at Universal studios.
   Some have complained that Reflections Of Evil is a disorganised, hard to understand film. In fact it has quite a simple structure, one in which episodes from Bob's perambulations, an extended flashback to his childhood in the 1970s, and an hallucinatory drugs dream are neatly headed up by ironic announcements of the threatened ABC movie. Inevitably a film of this sort can seem self-indulgent. But Packard has some prime targets to shoot at, and occasional longueurs (the Universal studio park footage and Bob's viewing of the latest Star Wars instalment could both have been profitably trimmed, for example) can be forgiven. He obviously has a weakness for the continental horror of the 1970s. The dreamy scenes featuring Bob's sister look as if they could have slipped out of any Jean Rollin erotic vampire flick, and one of his equally excellent shorter films (also on the DVD) imitates an extended 1970s' erotic horror trailer. Reflections Of Evil incorporates those elements, as well as being a most unlikely candidate for ABC's movie of the week, then or now (Packard has sarcastically distributed it with the words 'joy' and 'love' as a selling point).
   For an independent, low budget film, it's a relatively sophisticated production, with multiple set ups, excellent sound editing and none of those long-held scenes familiar from Warhol's Factory or other underground films. Sound plays an important part in Packard's world, and several reviewers have commented on how deliberately intrusive this element is. He frequently favours SF epics like The Omega Man, Planet Of The Apes, E.T., and Star Wars for source extracts, and their music plays between the raucous dialogue scenes. (Charlton Heston was one of the bemused recipients of the DVD.) Scenes of confrontation, alienation and of impotent rage are common in Packard's film, but he manipulates these moments so that they have a tragicomedy of their own, both disturbing and hilarious at the same time. Post-synching, often the bane of independent productions, is conspicuous. Packard makes a virtue of this handicap too, as his supporting characters are frequently dubbed with ludicrous voices and accents, while excessive munching and farting mark Bob's own conspicuous consumption of junk food.
   There are some scenes which stay long in the memory: Bob's public rants while standing next to a succession of Miss Congeniality posters, for instance, or the long sequence in which a series of owners set their dogs on him in the street. The hilarious scene in the diner when he tries to sneak mouthfuls of food from under his mother's watchful eye; the redneck couple observing an unsteady hero from their window ("He's drunk on those liqueur chocolates again!"), or the crazed negroes, ranting in the street, one suddenly pulling a knife. The obese Bob, harmlessly proffering his watches, is a threatened small-time entrepreneur, although his dishevelled state also suggests vagrancy. There's a neat corollary when we learn that in life the director has personally distributed 22,500 DVD copies of his only feature, including some 8,000 on the street by hand, though it can now be had online. (Amusing accounts of reactions garnered, from willing and unwilling recipients of this artistic persistence, can be found at the official website). No doubt those who pick up Packard's unforgettable work, only to be outraged by its scathing attack on complacency, will have been affected exactly in the way the director intended, as his film is a sure kick to the groin of much of Hollywood's - and the media's - self-satisfaction. As if in official confirmation from this, the director has now been given a lifetime ban from Universal Studios (not on the basis of the amusing Spielberg-directing satire that appears in the film, but as a result of him shooting unofficially on their lot). For those with an open mind, then Reflections Of Evil is unmissable, and a sure cult in the making.
Reflections Of Evil

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