Movie Review: Grappling with the grotesquerie of “Saint Bernard”



Too short? Well, let’s see if we can further do justice to the surreal, serio-comic acid trip afterbirth that is “Saint Bernard.” You can’t say you weren’t warned, any more than I wasn’t.

It’s an unreleasable, indulgent exercise in cinematic absurdity, a daft blend of Terry Gilliam and Luis Bunuel grotesques and second year film student horror.

The sets have a DIY feel — pipes and lumberyard scraps, workshops and churches, empty concert halls and interstate on-ramps.

And hell, right in the middle of it, a sprint past Notre Dame — the recently torched Paris cathedral, not the football college.

It makes not a whit of sense, populated by a sea of bit players and C-actors — and veteran character actor Warwick Davis, who makes an appearance in the third act and only in the third act.

And yet, here it is, a nonsensical film “completed” in 2013, earning release. Somehow.

And it’s…well, if not fascinating, it at least holds the eye. When you’re not averting the eye at this or that bit of gross.

The story? Or “story?” Bernard (Jason Dugre) has always wanted to be a conductor. Not a musician, just the guy who waves a baton in front of them. ‘

He’s wanted since he was a teen (Albert Strietmann plays him at that age). He’d don his white tux with tails, pick up a baton and “play” (ineptly) concerts emitting from his iPod for indulgent family and friends.

And now he’s an adult, with this handmade baton carved and whittled by a handyman in a gas mask (Satan?), unfulfilled, but still dressed to conduct.

The next 85 minutes are an ad hoc acid trip of a journey, from the embarrassment of a botched “performance” (“You call yourself a CONDUCTOR?”) to discovering “my saint. Saint Bernard!”

It’s a decapitated  dog’s head procured on the roadside.

Bernard is stalked, chased, hounded — dressed in a tux covered in dollar bills, which is how he thinks this greedy preacher (Bob Zmuda) sees him, or encased in a walking patchwork packing crate “prison” in Paris, where a French lumberjack chainsaws him free.

Lincoln and Andrew Jackson (incompetently costumed in clothes that were in fashion when George Washington was president) line up in a slow-mo rainy day football scrimmage against a kite-clutching Ben Franklin.

A store-bought chicken, plucked and gutted, parachutes out of an airplane.

I won’t go into any more detail because that would be like emptying a sack of salt on a freshly dismembered woman’s stumps. Which we also see.

The presence of Andy Kaufman’s longtime foil Bob Zmuda in this sort of tips off the tone. Surreal, inside jokes wrapped inside of other inside jokes, if indeed one credits special effects maestro turned director Gabe Bartalos (“Happy Hell Night,” etc.) of thinking or scripting this through.

I don’t.

It feels improvised on the fly.

“Saint Bernard” is surreal to the point of performance art obscure, with an endless parade of C-movie horror masks, exploding heads, geysers of blood and a Fellini film’s worth of bit players cast for their homeliness.

Might it be a cult film, enjoyed by the imbibing midnight movie classes? Maybe. But there’s a point where your mind-altering substance consumption crosses from loose and funny to nauseating.

“Saint Bernard” lives on the wrong side of that line.


MPAA Rating: unrated, violence and sex, all of it gross

Cast: Jason Dugre, Katy Sullivan, Peter Iasillo Jr., Bob Zmuda and Warwick Davis,

Credits: Written and directed by Gabriel “Gabe” Bartalos.  A Severin Release.

Running time: 1:39


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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