Have you ever seen one of those carnival rides that operates like a ferris wheel, but which has enclosed cars that can spin freely while the ride is in motion? Maybe these are also called ferris wheels, but the value added is that you can be upside down for brief periods.
Many years ago, a friend recounted to me the story of riding in one of these enclosed cars with a relative, who regrettably hurled his dinner soon after the ride commenced. However long the ride was, it must have seemed like a month, with the other guy's vomit flying around the perimeter of the gondola, shifting directions abruptly, and every now and then splattering both occupants with puke.
While enduring Dr. Tarr's Torture Dungeon, I found myself recalling my friend's anecdote, wondering whether the hour and a half I was wasting could possibly be any better than having projectile vomit whiz around me with centrifugal force. I concluded that the ride would be preferable, since it would only waste five minutes, and at its conclusion I would be afforded the opportunity to enjoy a snow cone or win a stuffed gopher in a hoop toss. Not to worry, I reasoned, the snow cone could be held at a safe distance, and the gopher could be wrapped in plastic until after I had been given a chance to shower.
This relentlessly unwatchable turd was directed by Juan López Moctezuma, who it turns out was also the producer of Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo. Not surprisingly, I've found several reviews which draw parallels between Dr. Tarr and both Jodorowsky and Terry Gilliam. Whatever. I'm not a huge fan of Jodorowsky or Gilliam, but neither of them has to my knowledge excreted anything approaching Dr. Tarr in mediocrity.
Torture has never been high on my list of things that I enjoy watching, but that's hardly an issue here, since most of the torture is directed at the viewer who attempts to parse the insufferably idiotic dialogue that bludgeons anything in its path. One of the principle culprits in this regard is Claudio Brooks, a Wally George clone who delivers his scripted nonsense with the comedic wit of Gallagher smashing his eight thousandth watermelon at a comedy club in Nebraska. And yes, on some level I think this really was meant to be a comedy. It succeeds in the same sense that Larry King succeeds in journalism.
After a headache inducing credit sequence shot through red cellophane, we find Gaston LeBlanc traveling by horse carriage to a French sanitarium reknowned for its treatment of mental illness. With him is a guy with a top hat who looks like Tommy Chong, and the driver who resembles Anton LaVey.
A tense standoff with armed guards at the gate is cut off with the film's first comedic outburst: a gay joke. A prancing guy with a lisp walks out to greet them, and xylophone music helps reinforce the hilarity of his gayness. And there's only another 85 minutes to go!
Before reaching the sanitarium, there's a brief altercation with a grunting idiot with a pitchfork who is shooed away by a screaming monk. Tommy Chong drops off Gaston to care for his sick cousin who is also in tow. Gaston is greeted by a guy wearing an orange knights who say nee sort of get up with a batman mask that flops down over his nose, and a goofy thing on his chest that looks like a spiraled rubber hose. They enter the sanitarium and the inmates are doing annoying shit like making bat sounds and hammering on metal ladders with sticks. Need I go on?
Gaston meets Dr. Maillard, played by the aforementioned Claudio Brooks. Little does he know that Maillard is actually an inmate who has seized control of the asylum.
Meanwhile, some of Maillard's henchmen in Monty Python wardrobe hijack Tommy Chong's carriage as he's leaving, beat Anton LaVey into submission, tie up Tommy Chong, and rape Tommy Chong's cousin, while the guy with the pitchfork makes whooping sounds. This segues into Maillard giving LeBlanc a tour of the sanitarium with some light hearted music to let you know that rape isn't that big of a deal, and downright hilarious under the right circumstances.
During the tour, it becomes clear that Maillard is extremely annoying. He bursts into song and spews rambling nonsense about how the "hot blooded" Latinos he has trapped in his chimneys generate energy to heat the sanitarium, which in turn is "crystallized" into a miraculous drug that supposedly calms down mental patients. "And so animal instinct is conquered by intelligence." During this explanation, one of the guys in the chimneys is ululating, because Juan López decided there had to be at least two really fucking annoying things going on at all times, in case potential viewers might feel like getting out of bed the next day. Maillard also describes another machine that generates "luminous matter which will become an integral part of man's nervous system, a metallic womb uniting man to the universe," which if you think about it, makes as much sense as Scientology. Hopefully he's applied for tax exempt status.
Then its back to the jolly rapists, who have hog tied Tommy Chong so they can tote him around on a stick. This time the funny xylophone music is embellished with dissonant horns. If you love inappropriate incidental music, this is your movie.
Returning to the sanitarium, Maillard introduces Gaston to "Mr. Chicken," a guy with a beard who flaps his arms and clucks a lot. "Ah my fine feathered friend, I've come to feed you," he chortles as he tosses Mr. Chicken some corn. Later, when some inmates drop a bunch of chickens on them through the roof, Maillard picks one up and says "I hope this isn't Mr. Chicken!," then erupts into awkward, hysterical laughter.
Oh gee, what else happens? Inmates run around hitting each other with sticks. A man is humiliated by being covered in celery. And did I mention chicken person choreography? Three dipshits covered in feathers with KISS makeup dance to Man From U.N.C.L.E. music while emitting piercing squawks. The dance recalls the Bonnie Franklin variety special that CBS aired back in the early 80s, and its duration exceeds that of a vomit drenched carnival ride.
There's a fine line between surrealism and tedious bullshit, but Dr. Tarr's Torture Dungeon lands far enough away from the line that there's no sense worrying about where to draw it. Still, if you want to see every movie with chicken suits before you die, or if you just happen to like dodging projectile puke, then put this one on your short list.