Psychotropic Overload (1994) – By Josh Samford

In my time writing for Rogue Cinema, I’ve been handed hundreds of screeners up to this point. I find myself reviewing from three to five independently produced movies on a monthly basis just for this very magazine. Now, there are many different forms of cinema throughout the indie world but actual ‘quality’ is one factor that really varies from movie to movie. Sometimes you’ll get an indie short that looks like it was shot by Robert Richardson while in others you might get something that looks to have been shot in the backyard with mom’s Video Camera she uses for vacation videos. The film I’m discussing here today, well, you can only say that it’s a mix of just about everything. Compiling video tape, 8mm, 16mm and enough stylistic changes throughout to make you feel like someone dosed your coca cola – Psychotropic Overload does show that sometimes really good ideas can make up for quite a few imperfections. I won’t sit here and lie and say that it’s a masterpiece by any means, the director warned me in advance when sending it out that he didn’t feel it represented his best work, but there are some really bright ideas in this little low budget gem that shows something that is often missing from the majority of independent flicks I review on a regular basis. Originality. For that I have to say kudos to director Joseph F. Alexandre!

The plot for our film focuses on a doctor and his patient. Dr. Steven Callahan (David Wittman) has taken on a new patient in the form of Christian (Joseph F. Alexandre). As he finds out more and more about this young man, the Doctor begins to see this young man’s wild and violent side. As he relays bizarre fantasies about murder and revenge to the doctor, their relationship grows tense. Callahan hates hearing the young man’s burdens and simply wants out of the situation as quick as possible, as he reiterates his loathing for his patient in his mind. Outside of the office Callahan’s life is no better. His wife has been cheating on him he feels, while he himself has been cheating on her. His mistress pushes him to get a divorce but things aren’t that simple for the doctor. Things get interesting though when bodies start turning up and the murders are apparently happening in a way similar to those described in Christian’s fantasies. Will the doctor go to the authorities or solve this issue himself?

Straight from the jump, the use of these varying cinematic devices is jarring. We cut from these various picture qualities, from color to black and white and then back and forth so much that the mood can only be described as nightmarish. The audio is as dark as the video for the most part, as it has all been recorded after the fact and layered on top of the video. The ADR really threw me off when I first started the movie up as it makes everything feel as though we’re listening to an endless series of narration. Especially since for the most part the voices and the lips of the actors do not match up. Your first instinct is to probably think "wow, that’s pretty amateur" and maybe that’s right and it’s just a happy accident; but the effect plays off pretty well. It takes the nightmarish visuals and brings them up a notch into this weird otherworldly feel. Like a waking dream, with dingy picture quality! What the quality reminds me of is both a mix of early nineties German splatter (German gore & zombie flicks) from the likes of Olaf Ittenbach or Andreas Schnaas, thrown in a blender with Last House on Dead End Street (which had a similar voiceover narrative style) and any given Oliver Stone flick. It’s a very hallucinatory film and actually pays off in dividends. Although I’ll refrain from spoiling it for anyone, I will say that the plot for the movie is actually very well done. It could have probably been delivered in a very linear fashion and told a straight forward yet interesting story; but as it is the actual twists and turns become all the more shocking by the means it is delivered. Especially since it was apparently made in 1994 before a lot of similar conventions had become popular.

By no means is it perfect. The acting, which is voice acting for the most part, isn’t exactly On The Waterfront. I will say that both doctor and patient really aren’t that bad, but some of the supporting performers tend to be a bit wooden. The only problem I ever had with David Wittman’s performance as Dr. Steven Callahan was that wooden pipe he was smoking throughout the sessions! Both he and Alexandre himself are fairly respectable in their roles here with their voiceover narrations being performed with some relaxed tones that come across as having emotion in them. The pacing of the movie is a bit drawn out, even at one hour’s length. With the majority of the film taking place in the doctor’s office. You begin to wonder if the movie wouldn’t have been stronger as a short. However, I get the feeling that the filmmakers did the best within their means but if they had a slightly larger budget and the ability to shoot more scenes at different and interesting locations – they could have likely made an even stronger film. As it is though, I think the ideas, the visual aesthetic and plotting really carry the movie and delivers something very interesting. It really does pack a punch if you’ll allow it to effect you. Watching it late at night, with that haunting final visual – I won’t lie, it can be pretty creepy! I’ll be going over more from Mr. Alexandre including one of his more recent works Warriors of the Discotheque: The Starck Club Documentary and I can’t wait. You can order Psychotropic Overload from CreateSpace and the DVD comes with Alexandre’s other shorts Lemon and The Real Casino. Definitely check this one out if you’re into abstract cinema from the likes of Lynch, Jodorowsky, Buñuel or something along the lines of Elias Merhige’s Begotten.