Machines of Love and Hate (2003) Movie Review

A big problem with the current crop of low-budget filmmakers (and we’re not talking about those faux “low-budget” films ala Miramax here) is that they usually come in only two forms: fans of simplistic genres or their more pretentious, ambitious colleagues. The genre lovers make films that relies on their love for said genre, following conventions to the letter, whereas the pretentious ones make films that make so little sense, and offers so little entertainment value, that it’s a wonder they were able to convince anyone to invest in their movie in the first place. Joseph Parda’s “Machines of Love and Hate” fits into the latter category. (And really, couldn’t you just tell by that grandiose title alone?)

The movie stars David Runco as some sort of Jesus personality (albeit one in a gas mask and trench coat) who appears out of the ocean and finds himself in the home of the Bickersome Marks after their daughter runs him over with her car. Patriarch Alexander Marks (Roland Johnson) is wheelchair bound, but that doesn’t stop him from acting like Vincent Price’s Evil Clone in every scene. On the other hand matriarch Cynthia Marks (Eileen Daly) is channeling Joan Crawford from “Mommie Dearest”, mugging for the camera almost as much as her impotent husband. The only normal member of the family is Erika (Tina Krause), who in one scene strips down to have sex with Jesus Guy, but takes the time to strap on Jesus Guy’s gas mask first. Later, while having sex with the crazy mom, Jesus Guy straps on his gas mask as the crazy mom rides him.

What is it with that gas mask, I wonder?

As mentioned, writer/director Joseph Parda has decided to go the pretentious route with “Machines of Love and Hate”. From its opening title, which suggests that Jean-Charles (Runco) came out of the ocean, to a rather pointless car ride with an “Old Man” played by Milton Haynes where the duo delight us with philosophical garbage, the movie is 80 minutes of nonsensical nonsense. Unless, of course, you like that sort of stuff. One gets the feeling Parda has seen too many Luis Bunuel and David Lynch movies and simply wants to emulate his heroes. As a result, much of “Machines” comes across as being weird for the sake of being weird. It’s not even surreal, it’s just…weird.

As for the cast, they seem to be doing the most of what they’re given. To say that Johnson goes overboard with his Vincent Price impersonation is an understatement; he couldn’t have been any more unnatural if he tried. Not that Johnson had any choice other than to go full blast with his Evil Scientist From Some Unknown Era shtick, since co-star Daly was challenging him for the title of goofiest character. The two courageously vie for the Odious Oddball Character, and the winner is — both of them!

As to story, “Machines” is a lot simpler than it thinks it is. Oh sure, Parda approaches the film from the perspective of a film school student with one too many classes in avant-garde cinema and experimental narrative under his belt, but he still hasn’t grasped good screenwriting. “Machines” lumbers along, throwing in as much weirdness as Parda can possibly think off along the way, but the payoff (such as it is) is simply not up to the task. Who exactly was the black guy with the gas mask again? Oh wait, I don’t care. Nevermind.

Which isn’t to say that “Machines of Love and Hate” is completely without merit. It’s reasonably well shot and the cinematography avoids the biggest pitfall of low-budget moviemaking, which is lousy cinematography. I’m also sure that Parda had all the symbolisms and motifs figured out before he wrote the script and shot the movie. It’s just that I don’t care. I wish I could make myself more interested in what Parda is doing, but I can’t. It’s not as if the movie elicits any interest from me, either. Aside from the soundtrack by MJ Mack and S. Gerard Mack of Function Zero, which is actually quite stimulating (and perhaps the only thing stimulating about the movie), I’m afraid “Machines of Love and Hate” will only “work” if you’re looking for wacky junk.

The upshot? “Machines” could have been a lot worst. The cinematography and music could have been awful, but they aren’t. Thank God. Or should I say, Thank Jesus Guy with gas mask.

FYI: I realize that the copy sent to me by the filmmakers is a screener copy, but there’s really no need to plaster a giant “SCREENING COPY” caption at the bottom of the frame for the entire length of the movie. Especially since the bloody caption takes up nearly 20% of the screen, with the movie already coming in widescreen format to begin with. It’s bloody annoying, to be sure.

Joseph F. Parda (director) / Joseph F. Parda (screenplay)
CAST: Eileen Daly …. Cynthia Marks
Milton Haynes …. The Old Man
Roland Johnson …. Alexander Marks
Tina Krause …. Erika Marks
Devon Mikolas …. Kelvin Marks
David Runco …. Jean-Charles