AS IS TRUE OF LIFE itself, a streaming service is like a box of chocolates: packed with delicious treats of dubious nutritional value. No, that’s not it. It’s more the “you never know what you’re going to get” thing. In that spirit, I am pleased to inform readers who are Amazon Prime members that they may now sample the oeuvre of Damon Packard. He is a filmmaker who effectively erases the distinction between what we used to call “underground” cinema and the independent label under which we now tend to put everything low-budget. While the transgressiveness of Mr. Packard’s work is genuine, and recalls old-school subversive cinema, there’s a hermetic quality to it as well. It doesn’t kid itself about leading any kind of revolution.
The six films available free to Prime members are the short features “Foxfur” (2012) and “SpaceDisco One” (2007); the anthology films “Dawn of Evil” and “Tales Beyond Madness;” and the deep dives (that is, features) “Reflections of Evil” (2002) and his latest film, “Fatal Pulse,” which had a theatrical showing in June under the name “Untitled Yuppie Fear Thriller.”
Mr. Packard’s subjects are Los Angeles, its grungiest denizens, paranoia, and film itself.
His earliest available work, “Dawn of an Evil Millennium,” from 1988, is a component of the anthology film “Dawn of Evil.” Like some of Mr. Packard’s shorts, “Evil Millennium” is a kind of trailer for a never-completed picture. Featuring blood-drenched characters staggering through the seedier areas of Hollywood, it plays like an amalgam of the works of the underground luminary Kenneth Anger, David Lynch, the B-movie schlock/shockmeister William Castle, and the barrel-scraping grindhouse auteur Andy Milligan.
“Reflection of Evil” doggedly defies conventional plot description. The cut of the film streaming on Amazon Prime is almost two hours and 20 minutes. (A shorter version can be rented on the site, but I didn’t have time to watch it.) It begins with a badly redubbed introduction from Tony Curtis, lifted from a LaserLight “classic films” DVD release. Mr. Packard frequently cuts to an aging couple watching a TV movie in their living room; in the film within this film, a young woman in a nightgown wanders tree-lined streets.
In the middle of the street outside, a character named Bobby, played by Mr. Packard himself, materializes out of thin air. The already hefty actor-director is wearing padding to make himself look even bulkier. He paces the street screeching obscenities. Distracted by the noise outside, the man watching TV walks across the living room to his gun rack, which has a Nazi flag behind it. Bobby passes out on the street and regurgitates what looks like a gallon of Dinty Moore beef stew.