Review: Shock culture makes a comeback in ‘Pig Death Machine’

Before the idea of independent cinema arose, there were underground films, cultivating a taste for the out-there, the unusual and a hunger to push the boundaries of shock culture. It is in that tradition that filmmaker Jon Moritsugu has been working for about 25 years. His first feature film in more than a decade, “Pig Death Machine,” feels like a purposefully retro throwback, shot on digital video — but frequently shifting between images distorted to look lo-fi trashy — and colors given a crisp, acid-burn pop.

The film is co-written by Moritsugu’s usual star (and wife), Amy Davis, and the pair put their adopted hometown of Santa Fe to great use, moving among tourist-trap tackiness and a dusty, desert town blankness.

When a shipment of tainted pork hits town, it has transformative effects on those who eat it, including a dim-witted woman (Davis) who is transformed into a super-genius, and a punk botanist (Hannah Levbarg) who suddenly finds she can communicate with plants. It all builds to a strange, disorienting sequence that could almost be called sophisticated if that didn’t seem so contrary to Moritsugu’s interests in keeping it sleazy, The film ends with a brief interlude that features an avalanche of animated meats.

Anyone who longs for the old, weird films of John Waters or the psychotronic freak-outs of New York’s Cinema of Transgression school should be able to get their fix from “Pig Death Machine.”

Mark Olsen


“Pig Death Machine.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. Playing: At the Downtown Independent.