The Rambler (2013) poster

The Rambler (2013)


USA. 2013.


Director/Screenplay – Calvin Lee Reeder, Producers – Nate Bolotin, Christo Dimassis, James Lejsek, Roger M. Mayer & Clayton Young, Photography – David McFarland, Music – Scott Honea, Jed Maheu & Heather McIntosh, Makeup Effects Designer – Jason Collins, Production Design – Geoff Flint. Production Company – XYZ Films/Brooklyn Reptyle Films/Instinctive Films/Windowlight Pictures.


Dermot Mulroney (The Rambler), Lindsay Pulsipher (The Girl), Natasha Lyonne (Cheryl), James Cady (The Scientist), Scott Sharot (The Driver), Paul Blott (Dale), Robyn Reade (Roberta), Christopher Dempsey (Bob), Carrie Lazar (Susan), Sherril Johnson (Bar Woman/Scientist’s Daughter), Roger M. Mayer (Fat Man)


A man is released from jail after a four-year sentence. He returns home to his wife Cheryl but after they argue, she reveals that she is pregnant to another man. The man sets out hitch-hiking to join his brother on his ranch. Along the way, the man falls in with a bunch of strange characters including Dale, who places the man into a series of bare-knuckle fights. The man also meets a scientist who is carrying two mummies and demonstrates a device that can read people’s dreams but instead causes the heads of everybody he attaches it to to explode. The man becomes involved with a girl but after he leaves her, she keeps turning up again despite being killed.

The Rambler was the third film for Calvin Lee Reeder. Reeder had previously made the obscure comedy Jerkbeast (2005) and the horror film The Oregonian (2011). Subsequent to this, he made The Melon Heads segment of the anthology The Field Guide to Evil (2018). The film here is a full-length expansion of Reeder’s earlier 12-minute short film The Rambler (2008), which also featured Lindsey Pulsipher and where Reeder played the title role (which is inherited here by Dermot Mulroney).

The Rambler didn’t get much of a high-profile or a lot of great reviews when it came out but I kind of liked it. It starts in a fairly innocuous way and just gets weirder. From the outset, you could peg it as being a regular story about a man (Dermot Mulroney whose character is never given any other name than the film’s title) who is released from jail (we never find out why he was sentenced). He tries to settle back in to his old life but argues with his wife (Natasha Lyonne) and leaves where he sets out hitch-hiking and passes through a series of picaresque adventures. There are a good many indie road movies that come with a not dissimilar premise and you could easily for a time at least assume this is going to be in a similar vein.

Then things get weird. Mulroney gets a ride with the character of The Scientist (James Cady) who drives around with what he says are two mummies in the back of his station wagon. The Scientist also has a contraption that he says can record someone’s dreams on videotape – only whenever he attaches anybody to the headset, it causes their head to explode. Mulroney enters a card game in a bar and encounters a strange player (Roger M. Mayer, who is one of the film’s producers) who points to another man on the other side of the bar and says he is evil and that the two of them “do butt stuff together.”

Dermot Mulroney plays guitar in a burning house in The Rambler (2013)
Dermot Mulroney plays guitar in a burning house at the film’s climax

Throughout, Dermot Mulroney sees random flashes of light in the sky and has momentary visions of people dead or wounded. At one point, he exits a convenience store to see a crowd on the street gathered around a girl (who we will later discover is Lindsay Pulsipher) lying dead with her head splattered and a dog eating up bits of brain.

One of the more normal parts of the film is when Dermot Mulroney connects up with and has a relationship with Lindsay Pulsipher. However, this too gets weird. After they split up, he encounters her again singing and playing guitar in a bar – only for the roof of the bar to fall in and apparently kill her. I say apparently because she keeps turning up again throughout despite having been killed.

The phrase that most people use to describe the film is Lynch-ian. There is certainly a degree of similarity to the Southwestern Noir that Lynch taps in Wild at Heart (1990). Like Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), this also arrives at a surreal climax in a burning shack. The scene that could be described as most Lynchian is the one where Dermot Mulroney attends a wake where various of the attendees have a peculiar habit of vanishing and reappearing, while a person that appears to have badly burned skin crawls through the room.

In the finale, Dermot Mulroney meets up with Lindsay Pulsipher who ties him to a bed in a motel room, only for an obese zombified woman to burst in through the window and vomit orange goo all over him. In other rooms of the motel, he finds The Scientist attached to his own dream device, still alive with his eyes bulging out on stalks, along with the mummies alive and twitching in the closet. Mulroney then gets a ride to his brother’s ranch with a taxi driver (Scott Sharot) who goes on about how he should watch Frankenstein – it is not clear which version – and then tells Dermot how he is really turned on by wounded women, the more hurt the better. They come across a wounded Lindsay Pulsipher run down in the street and the driver takes her to his brother’s house to save her but cannot. As the film ends, Dermot sits playing guitar as the house burns down around him.

Trailer here

Actors: , , , , , , , , , ,
Themes: , , ,