"For those of you not familiar with Lee, Iíll first say that Lee is NOT CHINESE. I thought with Lee as a last name, he had to be oriental or something. Nope. Heís a plain Ďol white guy from Maryland who likes seafood. And Lee is the worldís greatest extreme gross-out horror writer. His redneck horror is as hilarious as it is disgustingly perverted. Heís a genius. (Lee, are you reading this?) And he has humongous genitals. Hence the horde of groupies that camp out in front of his apartment. Iím surprised he gets any writing done...anyway, Header is one f*cked up movie. Expect to be shocked. Itís exactly like the book. I did not censor the script, just made sure I adapted the film version as best as I could. I wanted Lee and his fans to love this movie, so I kept it true to the original story."
Review Date: April 8, 2010
Released by: Synapse Films
Release date: 6/30/2009
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
The above quote is just one of many inane comments given by Archibald Flancranstin, the director of Header
, in an interview
at the Bloody-Disgusting website. The film, which as you will see if you scroll down to my grading, now has the distinction of being one of only a handful of movies that I have given an 'F' to on this site. Of course, I actually passed judgment on this film before I read the interview and discovered that Mr. Flancranstin - real name Mike Kennedy - has the mentality of a ten year-old. Which is not quite as terrible as it sounds since, judging by his youthful appearance and still squeaky voice in his behind-the-scenes interview, he couldn't have been more than twenty-two or twenty-three when he made this film. Hey, at least he didn't turn out to be forty with the mentality of a ten year-old. But I digress. Keep reading if you want to find out why Header
rivals the equally abominable Sick Girl
as the worst new movie I watched in 2009.
WARNING: Contains major spoilers
Stu Cummings (Jake Suffian
) is an ATF agent working in the rural hinterlands of West Virginia. He is also a man with deep problems, most of them financial. For some time now his girlfriend has been suffering from a chronic sickness. Her doctor has given her a number of very expensive prescriptions, but since sheís too ill to work Stu has been forced to maintain the household and pay for her medical expenses with his meager government salary. Although loyal to his duties as a federal officer, his financial woes have forced him into accepting kickbacks from one of the lowlife moonshiners that heís supposed to be busting.
As our hero struggles with his money woes a new adversary is about to make himself known. At a jail nearby a young redneck named Travis Clyde Tuckton (Elliot V. Kotek
) has just been released after serving an eleven-year sentence for grand theft auto and manslaughter. He hitchhikes into the backwoods and makes his way to an isolated cabin belonging to his grandfather Jake (Dick Mullaney
). His grandfather is his only living relation, and Travis is shocked to discover that the old man is legless and in a wheelchair. It seems the old manís diabetes required an operation. After talking for a little bit Travis reveals something that he wants to do. Something that his father always used to do with his grandfather when Travis was a boy. He wants to give somebody a header.
What is a header? That question is gorily answered when Travis picks up a female hitchhiker, a local girl he went to school with. Having held a grudge against the girl since then he proceeds to punch her lights out and take her back to his grandfatherís cabin, where the old man explains what to do. First they chain her down on a table, then he has Travis drill a hole in her head big enough to fit a fist through. And then Grandpa Jake tells him to insert his penis into the hole and he proceeds to skull-fuck the girl. Later Travis dumps her body in a field where a couple of state troopers find it. Stu sees the police cars on his way home from work and stops as well. The wounds on the girlís head are perplexing, and when the forensics work comes back Stu is shocked to discover that there is semen in the wound!
Other similar murders follow, as Travis and his grandfather go on a killing spree the likes of which this rural area has never seen. Stuís supervisor at the ATF field office grew up among the hill folk and recognizes whatís going on, and after much prodding he finally explains to Stu what the purpose of a header is. Itís a form of one-upmanship he explains. When rednecks get into a feud with each other a header is the last place they can go in the escalation chain. It is the supreme, most vile, most awful thing you can do to a person and his kin. Despite his supervisorís warnings to not get involved, Stu charges headlong into an investigation. But his financial problems are gaining on him, and soon he is going to have to make a choice about which side of the law heís really on.
Part of me really wanted to like Header
. It really did. And no matter how much I may detest it, I will always admire the sheer audacity of the filmmakers to bring something this nasty to the screen. Unlike the equally repugnant Sick Girl
, which clearly existed for no other reason than to burnish its directorís credentials, everyone involved with Header
clearly was making an effort to turn this extremely low budget film into something grand, perhaps another Texas Chainsaw Massacre
. They fail largely due to the fact that, like the victims of Travis and Grandpa Jake, director Archibald Flancranstin has something distasteful stuck in his head.
One of the problems with horror films today is that the people who make them Ė particularly those who make independents outside of Hollywood and are able to exercise complete control Ė too often confuse cynicism with intelligence. The mentality seems to be that if a horror film doesnít have a dark, brooding, twisted ending in which everybody dies or the killer/monster/demon is unstoppable, then somehow itís selling out. Happy endings? No way, those are for big sappy studio movies that are too commercial to show the way the world really works. Instead of being a tool that can be used intelligently in the right hands, cynicism becomes intelligence, and thus too many movies become loaded up with it when they would be better off with just a little or none at all. And Header
is a perfect example of a low budget horror movie trying too hard with this type of faux intelligence. No, Iím not necessarily saying this movie needs a happy ending instead of the depressing, downbeat one the filmmakers go with. But I am saying the filmmakers are too amateurish to actually write and shoot a mature horror story competently, and the final thirty minutes of this movie are loaded with cynical inanity in the place of smart filmmaking.
The change comes at the end of the second act, when Stu suddenly, for no apparent reason, turns from a corrupt but well meaning federal agent into a homicidal maniac. Previously Stu had gotten himself mixed up with two cocaine dealers and was being paid $1000 a month by them to transport a load of drugs each week. As far as I can discern this arrangement should have pretty much alleviated most of his financial problems. But then Stu goes for his weekly pick-up and discovers that this time he is transporting an extra large shipment, and being paid $5000. The head drug dealer goes to pay him out of a bag containing huge amounts of cash and something clicks in Stuís head. He pulls out his gun and shoots both dealers dead. Why he suddenly goes psycho is never clear, but he proceeds to then run off with both the drugs and the money.
From there Stu tracks down Travis and Grandpa Jake in their cabin in the woods. He walks in on them right as Travis is giving someone a header. With almost no hesitation, Stu shoots Travis dead, even though the only weapon he was carrying was his own penis. He then shoots Grandpa Jake, even though heís unarmed too. Jake gets a few moments to cry and moan and scream, and then Stu shoots him again, killing him. Then Stu, for reasons that are beyond me, decides to take the drill they were using with him when he leaves, apparently not thinking that the forensics boys might happen to want the crime scene left intact. He drives down to his field office where he breathlessly tells his ATF supervisor of what he did, apparently not realizing that a lawman such as his supervisor might frown upon the fact that he killed an unarmed suspect, then twice shot an unarmed, legless geriatric in a wheelchair.
Not that it matters; at the field office is a state police officer who informs him that he is under arrest. Turns out one of the drug dealers he murdered was actually an undercover cop, and they had hidden cameras in the house that captured him doing it. But their attempts to bust him go awry when he shoots both of them and drives away. He rushes back to his house where he discovers that his supposedly sick girlfriend is actually cheating on him with her doctor. He kills the doctor and shoots her in the knees, then goes back out to his truck and cries. Then he, solemnly and sadly, takes the bloody drill from his vehicle and goes back inside, with the apparent intention of giving his girlfriend a header. Roll credits.
It would have taken a director, writer and actor much more competent than this film had to have really pulled this off. The filmmakers clearly wanted Stuís turn to catch the audience by surprise, but instead it comes so far out of left field that itís ludicrous. Jake Suffian, only moderately convincing as an ATF agent, becomes completely unbelievable at the moment he goes off the deep end. Itís amateur hour all the way for him, and for pretty much everyone involved with the movie save for the SFX guys. Header
is a movie that has a lot of misconceptions about itself. It thinks itís smart, when really itís idiotic. It thinks itís telling the truth about the world, when really itís completely unbelievable. And it thinks itís a new horror classic, when itís really complete trash.
With the exception of the opening shots, which look like they were filmed on 16mm (and appear to have been deliberately roughed up for effect), Header
is a video movie with a lot of visual problems. Shaky camerawork, bad lighting, bad videography, night scenes that are either too dark or too bright, etc. At first glance there are quite a few soft looking shots, but upon further inspection they are revealed to be simply out of focus. Colors are somewhat inconsistent, with the quality of the shot wholly dependent on the production situation. I suspect that this was the way the master looked when it was delivered to Synapse, and they used it without doing any work on it themselves. The compression and encoding is fine, so Synapse definitely did their job from a technical perspective.
is presented in Dolby 2.0 Stereo. Sound recording here is adequate, no more. The ability to understand dialogue is almost completely dependent on who is talking, since some actors like to bury their sentences under incomprehensible southern accents, with a little dramatic slurring for effect (Grandpa Jake in particular is difficult to understand). There are no audio drop-outs, but there are plenty of production-related background noises and other problems. Itís an acceptable track, no more.
First of all, I would just like to extend my gracious thanks to Don May for sparing me the indignity of having to sit through a commentary track for this movie. The extras for Header
are limited to a series of six easily digestible featurettes focusing on different aspects of the production and two promotional trailers. The first is an interview with director Archibald Flancranstin, shot on the set of the movie in 2006. He attempts to talk a good game about his artistic intentions and the difficulties of low budget shooting, but his inexperience and lack of maturity shine through his every comment. Poor boy, I'm sure he tried his best though. The Flancranstin interview is followed by a slightly longer interview featurette with the very non-Oriental writer Edward Lee, who visited the set and had a cameo role as a local cop. Lee talks about his surprise at the fact that someone wanted to make a film of his tale, and admits the main reason he wrote the novella back in 1994 was to see how outrageous and shocking he could make it without going over the line. After Lee's interview we next hear from horror writer Jack Ketchum, a friend of Lee's who also has a cameo role in the film. Of all the interview subjects here, Ketchum is probably the most articulate, talking about his own career in writing and how he first met Lee.
The next interview is with star Jake Suffian, who struggles to articulate his thoughts about working on the production but who comes across as a hard working, if inexperienced, actor. This is followed by an interview with producer Michael Philip Anthony, who talks in a reasonably competent manner about all the problems that they encountered on the shoot, from losing a location that they needed to dealing with unexpectedly rainy weather for a shoot that in large part was conducted outdoors. The final interview is with Alex Marthaller, David Plunkett, Ryan Carroll and Brian Ray, who did special effects for the movie. Plunkett and Ray both received their training at Tom Savini's special effects make-up school, and the quality of their work - which they show off repeatedly throughout the interview - certainly lives up to the standards of the man who taught them.
As previously mentioned, two promotional trailers are included. The first trailer does a good job of selling Header
as a horror film, and even makes it look like a better movie than it really is. The second trailer fails to show any of the horror elements, instead making it look as if the entire feature was about Stu becoming a corrupt agent because of his girlfriend's medical problems.
I have nothing against gore movies. In fact, I enjoy gore movies for the most part. When it comes to watching them I donít mind if theyíre dumb or poorly made, even though I may criticize them for it in my reviews. In fact, my only real condition for enjoying a gore movie is that it canít be so pretentious and full of itself that it insults my intelligence. Which is exactly what Header
does. If however youíre a gorehound who is not concerned with such matters then by all means run out and watch this movie, you wonít regret it. Picture and sound are only average, and the supplements are not extensive, but Synapse has put together a decent package nonetheless.
Movie Ė F
Image Quality Ė C+
Sound Ė C+
Supplements Ė B-
- Running Time Ė 1 hour 29 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 2.0 Stereo
- Six interview featurettes
- Two promotional trailers