Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Head – review

Director: Michael Keene

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

There are moments, when reviewing films, where I surprise myself. In the case of this the surprise came when I realised that I was enjoying this so very much. I mean, everything about a movie featuring a blood-drinking mannequin head, shot deliberately on VHS, with the photography using colours that are deliberately muted, and spattered with juvenile masturbation jokes should have been a no-no. But it was fabulous.

finding her
After an intertitle that suggests two hundred women are beheaded every year, but some are born that way, we see a man with a case. Camera angles conspire to ensure we never see the man’s head. He eventually puts his case down and climbs onto a gravel bank and picks up a mannequin head…

Mishka Mars as Darcy
Peter (Dani Richmond) is exercising. His mother (Cheryl Prater) calls him and gives him his sardines and milk – he needs protein. Note that he seems middle aged, but he’s a momma’s boy. She demands he goes to the store to buy more sardines and milk. In the store he bumps, quite literally, into a punk styled lady – we discover later that she’s called Darcy (Mishka Mars). He’s clearly immediately smitten and asks if she’s doing anything later – her punk band (Unicorn Grinder) are playing the dive bar next door she tells him.

alleyway victim
For a moment we cut away from Peter and meet a man, Jake Perkins (Charles Tyrrell), who is taking a shower. What was interesting was the way the shower scene was shot. Often you could describe the film technique used when filming a woman in the shower as the camera caressing her. Keene did the same here but with a man, where normally a shot of a man in that situation would be utilitarian. Perkins is a cop and is called to an alleyway crime scene – the murdered victim has a wound to his forehead and is drained of blood.

blood on tap
Cutting to a homeless man (Drew Marvick) dragging another man, he sits him up and holds a spigot to his head, and then hammers it into place and opens the tap to fill a jar with blood. We could ask why an artery is not tapped… but who cares, it just works. The man takes the jar into a room where he has built a shrine of candles with a skull and dolls head and, sat on a plinth, is the mannequin head. He presents the jar to her.

blood offering
So, cutting to the chase, Peter goes to the bar and watches the band. They are approached by a record producer (Michael Keene) with less than honourable intent for them but that reaches into the main plot eventually. Peter approaches Darcy, is blown off, relieves himself sexually in a car park (and triggers the best intertitle moment) and then hears a female voice asking for help. He follows the voice, finds the head and eventually takes her home. Its interesting that, for the most part, we only hear his responses, and not what she says to him – but that is not the case all through.

drinking Momma's blood
The head, he discovers, subsists on blood, after an accident involving his mother and a blender. He gets her cow's blood when he takes her for a meal (the restaurant scene exemplifying the surreal nature of the plot) but what she really wants is human blood. There is a problem in that he is pretty much an inept murderer (at least at first), and this is amplified by a family member (Jeremy Bice) who comes to stay, the homeless man looking for the head and Perkins hunting a murderer.

ready to possess
The head herself is able to throw herself at blood, floats occasionally, seems to become giant at one point (that could be in Peter’s head) and is able to posses someone for a short space of time. Of course it is ludicrous, but that’s the point, it is what makes the film work so very well – and work it does. I was reminded in some respects of the Greasy Strangler (2016) but this is much less polished than that film. The lack of polish, the aping of direct to VHS, was deliberate and done knowingly, adding to its charm – though I can’t help but wonder how the film would have been if it had been drawn in a slicker style, like the Greasy Strangler.

Dani Richmond as Peter
It is absolutely clear that Michael Keene knew what he wanted out of the film and then shot it with a glint in his eye and a smirk on his face. The direction has the odd moment of cleverness but mostly does what Keene set out to do and captured the essence of that older horror. I mentioned masturbation jokes and these were added in at the right level and frequency to prevent them making the film nothing more than a frat joke. The whole thing is, of course, a black comedy. It won’t be for everyone, unless you get it and are therefore in on the joke from the get-go it feels likely that you’d see it as a z grade movie (the practical effects are good fun but, again, reach back to those older films and are not slick). For those who get it, the Head will display a stroke of genius. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

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