What’s a header?
I’m not going to tell you. Because you don’t want to know. Really. You don’t. But you do want to see this film. If you want to know what a header is. And maybe even if you don’t. And whether you do or don’t, you won’t really like the answer. Or maybe you will. If you’re sick. I mean really sick.
Confused yet? Good. Me too.
But truth be told, first-time director Archibald Flancranstin (with a name like that, it’s got to be real)’s 2006 shot-on-high-def video indie horror “Header,” based on the story “Redneck Greek Tragedy” by cult horror author Edward Lee later adapted into comics form by Verotik, isn’t a very confusing film at all. It’s pretty straightforward. It’s also almost incomparably OTT, at times pretty amateurish, indisputably gross, and at times it’ll make you laugh in spite of yourself. Right after it makes you puke.
In other words, it’s a perfect addition to our little unofficial “countdown” of good movies to watch in the days leading up to Halloween that you stand a pretty good chance of never even having heard of, much less seen. But bring a strong stomach, because goddamn are you going to need it.
Let’s just say that the movie won’t keep you guessing about what a header is for very long. It’s the ultimate form (in this flick at least, hopefully not in reality) of hillbilly revenge, and you have to wonder if author Lee is right in the head (okay, pun intended) for even thinking of it. But I digress.
The action here takes place somewhere below tobacco road, where ATF agent-on-the-take Stewart Cummings (Jake Suffian) is struggling to move up the federal law enforcement ladder and getting nowhere and so has resorted to a not-lucrative-enough side business of running dope and hooch for local moonshiners so that he can afford the expensive medication needed by his girlfriend, Kathy (Melody Garren), who suffers from some undisclosed illness that prevents her from working or even, apparently, getting out of the house.
Somewhere in the nearby vicinity, meanwhile, small-time white trash car thief Travis Clyde Tuckton (Elliot V. Kotek) has just gotten out of prison and given that his mammy and pappy dies while he was in stir he’s got nowhere to go but to the home of his legless grandpappy, Jake Martin (Dick Mullaney), an old-time shoe- and boot-maker who lives in a crummy lean-to and dreams of the days when he could walk around and give out headers to his heart’s content.Being that he can’t, though, he’s about to pass on this disgusting little secret family tradition to his fresh-out-of-the-joint grandson and get his jollies by watching. And that’s all I’m saying about that.
The divergent paths of these characters are about to collide in ways that give the original story’s handle of “Redneck Greek Tragedy” the “most obvious title of the year” award, and will, as I mentioned before, leave you sickened and chuckling in equal turns, if not both at once on more than one occasion.
Like just about any of the movies we tackle on this blog, “Header” is not without its problems. The acting is uniformly amateurish, with some truly unbelievable quasi-southern accents, but at the same time that can be kind of charming, too, if you don’t mind watching actors you’ve never heard of ham it up (and look for both author Lee and another cult horror literary icon, Jack Ketchum, in brief cameos). And Mullaney is great fun as the twisted old grandpa. In addition, some of the gore effects are pretty cheap, although on the whole they’re not bad considering this whole thing only cost a couple hundred grand. A lot of the pseudo-”edgy” high-def video editing is more annoyingly jarring than it is stylish. And there’s nothing particularly unusual or inventive in Flancranstin’s choice of shots and camera angles.
Still, those are pretty small gripes for a film that sets out to do one thing above all else, that being shock and repulse the hell out of you and make you feel pretty damn guilty for laughing at some of the seriously horrific shit on display, and certainly succeeds in that regard hands-down.
If you like all your horror films to frighten you, then you can safely give “Header” a pass. But if, in lieu of scares, you’ll settle for jaw-dropping “what the fuck did I just see?”-ness, then you’ll no doubt find “Header” to be a pretty engrossing little flick. The story’s pretty solid and it’s pretty damn ballsy to think anyone even committed this thing to celluloi—errr, excuse me, video. And even if you don’t like it, you will remember it. That’s a cinch-lock guarantee. Those memories won’t necessarily be pleasant, but they will be unshakable, and there’s something to be said for that in and of itself.
After languishing in indie non-distribution hell for a few years during which time it got the occasional screening at a handful of horrorand genre film festivals where it usually met with highly-qualified and sometimes even grudging praise, “Header” generated enough of a buzz in the horror underground to warrant being picked up by the always-reliable Synapse Films for DVD distribution. It’s a fairly solid little package that’s generally up to pretty high technical standards (although some of the dialogue is rather tough to pick up on in places since the “southern” accents have the effect of garbling what’s said and burying them behind the music and sound effects in the 5.1 mix doesn’t really help matters much) and includes a thoroughly comprehensive series of behind-the-scenes interviews with most of the principal cast and crew. A commentary would have been nice, I suppose, but the interview segments cover more or less any “making-of”-type information you’d want to know. All in all not an exhaustive selection of extras, then, but plenty good enough.
So that’s “Header.” Scary? No. But horrific? Oh yes. Most definitely.