I’m always wary when it comes to indie horror films; it’s not that I have distaste for them, as when I was heavily into horror 7-8 years ago, I was more than happy renting the latest Sub Rosa or Wicked Pixel release. Having that experience with the genre though is why I realize these types of films can be very hit or miss. So even when I see Synapse Films is releasing a low budget indie horror flick, I still go in with some trepidation. It’s probably wise to occasionally release films like this, as I’m sure they cost a lot less to acquire, and may prove profitable, building up the resources for that next big acquisition. Synapse doesn’t do this too often, so I guess they’re pretty picky about what they’ll slap their name on. Either that, or when taking into account their other recent low budget release Home Sick, it just has to be really, really sick and twisted.
Based on Edward Lee’s novella (and Verotika comic adaptation) of the same name, Header deals with both sides of the law, although we soon see they’re not much different than one another. ATF agent Stewart Cummings is desperate for a promotion, not just for himself, but for his sick girlfriend whose perscription bills are spiraling out of control. To help make ends meet, he strikes up deals with drug dealers and illegal Moonshine brewers to transport their goods. While he’s not exactly happy about having to stoop to this level, it pays the bills, which is all he’s particularly concerned about.
Meanwhile, criminal Travis Clyde Tuckton is released from prison and without anywhere else to go, finds his way to his grandfather’s remote shack in the woods where he makes his living as a boot maker. Grandpap Jake is a legless, wheelchair bound crazy dude, and he’d jump for joy about Travis coming home if only he had legs. After catching up, Grandpap decides to let Travis in on a little family secret, something that’s the ultimate revenge for someone that’s done you wrong: a “Header”. Travis isn’t one that’s looking to walk on the straight and narrow, so he’s more than happy to get acquainted with learning the art of the “Header”. He ends up liking it so much that dead bodies start turning up all over town, and Stewart, who’s tired of being forced into criminal acts to keep his head abover water sees this as his opportunity to get the promotion he needs. Little does he know that getting involved may actually make life much worse than he could have ever imagined.
I’ve never read Edward Lee’s original novella (or any of his work for that matter), and I have to say I’m quite glad that I didn’t. If you haven’t either (his books are extreme to the point that they’re generally released in very limited runs, so you probably haven’t), you’ll in all likelihood get a bigger kick out of Header that you would have otherwise. I conveniently didn’t mention what a “Header” entails because it’s really the best surprise the film holds. Oh it’s sick, repulsive, and downright appalling, but the film is played in such a way that it’s actually quite humorous. You’ll feel like a degenerate laughing at some of the lewd acts being performed on screen, but it’s hard not too. Grandpap Jake is such an outrageous, hilariously entertaining character that if he wasn’t a homicidal maniac, I’d like to hang out with the old coot.
For an indie picture, the acting is surprisingly above average for the most part. Granted, Dick Mullaney takes it way over-the-top as Grandpap Jake, and the accent Elliot V. Kotek utilizes for Travis is pretty overstated, but I honestly don’t believe these characters were ever meant to be taken seriously or come off as menacing. They’re backwoods, stupid rednecks that don’t know any better, and I also believe the dark humor that permeates throughout their scenes was meant to lessen the impact of the more sickening portions of the film. At its core, Header really is a black comedy of the most extreme order. Chris Evans lookalike Jake Suffian turns in a solid performance as the conflicted cop, and shows a nice range of emotions you don’t often see in indie fare. The direction is also above average, and thanks to competent editing, the film avoids falling victim to painfully long scenes that often plague films of this nature.
So with all this praise, why not a better score? It’s basically because Header is a one-trick pony. The first 45 minutes or so are quite gripping, and the first time you witness a “Header” being performed, you’ll go through a range of emotions, some of which you probably didn’t even know you had in you. And then we see it again, and again…and again. There’s not a lot of conflict in the film, as its not like Grandpap Jake and Travis are on the run, and they never encounter victims that give them a good fight, nor do they ever have any close calls. The main conflict is Stewart’s internal struggle with straddling the line between upholding the law and breaking it, and for a horror flick, that’s not exactly thrilling. As great as the main hook here is, the rest of the film is pretty ho-hum, which is certainly unfortunate.
While it’s far from great, if you’re in the mood for some twisted, depraved fun, Header may just be what the doctor ordered. Seeing a “Header” being performed for the first time is quite the experience, and as trying as the middle of the film may be, the end is a gory funhouse of perversion that redeems the film to a point. Don’t say you haven’t been warned though: only those with the most warped sense of humor should apply.
As mentioned earlier, Synapse Films are the ones that have sold their souls to Satan and unleashed Header upon the general public. The film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, which is always very welcome when it comes to indie flicks, and for the most part the quality is quite nice. That said, being shot on digital does bring some inherent problems to the picture, such as a fair amount of digital noise during darker scenes, some blinding bright light in outdoor settings, and the brighter shades of red don’t really translate very well, and come off looking pixilated around the edges. Still, I’m sure Synapse has this looking as good as it ever will. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio mix is very good, with all of the dialogue coming through clear and volume levels staying pretty consistent throughout. The one downfall is that Grandpap Jake’s accent can get quite thick at times, and without any included English subtitles, you may miss some dialogue.
5 separate interviews are included as extras, which include director Archibald Flancranstin, Header author Edward Lee, horror scribe Jack Ketchum (who also has a cameo in the flick), actor Jake Suffian, and FX director Alex Marthaller. One of the most interesting pieces of information culled from these pieces is that Tom Savini was offered to create the FX for the film, and even considered it, but his work on the Dawn of the Dead remake conflicted with the shooting. I also liked the Flancranstin’s quote about a director really being a problem solver, as directing a film is nothing but problem after problem and it’s the director’s job to figure out how to get around them. The disc is rounded out with two different trailers for the film.
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