Header [Low Budget Hillbilly Horror Movie 2006, Based on Edward Lee's Novella]

[Contact Me] | [FAQ]

[Some "Dougisms" Defined]

[About Dickens of a Blog]

[Jump to Site Links]

BLOT: (22 Nov 2010 - 11:59:46 AM)

Header [Low Budget Hillbilly Horror Movie 2006, Based on Edward Lee's Novella]

Original Novella by Edward Lee. Adapted by Michael E. Kennedy. Directed by Archibald Flancranstin. Starring Jake Suffian and Elliot V. Kotek. Released on DVD by Synapse Films.

What's a Header? That's the provocative question at the core of this hillybilly horror movie penned originally as novella by Edward "pushing the lines until they break" Lee and scripted into a low-budget, lo-fi horror by Michael E. Kennedy. The chief build up and selling point at the forefront of the movie is finding out a header is, and in a similar way to The Human Centipede, basing a fair amount of your movie's punch around one key gag (pun intended) is dangerous. Once it is exposed, it ceases being a painting in and of itself and becomes a paintbrush, and suddenly you have to use it creatively. Which this movie mostly fails to do.

By the way, if you are honestly curious about what a header is, then go to my autokey tool, plug in What's a Header??? as the keyphrase (it has to be exactly like that, proper case, with three question marks), and then enter the following ciphered text in and click "decipher". I'm not going to put in plaintext for two reasons. A) It is meant to be part of watching the movie. B) I shudder to think of what sort of Google hits plain-texting that might bring me. Note, if you are looking at this through the feed, the XML may not bring all the characters through.

wj`un YC-KT egq)3 ~@ygf Wg`TT X`"gS `MaaU Rh%}W TZS_g \RNOV fLxrh [YZXA }bLHI k[T^o KbcZM Fq|Ge 1gGn@ }YX\a EdZ|@ }D^Z& @}cSQ [>oHn A[nZV "Gg`O WN``S _`>_c Y_NN! BqAmT t_sJF mXh[G vB"`W Jt"s] UK_rd OQB"r YUga} lXBqY OlZEd mPnlI kdEdW XIkaH d[@}` YYR<} NakkU EqB_g NQQp< }^Pmd jdTb} TTKKp 9}VPP F"oWp bTphH F[gQ[ Jb}Zd cSH"s JF"gR _Gkmt NsQNc TgZjd QR`Za zCdGS A^sdE dWAuV OnEBd L>m\R >mPBu ]FsJ= }\JTD aJ^TF -ThE[ FrjVG ?kbzL d"Fm4 XgrZ` KOYcy G^rKK bNqkJ RhV[I m\HdA [rTeY Ra}Sb N&iEd F`hMb wL"`X XO&cB h[JZT M+Irl OcUnN d]dVK S_cO[ }Fd!O ^afQW T=}YX IhSG7 a}W[G ImMdg fQdJ` tu[sJ RIuVg qUdO[ sRY9} UaKiZ b}Q[b }iQOP _reTb XFrch "'iQO S_l`i YIBrd qq{gJ _S^ld _OS=} RctsW G[Xg-

The movie traces two men. First, we have the ATF agent Stewart Cummings, whose girlfriend is quite sick and requires expensive meds. Cummings, bottom of the totem-pole, has no real hope for promotion and resorts to helping drug runners get their gear past the watchful eyes of the law. The second man, Travis Clyde Tuckton is a recently paroled backwoods sort who has come home to his mother's father. With no job, and no real prospects, he has only one real goal in life: to find out what the hell a header is. Once he does, he quickly becomes obsessed with them, equating them with God's good work (an eye for an eye sort of thing).

In a lot of horror and suspense movies involving the South, there is this mythical place that is to Alabama what most New Yorkers think Alabama is to them. Filled with redneck's rednecks, this mythical horror South is derelict in the worst way: teeming with hillybilly sorts that walk to huts with no roads and hang out in sandy clearings on the edge of swamps. Rarely are they protrayed as having anything above rudimentary electricity: devoid of televisions and fridges not out of the 1950s. Sometimes businesses will be portrayed as ramshackle tin things surrounded by willow trees and some old cracked blacktop in the near distance. You see this in movies like Pumpkinhead and Cabin Fever, in Deliverance and in Redneck Zombies. You can forgive it in movies like Backwoods (a lowest of the low-brow horror, shot with a budget that could have been paid off with a single high-interest rate credit card taken out by a man with bad credit), and you can even delight at its continued portrayal in things like Pig (that's maybe more of a "kind of like a hillbilly horror" horror) and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. Heck, 2001 Maniacs (and it's original, Two Thousand Maniacs!) are almost parodies of this: the victims fail to notice anything is unusual because they assume that the rundown and out of time town is just how the South is...

As Lovecraft wrote, in the beginning of "The Picture in the House", "But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous." Swap out "New England" with "The DEEP South" and you have the post-60s reaction, I suppose, to the South's Civil Rights era disputes. It became the place where relics lie.

Which is a long-handed way of coming back to the central theme of this movie: there are places you wouldn't believe and, in these places, they do things that other people in those places wouldn't believe. If this as E.C. Comic, story, it would have ended with a hint about what the header is and then someone would have went "choke!" Since this is 90-minute movie, we get told what the header is something like 20 minutes in, and then we have to wait to see where they are going with it. Which is not much of anywhere. Cummings investigates the string of women who are showing with unusual head injuries while doing his day-to-day ATF work. I am not sure what the purview of an ATF worker is, but this movie suggests a mixture of watching moonshine stills and investigating Appalachia intrigue. The ATF station is just one of a couple of buildings that are so Southern that they don't have drives, or nearby roads. They just have a grassy field that people drive around in. These fields look suspiciously like the sort of things you see off in the no-man's-land near Interstates or in parks, so I am guessing that's where our producers when shopping for locations. While doing this detective work, Cummings is also smuggling a decent amount of drugs as a sideline, and generally getting more and more pissed off at the world. Tuckton, for his part, is developing porn-star neck, learning how to bend scripture to his purpose, and see-saws back and forth from Deep South parody to Deep South tragedy.

For all its faults, the movie comes close to succeeding. Looking around, or through, Cummings and the ATF's oddly out-of-place jurisdiction handling, his storyline is meaty enough that it could have worked in a much more serious movie. He is just trying to make someone he loves well, though he is getting very little in return for it. As he bites off bigger and bigger chunks, he is getting into deeper trouble, but still manages to be a good guy. Several times the direction illustrates the haziness of his life by stuttering back and forth between cuts. Perhaps the most telling shot is when he is masturbating by a lonesome lake. It is an efficient release of tension, surrounded by by trees and murky water, where no one is to know, especially not the girlfriend too sick to be sexually active. By the time his drama plays out to its inevitable conclusion, and a twist or two develops, you still like him as a person and you still kind of want him to be able to succeed.* Symbolically, it is a journey tale, but the hero has chosen to try and shortcut to paradise through the inferno, and has not considered the consequences.

Ironically, it is the probably the lack of intensity that ultimately damns this movie. For a movie whose title hints at an act so vile that I put it in ciphered text, above (seriously, would hate to see the search terms that brought people here), most of the gore and punch are shown from the waist up. Sure, we get to Tuckton's bulging neck and get to him hear him talking about how God wanted it this way—and we do get to see blood and boobies and a bit of brain matter—but ultimately half the killings with twice the intensity would have knocked this movie out of its, and the audience's, comfort zone and into an infamously surreality of hyperviolence and classical narrative. Which I take to be the intent: Ozark Noir for the strong stomached. It needed someone like Takashi Miike, who would have delighted in the utter depravity of the act with a glee that makes us lesser mortals long for our mommies. Instead, in the staring contest between us and them, it feels like Kennedy and Flancranstin blinked first. Still, for what it is, it is memorable and I will watch again (lord help me). If for nothing more than the unreal scene of Edward Lee and Jack Ketchum cameoing as cops, and Ketchum's strange delivery**.

All in all, it is a Meh movie with Good parts mixed in with some Blech and coasting along the seas of Fair. The ending is uneven, with one climactic point mis-staged as a bit of letdown, but the actual ending itself tends toward clap-worthy horror.

* It might not surprise anyone to know that several knuckle-dragging reviews of this movie, the sort that wishes more boobies and more gore were involved, describe the best part—Cummings' story—as "boring pap".

** Rivalling the aforementioned Miike's brief scene in Hostel.

LABEL(s): Horror Movies

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 47
BY MONTH: November 2010

Written by Doug Bolden

For those wishing to get in touch, you can contact me in a number of ways

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The longer, fuller version of this text can be found on my FAQ: "Can I Use Something I Found on the Site?".

"The hidden is greater than the seen."