It's no secret that horror and humor often go together, both stemming from similar impulses. The same emotional response to horrific events that urges us to scream can, with a slight twist, also make us laugh, with both extremes separated by the flimsiest of psychological barriers. If we scream, it's often because we're horrified at the predicament of another human being; if we laugh, it's because we're oh so very thankful that it's not us in a painful or awkward situation. While many films over the decades have understood this universal truth, few have successfully exploited it. Requiring delicate pacing, a believable situation, and a sensibility that walks the tightrope between nervous chuckles and screams, the effective dark comedy/horror-comedy encourages its audience to mock precisely what it fears, poking fun at the leering skull of morality, loss, and alienation. A riotously funny, sexy, and downright creepy coupling of humor and horror, Paul Tarantino's HeadHunter (from Xenon Pictures) satisfies all these requirements -- a surprisingly effective comedy of terrors, this gory ode to grade B filmmaking combines visceral thrills with atmospheric supernatural terror, making it a pleasure for both fans of splat-stick and admirers of more suggestive nightmares.
Headhunter offers viewers a simplistically structured plot that evokes impressive depths of fright and laughter, eroticism and repulsion, with well rounded characters and a surprising central mystery. A modern fable and satire of the very genres it honors, the film is also a celebration of our culture's greedy grasping for ever higher degrees of success, wealth, and power. Ambitious Ben Caruso, a salesman, isn't happy with his dead-end job, nagging (if well meaning) girlfriend, or life in general. Sent by a business associate to a sexy corporate headhunter named Sarah Tierney, he soon finds himself drawn into a horrifying nightmare of ghostly reoccurrence, ancient occult practices, and congress with the dead. When Sarah finds him a new job with higher pay, comfy fringe benefits, and ideal hours, it seems too good to be true . . . And it is. His co-workers are ghosts whose similar greed for advancement -- and shared lust for Sarah -- trapped them in limbo. In grand Faustian deal-with-the- devil fashion, it seems that when Ben accepted the job, he also accepted the occult challenge of finding his murdered benefactor's head. If he doesn't accomplish this task soon, his head will do just fine! With each tick of the clock, more limbs are severed, clothes (and inhibitions) are shed, and Ben's friends and associates are slaughtered in highly entertaining style. Will Ben locate Sarah's head or loose his own?
Mirroring the aforementioned myth of Faustus in both its surface plot and subtext, not to mention the legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (from the Middle Ages), in its motif of a head-for-a-head, HeadHunter is a wildly inventive and perfectly paced frolic through the extremities of desire, destiny, and deviltry. Of more importance than what it is, however, is the method in which the material is handled. Whereas many tellers of such a story would have leaned too heavily upon the moral implications, lending it a more serious resonance (and lessoning its comedic approach), Tarantino keeps the going relatively informal. While not afraid to evoke suspense with horrific atmosphere, and never shying away from the red stuff, he handles the moral subtext delicately, favoring a delicious stew of carnage, carnality, and nervous titters over moral sermonizing. This said, neither is ridiculousness allowed to run rampant. We are made to care about the characters and their plight. Revisiting the 'magic wish' and 'deal-with-the-devil' motifs of traditional folklore, and evoking ghostly settings/moods similar to traditional supernatural cinema, HeadHunter as a product may not take itself too seriously, but the cast and crew treat their jobs with impressive professionalism. The story and its vicious, bawdy events are played without the winks that often dilute the primal power and authenticity of dark comedy, and the crew handles setting, camera, and lighting with panache. Finally, the atmosphere -- the prevailing mood of the movie -- is established early on and intensifies as the occult borders between this world and the next open wider. Setting up expectations and plot elements only to defy them, this film keeps one constantly in surprise. Generous helpings of nudity, bloodshed, and action are surrounded by a constant bombardment of humor, from the outrageous to the sly. The result? A modern ghost story as much about our culture's greed and corporate soullessness as it is Ben's fight to keep his big head because his little one got him into such trouble! HeadHunter managed through a careful combination of outrageous physical and situational humor, and with the additional use of classic occult atmosphere, to craft a popular modern ghost story that is easy to enjoy.
The picture quality of HeadHunter is flawless. The colors are bold and clean, and the picture in general is free from any grain or speckling. Audio is likewise commendable, fresh and clean, with a workable distribution between sound effects, score, and dialogue. While extras only consist of trailers for both the feature and Blood Ranch, chances are you'll have so much fun attempting to unravel the mysteries, and savor the physical carnage, of the feature film that you'll be to busy to notice.
Review by William P. Simmons
|Released by Xenon Pictures|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|