When troubled, chain-smoking Fed Stewart Cummings (Jake Suffian, in his first lead feature role) swigs with furrowed brow from a glass of undefined deep red fruit juice at the opening of this gory yarn, the metaphor is stark; we’re in for a bloody and gruesome journey. Yet descriptions like “blood n’ gore” only reveal a tiny glimpse of the nature of this official selection of the 2006 Rhode Island International Film Festival; it is ultimately sadistic, perverse, grotesque, and amoral.
“Pah!”, I hear you cry, “business as usual in the modern horror genre!” Well actually, in this case, no. Header carves out a filthy niche all its own, with a subject matter so utterly taboo that you can barely believe what’s before you; the film is depraved beyond normal comprehension.
Cummings leads an alarmingly fragile existence straddling both sides of the law. Reduced to lonely masturbatory interludes due to the heart-breaking chronic illness of his adored girlfriend Kathy (Melody Garren), he decides to pick up some work on the side by drug running, and thereby fulfil the increasing financial investment required for her prescription drugs. In parallel, unpleasant redneck Travis (Elliot V Kotek) is released from jail, and reunited with his beloved “Grandpappy” (Dick Mullaney), but this is quickly revealed as a dysfunctional union, and as Cummings tries to stay true to his righteous side by tracking the deviant Travis, the depths plunged by all parties weaves the disparate threads into a direct and inevitable collision course.
Header ratchets up some interesting tension by drawing upon some established dynamics; the baking sun of West Virginia cast over the claustrophobic forests is tangibly uncomfortable, the implied incompatibility between “city” and “country” is manifested, for example, in a colleagues’ mocking of Cummings as a “city boy”, and the organic unbridled expanse of nature is a fitting partner for the very visceral central theme. Additionally, for a low budget indie, the acting is often remarkably intense, if somewhat amateur. Suffian performs with great vigour and emotion, and Garren does a decent enough job, albeit supine in her sick bed. Perhaps most disturbing of all is that the most enjoyable performance is delivered by the disgustingly twisted Grandpappy (Mullaney), whose incessant rapid-fire cotton-pickin verbiage adds some of the only humour in the entire 89 minutes, albeit of the blackest variety.
Whilst Header has many elements that illustrate promise, including a surprisingly intense and restrained finale, a deceptively gentle acoustic soundtrack (by Ben Goldberg), and some inventive, snappy camera work, the depressingly misogynistic and ugly theme that is graphically splattered onto our eyes means this often tawdry picture is simply too depraved to roundly entertain, even for hardened horror buffs. The vindication for the atrocities is “revenge” on an escalating scale of one-upmanship, and yet this revenge is most often exacted, in the most bizarrely perverse and cruel manner you could never imagine, against randomly selected women.
If the implied violence and restraint captured in the finale could have been harnessed earlier in the film, Header may have been a different prospect. That said, director Archibald Flancranstin has clearly sought to construct a shocker that depicts new levels of obscenity, and in that sense it’s a case of job done. Whether this counts as an endorsement for the film, of course, will depend upon your point of view.
Finally, don’t ask me to explain what a “Header” is. If you want to watch the film, you’ll find out soon enough. If you don’t want to watch the film, just be glad I never told you.
The transfer of the picture appears to be clean enough, with rich, vibrant colours across the anamorphic widescreen presentation (1.78:1). There is a slightly grainy quality to the picture which evidences the indie roots of the production, but the effect is almost complimentary as the dirty lives of the subjects are played out in typically haphazard and grimy surroundings.
Extras are limited on this release, but there are a few nuggets to keep fans sated. There are two promotional trailers on offer, one slightly more restrained (the better of the two), and one that almost gives the secret of the "Header" away.
There are also a number of short interviews, with the crew, stars, director Archibald Flancranstin, and authors Edward Lee and Jack Ketchum (both of whom make a cameo in the film as state troopers).
Whilst Header will inevitably gather a cult following, it seems a shame that its clear indicators of potential talent will be suffocated by the graphic depiction of the most extreme and taboo subject matter. For every fan garnered by the intense performances, snappy camera work, and pulse-hammering climactic finale, there will be hundreds of others whom are repulsed, disgusted, and outraged by the nasty, random misogynist acts documented in the piece. In the interview featurette, director Flancranstin explains how he plans to "resensitise" America with such a brutal and unflinching picture, and my question is this; when we horror devotees are finally desensitised to Header, how will anyone raise the bar to resensitise us once again? For to create a motion picture that is more graphic, perverse, depraved, and amoral will be a very tough feat indeed.