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Movies Eddie McMullen Jr. Review by
Monica J. O'Rourke
Header
HEADER - 2006
MPYReal Pictures
Rated: USA: N/A

What's a Header? Well, I really can't say. Remember the movie THE BAD SEED? The original—the good one—not that 1985 made for TV mess. In that picture, audiences were begged to not reveal the shocking twist and ruin it for anyone who hadn't yet seen the film. Ditto HEADER. Though the majority of the film is based on this very premise, this header, that it is the catalyst to all things depraved and insane and so very backwoods and all things plot-wise revolve around it, is worth the wait. It's worth the shock of learning what a Header is. Still, I've got to give you a little something . . . so all I'll say is . . . never mind. I can't say.

And what of the film itself? We've got this cryptic tagline (What's a Header?). Even the movie's website is WhatsAHeader.com. They've piqued your curiosity. So is it worth it? Is it true hype, or more Hollywood style dogma, silly tail-wagging spin? Does the movie live up to its own tagline and offer a satisfying answer?

ATF (Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms) agent Stewart Cummings (Jake Suffian) stalks the mountains of West Virginia, looking to bust up stills. The pay stinks and he can't seem to get a promotion and his girlfriend's medical bills are outrageous and things just keep getting worse. And here we have the beginning of Cumming's decline, his descent into hell as the guy just tries to make ends meet; just tries to help his poor sick girlfriend. What's a guy to do? And then maybe you wonder what exactly you might do for a loved one. You're seeing the world through this guy's eyes, and the vision isn't exactly rose colored. So how would you handle $450 in prescriptions every month? How about when your loved one tells you the doctor added another $300 medication to the list—how are you planning to pay for that? A good start—for Stew, anyway—is to work with a drug runner and provide him safe passage. That's good for an extra grand a month. Problem is—it's a drug runner.

Suffian's performance is dead on. Cumming's descent is portrayed slowly, deliberately. And Cummings, with all of his good intentions, is human after all, has foibles and perversions like anyone else. Or most anyone else. Not everyone masturbates in their truck while working in the middle of the woods. Then again, maybe they do. But Suffian displays a human side to Cummings that makes the character effective, makes you feel his pain a little more deeply.

Elliot V. Kotek plays Travis Clyde Tuckton. Travis is released from prison, breaks parole, and returns to the backwoods to live with Grandpap Jake Martin (Dick Mullaney with an especially twisted flair), because Travis’s got no place else to go. And because Grandpap is a sweet old guy. Really. The kind of feller you want raising your young ‘uns. And it’s Grandpap who finally reveals to Travis what a Header is, 'cuz he wants to experience one vicariously through Travis: For good old times. Or something. Mullaney is best known for his theater work, and for playing sweet old grandfatherly types in mattress commercials and films. This is a guy who played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, for Christ’s sake. His ardent performance as Grandpap has you wondering why he isn’t starring in everything Stuart Gordon or Rob Zombie is filming these days.

Kotek’s performance was somewhat shakier. He handled the insanity well—when Travis discovers his love of Headers, you feel the love ... in a manner of speaking. His performance struggles occurred when attempting to handle more intense emotions. His crying scenes felt fake, as if he was laughing at himself instead of crying through the scene. It felt too over the top, though I have a feeling he was going for this very thing. When Travis’ speeches became more passionate—when he discovers for example how his parents actually died, his footing is less sure, his performance less believable. Still, Kotek ultimately brings his own brand of passion to the movie. And by the time you discover Travis’ true nature, Kotek has already dragged you into Travis’ head.

Eventually, things come full circle. Cummings comes across a crime scene one night. (Catch the cameos by authors Edward Lee [TERATOLOGIST w/ Wrath James White] and Jack Ketchum [THE LOST, RED, COVER] as police officers—played surprisingly well. Surprising because you don’t often expect to find these two guys on this side of the law) When the autopsy report shows up in the office Cummings’ boss JL (Jim Coope: FLESH FOR THE BEAST) makes a reference to the condition of the body and mutters something about a “header.” This pique’s Cummings’ interest and he becomes obsessed trying to learn what a Header is because JL doesn’t want to talk about it. Until JL finally does talk about it. And actually, there are two explanations of what a Header is. One is the more shocking, graphic act, which is the one the more respectful reviewers aren’t revealing. But a header is also a method of revenge, a sort of backwoods justice. An eye for an eye, as Grandpap and Travis are very fond of saying. Believing somehow that their method of exacting revenge is condoned by God, because God says so in the bible. That God would understand. Someone hurts your kin, you hurt them one better. Someone rapes your daughter, you murder his son. Til everyone has one-upped everyone else to death. Which brings you to the literal act of the Header. You’d be hard pressed to imagine a more disturbing type of revenge. It don’t get much worse than this. Even in West Virginia.

The film was made on a small budget—no surprise there. Most indie films don’t have a large bankroll to play with. What is surprising is how much they (director Archibald Flancranstin and producer Michael Philip Anthony) were able to accomplish with this small budget. My issues with the creation of the film itself are small, especially considering this is an indie. Not that that excuses mistakes—these guys are, after all, professional film makers—but there’s a difference between sloppy mistakes and production problems. There was nothing sloppy about this film. First time director Flancranstin coaxed amazing performances from his diverse cast. He knew when to pull his punches to make a scene more effective. The ending shot in particular comes to mind—works beautiful in the highly effective “less is more” school of thought. The sound created the biggest issue, for me. Too much of Grandpap’s dialog is lost in his own wheezing laughing fits. And you don’t want to miss a single word of what he’s saying, believe me.

Keep in mind, not everyone is going to dig this film. It's violent, bloody, brutal, hardcore, insane horror. Twisted violence aside, there is some remarkable storytelling in here, and everyone who worked on this film captured its essence and created what is sure to become a cult classic.

Four shriekgirls instead of five because of the problems with the sound. This movie is near perfect—in its own class of course. It's no Casablanca, but then, what is? But I hated missing any drop of the dialog, and that took away from the ultimate satisfaction.

It won't be everyone’s cup of tea, but I happen to like tea. And I enjoyed swallowing this one. Didn't even gag.

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2006 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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In 2003, Actor Jim Coope played the character of Jack Ketchum in
FLESH FOR THE BEAST.

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