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Header (2006)

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HeaderReviewed by Melissa Bostaph

Starring Jake Suffian, Elliot V. Kotek, Melody Garren, Jim Coope, Dick Mullaney

Directed by Archibald Flancranstin


If you’re looking for a wholesome, feel good horror film with family values and a lesson to be learned, stop right here! If you’re smart, you’ll back away slowly until you’ve made it a safe distance, then turn around, start running, and NEVER look back!

No, really! Go! I’m serious. For your own self-preservation and sanity… Get the hell out of here!

I see you’re still here.

Well, fine then, but don’t say I didn’t warn you! Because Header is NOT a film for the faint of heart. The squeamish? Nope… that’s not it. Let’s try disturbed? Well, maybe the disturbed. OH HELL! This movie shouldn’t be for ANYBODY!! Yet, for some reason, I couldn’t help but love it! To quote a familiar saying, “It’s like a train wreck. You want to look away, but you can’t!” [Reviewer’s note: I was able to view the film because of my husband’s involvement with the Eerie Horror Fest. The filmmakers are still awaiting word on whether or not Header will be shown there, and if so, Erie, PA may never be the same!]

Header is a film in a class all its own, most likely because it scares the other students. Header takes its audience for a country drive, where they’re shown the sights and introduced to the colorful locals. Soon they are experiencing all the down-home charm and hospitality the countryside has to offer. Almost sounds relaxing, does it not?

But seriously, this is no Sunday drive, folks! This is a trip deep into the land of the free-range redneck! You know who I’m talking about. Those delightful good ol’ boys who are always eager to lend a hand to the oblivious… aw shucks! I meant to say… occasional visitor.

Can you hear the banjo music yet?

Yeah, THOSE guys!

MPYREAL, the makers of this film, have chosen to produce something that would send most people running for the hills with their tails between their legs in order to protect their precious, yet inadequate, genitals. Header has it all! Deranged rednecks, creepy grandpas, severely damaged and gravely “misused” farm girls, deviant sex, drugs, gore, and dirty cops. Header puts all that and more in a neat little package of disturbing subject matter, wraps it in madness, and ties it up neatly with a ribbon of some good old fashioned “what-the-f*ck?” Why, you ask? Well, to make it pretty of course! Packages always look better with ribbons, don’t they?

Now let’s get down to the true “sweetmeat and potatoes,” shall we?

If you should dare take in a viewing of Header for yourself, be prepared. Adapted from Edward Lee’s cult classic novella, the story tells the tale of an ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) field agent, Stewart Cummings (Jake Suffian). Poor Stewart has a sickly girlfriend and is being overwhelmed financially by the ever-growing cost of her medical bills. Unfortunately, busting up the local moonshine circuit doesn’t pay all that well, but being the fine young, resourceful agent that he is, he soon discovers a shady source of cash flow that sets his money woes on the back burner.

Now enter Travis Clyde Tuckton (Elliot V. Votek), a dim-witted country boy who, after being released from the custody of the State, now finds himself homeless. He seeks out his Grandpa, Jake Martin (Dick Mullaney), hoping for a place to stay. The wheelchair-bound old coot is of course delighted to accommodate his burly grandson. He could always use an extra pair of hands (and legs for that matter) to help out around the old homestead. The two men reminisce about years passed, and soon Travis decides to try his hand at a local/family “tradition.” He has himself a HEADER! Yee Haw! Grab your power tools cuz the fun is about to begin!

Soon Agent Cummings happens upon a group of State Police investigating a crime scene and stops to lend his assistance. A young woman’s body has been found, and the cause of death is alarming to say the least. There isn’t much that the ATF agent can do so he leaves the capable State boys to their work. A report from the State Police arrives at the ATF office the next day regarding the murdered girl and the circumstances surrounding her death. Included in this report are some very disturbing details that peak Cummings’ interest. His superior, J. L. (Jim Coope), makes a passing comment about a “header,” but when a string of the mutilated bodies are discovered, J. L. soon realizes that Agent Cummings’ curiosity is harder to kill than the cat. Breaking down, J. L. fills the prying Agent Cummings in on the true meaning of a header.

Header review

The truth sends the agent, whose life is already spinning terribly out of control, into a hellish world he never imagined possible. His own inquisitiveness pushes him ever closer to a gruesome finale.

What’s a header?

Don’t ask!

No, really! Don’t ask!

So you see, with Header you’ve got one hell of a mess on your hands! So wipe them on your shirt — or your date’s — and then sit back, relax, and watch the film. And if you’re as warped as I am, you may just enjoy Header as much as I shouldn’t have, but did. Just don’t expect your date to be there when it’s finished. They’ll be gone before your popcorn’s cold, and by the time the movie’s over, you’ll have already been served with the restraining order.

This film is hard-core! I decided to approach this review with lighthearted humor because if you go into a viewing of this movie without some sense of wit, you may be offended beyond your wildest nightmares. Header takes its viewers on a dark, gritty, and uncomfortable journey to those places that most people would rather pretend don’t exist. It is a cruel study of what humanity is capable of when the proper manipulation and motivation is involved. Until this film I was ignorant to Edward Lee’s work, but Header has made me an instant fan. I have every intention of familiarizing myself with as much of it as I can stand.

On top of being one of the most appalling, sexually depraved, downright disgustingly enjoyable independent films I have ever seen, Header can also boast of being one of the best put together. Factor in the fact that it had a limited budget and more than its fair share of production problems, and you can’t help but admire the hard work and dedication put into seeing this film become a reality.

The direction is wonderfully helmed by Archibald Flancranstin, as was the editing and camera work. Flancranstin had his hands full when the film had to be totally re-digitized and re-edited due to a problem with the original frame rate. The gore effects are sickeningly successful, and the sound work is wonderfully nauseating considering the original sound was damaged and the film had to be totally re-worked with a back-up sound.

My hat is also off to the acting talent in Header. I can’t even begin to describe the roles and could never imagine ever having to render the performances I witnessed in this film. You can also see Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee himself in cameo roles. Far too many performances in indie films are sub-par, but Header is packed with great ones!

There’s always room for improvement, but I would say that overall there isn’t much that could enhance Header‘s overall excellence and originality. Hmmm. . .originality. Now that’s a quality far too few mainstream films possess these days. Leave it to an indie film to have the balls to try something different for a change!

In conclusion, I beg you to remember that you have been warned about this film, but if you are wondering what the hell a header is and would like to subject yourself to the depravity and perversion that this movie has to offer, then be my guest. Just be sure to invite all your friends and family together to share in the fun. You know the ones, those certain individuals you would rather not see anymore… Treat them all to a Header!

4 out of 5

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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4 (3 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.9 (10 votes)
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The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!

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Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey

Directed by Alan Lougher


The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.

When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”

  • Film
3.5

Summary

Ultimately chilling in nature!

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User Rating 3.31 (16 votes)
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