Judge Adam Arseneau wonders if this film has to do with the Shocker...Wait, that's terrible. I quit.
"Don't play if you care about losing."
I won't lie to you. I asked to review this film based solely on the cover of the DVD. I mean, look at it. The dude's got no face. It could be the lousiest film on the planet, and I'd still be drawn to that DVD like a moth to flame.
So now, I get to find out if Shockheaded is the lousiest film on the planet.
Facts of the Case
Noble wakes up in an ugly room. He is not sure who he is and, also, he might have a dead body under his bed. Somebody slips a note under his door, asking "Who are you?" A good question, apparently, since he seems to have no idea.
What he does have, though, are recurring dreams of a man wearing a white, faceless mask, dreams which give him the heebie-jeebies. This he could probably deal with, except that he ends up seeing the mask when awake as well and keeps getting strange phone calls from unknown individuals taunting him about it.
Cue the enigmatic men in black who enter Noble's hotel room, except it looks like the store was out of black suits, so brown was substituted. There's a creepy guy following him around all day with an umbrella and a pale complexion. Suddenly, Noble finds himself intertwined in an underground pornography ring run by leather-clad sword-toting mobsters faster than you can say "Blue Velvet."—and that's just in the first 20 minutes.
If David Lynch was a sleepwalker and snuck out in the middle of the night to shoot low-budget genre rip-offs of his own movies, they might look a lot like Shockheaded, with one noticeable exception: David Lynch makes good movies.
In all fairness, Shockheaded is an ambitious little film. It has its share of triumphantly creepy moments; a dark psychological jumble of lost memories, strange blank-faced masks, and pornography, but it lacks any meaning behind its style. It lacks the depth and profound meaning behind the films of auteurs like Lynch, merely duplicating the surface traits of his films, We have all the same enigmatic characters, cigarette smoke, and seedy underbellies of suburbia, but for no reason other than pure derivativeness. The protagonist is soon drawn deep into an underground world of fetish-seekers and violent pornography, searching for answers to questions he doesn't even know he is asking. We don't either. This is all show and no substance.
Now, weird can be good. To use a cooking metaphor, weirdness is like a delicate spice that can enhance a banal picture, turning the ordinary into something unexpected. Trying to make a movie entirely out of weirdness, on the other hand, would be akin to eating a pound of black pepper as a main course. Shockheaded overloads the brain with nonsensical plot points, one-dimensional character so thin as to be transparent, and an unreasonable proportion of pistol and sword-toting thugs dressed straight out of a Matrix comic convention for no reason other than…coolness? I give credit to the filmmakers for trying to extend beyond the boundaries of low-budget horror films into something a bit more artistic, esoteric, and daring, but Shockheaded has no idea what to do with itself, gets in way over its head, and tries to end the film in John Woo-styled gunplay, which is just silly.
All of this, I could forgive. Ambition is hardly a sin in its own right and low-budget indie films are supposed to suck to a certain degree. A permissible level of kitsch and campiness is to be expected, after all. There are lot of great ideas in Shockheaded colliding with one another and much of it is worth praising. I admit, the creepy white mask is a thing of beauty and some of the camera work is admirable for such a limited budget.
What absolutely kills this film dead is the acting. While most of the cast performances are amateurish but passable, the main protagonist trips all over his performance with a wooden, detached delivery so egregiously awful, it makes my testicles hurt. His is a performance is so bad, so wretchedly poor that it actually destroys any possible interest in the film I might have had. I hate to be a jerk about it but, man, it's just painful.
Shot on scratchy and grainy film stock, Shockheaded is the epitome of independent filmmaking, the transfer a muddled haze of thick, imperceptible grain and print damage. I take issue with the transfer not because of the quality, but because of the bizarre framing. The image has been windowboxed ever-so-slightly and, unless your television has massive overscan, you will notice it. Black levels are non-exist and colors are so heavily saturated as to be downright surreal.
The audio fares a bit better with a fairly active and aggressive 2.0 presentation that crams all manner of hissing, sputtering, and ambient noise into the track, probably for effect. Dialogue is tinny and imperceptible at times, but on par with the production values. The score is fairly decent, a mash-up of discordant piano medleys and electronic-tinged drums.
Heretic might pick some odd films to distribute, but they treat each one with reverence and respect when it comes to the supplementary features. The best feature, a director's commentary with Eric Thornett, star Jason Wauer, and music composer Jason Russler has the unexpected pleasure of making the film a much more enjoyable experience, since the filmmaker regards his work with glee and tongue-in-cheek wit. In addition, we get some deleted and alternate scenes, a download link for MP3 tracks, trailers and a short film called "Spider Ghost" with commentary by the director. A nice offering, to say the least.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's ambitious. I'll give it that.
Schlocky, low-budget crap with some of the piss-poorest acting around, Shockheaded has one or two cool ideas buried deep under layers and layers of pancake flatness and banality.
Nothing to see here, except that great cover.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Heretic Films
• Deleted and Alternate Scenes
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