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Header (Archibald Flancranstin, 2006)

      One of the few taboos that gore films had left to break gets thoroughly smashed with the arrival of Archibald Flancranstin’s repulsive, genuinely shocking Header. Faithfully adapted from cult horror novelist Edward Lee’s limited-run chapbook of the same title, this film unabashedly plays to its niche audience. The twisted concept behind its titular torture is probably familiar to most people who have heard the term skullfucking, but the method behind such madness is built up as a mystery here. In any case, Header proves that imagining something and seeing it portrayed on screen are different matters entirely. Regressive, yet undeniably visceral, Header wraps a story of backwoods revenge and moral corruption around its gruesome central attraction. In practice, it is equal parts torture porn and police procedural, balancing extended murder sequences with those chronicling an ATF agent’s downward spiral.


     Header really only has one sadistic trick in its bag, so Flancranstin works to make the most of it. He stages the skullfucking in a series of increasingly more graphic, increasingly perverse rituals. As the film wears on, its violence gradually shifts from the implied to the explicit. This game of one-upmanship, which is played out in between the detective sequences, sustains interest, even as it largely repeats itself. Few horror films have managed to feel this gleefully sadistic.


     Helping matters on that front is the outsized acting style of Header’s killers. They are a redneck ex-con and his grandpappy, played with gusto by Elliot V. Kotek and Dick Mullaney. Whenever they grace the screen, Header feels like a genuine successor to any number of ‘70s exploitation classics. Their manic immorality grows subversive in its infectiousness. Their scenes employ idiotic logic in a manner that constantly threatens to push the movie into the realm of dark comedy. It’s to co-star Jake Suffian’s credit that he manages to anchor the film’s other half in any manner. His scenes, in which he hunts down the killer and tends to his sick girlfriend, emerge as credible drama, against all odds.


     Header is not exactly scary, but it has a dangerous quality about it that is tough to shake off. Even after depicting the demise and violation of several women, the film retains its edge. It is one of the rare independent horror films that truly is too disturbing to have ever been financed by a major studio. In its bravado and its commitment to its own perversity, it throws down a gauntlet at the rest of the genre. Make no mistake, when it comes to sheer shock value, it will be tough for other horror films to trump Header.



Jeremy Heilman