Sunday, May 20, 2018

Review: Trophy Heads

Text © Richard Gary / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet, unless indicated

Trophy Heads                                           
Produced and directed by Charles Band
Full Moon / MVD Video
87 minutes / 2014

In general, I don’t believe that genre fan would really argue that the films from Full Moon Entertainment – and Charles Bands’ in particular – are as cheesy as they come. This has been true since the VCR revolution in the early 1980s. Silly scripts, sometimes questionable acting and amateurish effects not only dominated throughout the Full Moon catalog, but fuck, does Band know how to direct or produce films that make all of that work so well. The Puppet Master, Trancers and Subspecies series alone would be perfect examples, but then add in the likes of Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988), The Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (1989), and so many others; it’s not just a bunch of crazy films, but rather a canon of so-bad-it’s-good cinema that every horror aficionado should know.

I’ll be honest with you, I’ve seen most of the golden age Full Moon catalog from essentially the late ‘70s through the early ‘90s (yes, on VHS), renting them with glee as they came out. Not all of them were keen to me (e.g., Castle Freak [1995], by one of my fave directors, Stewart Gordon, who… sorry, I’m jumping the gun, so more on this later), but I would not miss out on my chances to experience them because they were so much fun. As I’m writing this, even more Full Moon films keep coming to mind, such as Meridian (1990).

Adam Noble Roberts
Anyway, I couldn’t help but smile and digress at this point, so let’s get back to the film at hand. Like the first Scream (1996), this is an incredibly self-referential a-nod’s-as-good-as-a-wink-to-a-blind-bat release, with a half-dozen of the ‘80s and ‘90s Scream Queens [SQ] playing some version of themselves in the present, being held captive by a basement-living nerd looney loser named Max (Adam Noble Roberts), and his over-indulgent, enabling, and equally crazy mom (the great Maria Olsen).

Max is concerned that the Queens of the movies he loves (Full Moon features are mentioned and shown, of course, such as Creepozoids; 1987) will be forgotten as they age, and insanely feels it’s his personal mission to capture them, and mount their heads so they will be forever remembered. Early on in the film, two of the SQ royalty get kidnapped: Linnea Quigley (here, Sister Quigley as she has bathed herself in the blood of Christ), and the seriously intelligent and deep voiced Brinke Stevens, as well as Lisa (Irena Murphy, who spends most of her time in the film topless). They are caged in Max and Mom’s basement, as the actresses’ own videos play, as well as the opening SQ’s death, Darcy DeMoss.

Michelle Bauer
Max and Mom have the SQs recreate a scene from one of their own films, no matter how poorly and inaccurate (a comment on the original films’ lack of aptitude?) and then uses that as a means to – err – immortalize them, in their own fashion. It’s actually weirdly and effectively creepy in that it’s not the characters that “die,” but these fictionalized versions of themselves. Some of the other SQs include the still lovely Michelle Bauer (always one of my faves in my own fanboy days), Denice Duff and later-SQ, Jacqueline Lovell.

These were the SQs of my youth, as it were, and Band is wise to find a way get them not only to have some new performances, but he also gets to promote his own Full Moon line, as most of these SQs were in his films, such as Head of the Family (1996) and some of the others mentioned above. Definitely a win-win situation for all involved, I would hope. Even the smaller roles are up and coming SQs in Full Moon flicks like the Evil Bong franchise (I’m not making that up).

Yes, there are also some stunning prerequisite cameos throughout the film. The one that will get a lot of notice is director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator [1985], From Beyond [1986]) who plays a particularly obnoxious Harvey Weinstein-ish creepy version of himself (well, I hope it’s a version…), Carel Struycken (Lurch in the 1990’s Addams Family reboot) and the still lovely Kristen DeBell (Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy from 1976; Meatballs in 1979). Another Full Moon director of cult classics, David DeCoteau, has a brief bit as well.

These versions of the cast come across as humorously vain and often self-centered, be it unapologetically self-motivated on one side of the spectrum, to overly religiously fanatical and trying to share Jeebus with the world on the other. Now, I’ve actually had the opportunity to meet some of them in my life (mostly at Chiller Theatre Cons; see pics below), and they came across as friendly to both their fans and each other. These cartoonish adaptations is more feeding to an audience who imagines that they are like their characters, than what these actresses have brought to the screen, not to mention a generation of teen boys.

Maria Olsen
Max and his mom are actually quite fun characters, and both actors fulfill their roles with glee, which transfers to the screen. Both actors have just the right amount of twitches and reactions that enhance the characters while both mocking them, and making them somewhat pitiable. Max is as much a cartoon stereotype of a fanboy as these SQs are to their on-screen personas as presented here. And it’s pretty obvious that Max is not playing with a full deck, as he has quite intense conversations with the post-decapitated and stuffed heads. And we hear not only them chide Max, but have conversations with each other.

Oh, did I happen to mention that this is a comedy? While I complained a bit about the writing of the earlier fare, this one is actually quite smart while still being just a bit goofy. It’s definitely a step up in that way, especially the dialogue. There are definitely some serious moments, but even those can be taken with a beer, if one is so inclined (I never drink…alcohol).
Each of the deaths is quite different and shot well. And what’s more this is extremely entertaining, whether you’ve seen the originals or not, or whether you’ve heard of the cast or not (though shame on you if you haven’t learned your horror history).

There are some weird moments that make no sense to me, such as Mom wearing white to drag a bloody body, or one SC actually pushing Max, and then rather than fighting and taking away the weapon, keeps on running. Yeah, this doesn’t make logic, but again, it’s a Full Moon feature, so yaz takez what yaz getz, and have fun with it.

Brinke Stevens
(pic by RBF)
One important thing that Full Moon brought to the home market video is that they were among the first to add “extras” to the ends of the VHS, usually in the form of a documentary called the “Videozone.” It should come as no surprise and a pleasant reward that they continue the trend with this film’s own “Videozone”; they even use the same opening graffix (but the digital noise cleaned up and it’s been updated a bit). For 10:16, this is an enjoyable Making Of featurette with most of the main characters discussing working on the set, talks with the director, and with each other. The 22-minute “Uncut Footage” is less interesting behind-the-shooting, including rehearsals, and conversations among Band and some of the SQs, among others.

Linnea Quigley(pic by RBF)
Next up is a “Submit Your Head” feature shows what I believe are some of the backers’ heads treated the same way as the SQs in the bloody, green frame for 2:52. Note that while they are shown one by one here, they are presented in groups at the end of the feature. Along with Audio Options (stereo and Dolby Surround), there are 8 trailers of classic Full Moon features, many among those mentioned in the film, as well as the one for this film.

Last up (though second on the list of extras options) is the full length commentary, consisting of the director Charles Band, and stars Brinke Stevens, Darcy DeMoss and Jacqueline Lowell. Between them actually just watching the film, they definitely tell some great anecdotes about their lives, the shoot, and little pieces of details that make the factoids fun (such as info about a particular mask Max wears).

Michelle Bauer(pic by RBF)
An argument could be made that the victims are all Scream Queens and not Kings, but let’s face it, yeah, it’s sexist as hell, but the these films in the ‘80s were geared towards horny teen boys who would obsess over the female rather than the male. I mean, during the “Videozone” and commentary, Band consistently refers to these actresses as “the girls,” which I found to be…uncomfortable. Good thing he made such an enjoyable movie.

If the film feels episodic, it should come as no surprise as this release started out as a 5-segment web series, but it folds together quite well, and the fact that here are distinct acts works for the film rather than against it, helping to keep the attention of the viewer without having that jump cut feeling. While I may have my issues with some of the gender aspects, as I said, the end result is an enjoyable and well-written piece.

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