31 Days of Gore: Shrunken Heads (1994)

It’s October. Time to talk horror. This year I’m reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.

Thank the girlfriend for this one—she forced me to watch it. I didn’t plan on viewing anything from Full Moon this year.

That isn’t to say I dislike Full Moon. When I was a kid I loved that Dollman vs. Demonic Toys not only served as a sequel for those two films, but for the surprisingly hip Bad Channels as well. When I saw this awesome advertisement for Puppet Master 3 in the back of a Fangoria, I went straight to the video shop and sought out the entire trilogy. I never really cared for Subspecies, but I confess an unusual fondness for Tim Matheson’s Jack Deth (Trancers) and the whip-cracking Musetta Vander in 1994’s Oblivion. What was really cool about Full Moon is they did crossover films about two decades before mainstream Hollywood caught on. Other than that, though, I felt more comfortable in the Troma camp, pun intended.

This is all to say I haven’t seen a Full Moon production in years. Now that I’m older, I realize they’re not quite as shitty as I remember them being. Considering the sub-million dollar budgets, they were spectacular. Shrunken Heads isn’t what most people would call a great movie, but it’s certainly not a bad one. Anyone who follows this blog will know I’m a fan of cheese. And what’s cheesier than voodoo-resurrected heads exacting revenge on a street gang?

Okay, I’m just going to admit it right now: this film was made for me.

At the beginning of the movie, said street gang is making life hell for a trio of school kids who just want to read their comic books in peace. The kids are later murdered when they steal two sackfuls of gambling slips from the gang’s hideout; without those slips the leader of the gang won’t know who actually won their bets and who didn’t. In theory, the gang will have to pay everyone who gambled that week. Because we all know street gangs have a reputation for being honest.

That’s when a voodoo priest (veteran character actor Julius Harris) goes to the funeral parlor with a hacksaw and decapitates the three boys’ corpses. He shrinks the heads, revives them with magic, and spends a year training them how to fly and develop their superpowers. The special effects during this sequence are actually pretty good.

It’s easy to see why Charles Band (the founder of Full Moon) was so good at making his straight-to-video films feel more expensive than they really were: he was no doubt a master at calling in favors. The opening credits are scored by none other than Danny Elfman, frequent Tim Burton collaborator and the creator of the theme for The Simpsons. How did Full Moon get a big, Hollywood name like that? I’m guessing because the film’s directed by the famous composer’s unknown brother, whose son takes a leading role.

The rest of the film, like most of the Full Moon productions I remember, is scored by Charles Band’s brother. And it’s overly scored at that—nearly every scene has music, none of which is subtle. Most of the time it borrows heavily from West Side Story, merely swapping out notes of the Jets’ song.

Big Mama, the leader of the gang, is played by Meg Foster. Foster is among my favorite B actresses. Unlike Zach Galligan, who once tried to distance himself from genre films, Foster really seemed to embrace the nature of her career—she’s played everything from cyborgs to villains and even the traditional love interest. You probably remember her as the female lead in They Live. Her unusually blue eyes are recognizable from a mile away.

Which is why I was taken by surprise when I finally recognized her in Shrunken Heads. I initially thought she was a man—that’s not a put-down as that’s what she’s going for—and those oddly colored eyes are concealed by contact lenses. Her unusual look is only heightened by this strange creative decision. Something about her in this film reminds me of the characters from a Fallout game.

Shrunken Heads is a feel-good movie for horror fans, who usually loathe feel-good movies. It’s light on the gore, but heavy on the charm. The unlikely relationship between the fifteen year old girl and one of the shrunken heads is kind of creepy in the beginning (intentionally so… I think), but against all odds, it’s endearing by the end. And speaking of the ending, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

So, do you want to see three children murdered in the streets, only to be resurrected as discombobulated heads? No? Then you don’t want to see this movie. But if the answer is yes, well, you’re not going to find a better movie about this subject matter… or any other movie, for that matter.

Do stay for the post-credits scene.

Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.

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