In Evil Dead 2, Ash Williams gets sucked into a time portal during an attempt to banish his world of demons. The film ends on a cliffhanger: our unlikely hero inexplicably finds himself in the medieval ages which, for a time, felt like it could be a resolute ending—the story had already come full circle because Ash made the startling realization he was the hero foretold by the book of the dead. We didn’t need any more of an ending than that—but didn’t it get your imaginative juices a-flowin’ at the time, wondering what Ash would encounter in medieval times?
You could be forgiven for conjuring up an adventure that was far more horrific than the sequel we eventually got. And watching The Head Hunter, which wears its Evil Dead influences on its sleeve, I couldn’t help but feel Army of Darkness might have been better served with the extra helping of horror which wasn’t missing in the previous two films. Don’t get me wrong: I really like Army of Darkness, but I love the first two Evil Dead films. And The Head Hunter is a damn good Evil Dead film in its own right, gruesome and inventive.
The Head Hunter opens on a medieval warrior in wicked-looking armor who marches across the woods to do battle with a monster off screen. Most of the encounters in this movie take place off screen. We often see the warrior get geared up and head into action, but rarely see the action itself. There are times we can only hear the action, and the sound design is excellent, but the aftermath of the unseen spectacles is plenty gruesome. Whenever we see the warrior come home, towing the head of a mythological monster in a sack, he is never without nasty wounds.
Yes, the real reason the action takes place off screen is the filmmakers probably couldn’t afford to shoot it. But the locations, the set design, the makeup effects, the acting, the costumes, the camerawork, and especially the sound—every bit of it feels like it came out of a movie that was a lot more expensive than this one. The director’s first feature was ThanksKilling, a ridiculously cheap, ridiculously stupid, and ridiculously enjoyable horror movie that was entirely shot on consumer-grade video. It was nothing if not ambitious and no doubt the reason The Head Hunter finds its limitations so navigable.
In that opening scene mentioned above, we learn the head hunter’s daughter has been killed by a beast and now he wants revenge. You really don’t need to know anymore than that. Each scene is about discovery—what’s he doing? Why’s he doing it? What’s the deal with that horn blaring in the distance? All you need to know is this movie might have just been titled The Medieval Dead.