Sunday, October 20, 2013

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Headless Horseman (2007)

A wagonload of teenage meat has decided on a very bad day to take a short cut leading through the backwoods town of Wormwood to arrive in time for a Halloween party somewhere else. For all seven years, Wormwood is haunted by a headless horseman, whose pact with Satan assures him of a shiny new head if he manages to off seven teenagers during one day and one night. And would you believe it, in a total coincidence our teenage heroes number seven?

Not surprisingly, Headless kills the teens off one by one, absconding with one head after the other to throw into his own private hole leading to hell. Apart from an unstoppable undead killing machine, our heroes - obvious final girl Ava (Rebecca Mozo) and obvious final guy Liam (Billy Aaron Brown) are the only ones I am going to name - also have to cope with Wormwood's human inhabitants who feel obliged to help Headless out by keeping his victims inside the town limits by any means necessary. Only pseudo-jailbait Candy (Lizzie Prestel) might be on their side.

Anthony C. "Sharknado" Ferrante's Headless Horseman, a NuImage production that premiered on the SciFi Channel (on Halloween, of course), starts out less than promising. It begins as one of those particular annoying slasher movies very much in the tradition of Scream that think pointing out a cliché but then still using it is the height of wit, so it delivers all the usual slasher cliché characters, but does it "ironically". Which is to say, absolutely unfunny in its humour and way too much in love with its own cleverness to bother with building up any interest that might make an audience root for them or care about them at all. The mostly dreadful standard of the film's acting doesn't exactly help its case there, either, because "cleverness" of this kind is bad enough, but "cleverness" delivered as if by idiots tends in the direction of the insufferable.

Because "funny" teen slasher victims aren't bad enough, the film then very quickly introduces "funny" backwoods people clichés, and proceeds to go the annoying way of all "ironic" horror movies up until about its halfway point, when it suddenly decides that, you know, it might as well become a pretty cool slasher movie for those people in the audience who were brave enough to get through the "humour" with gnashing teeth and pulling out their hair (if applicable). Suddenly, Headless Horseman develops a certain dramatic pull, starts to go through the repeated confrontations between teen and supernatural killer with actual imagination, adds some rather cool elements to Headless's backstory, and even allows its characters to make surprisingly ruthless efforts to get rid of the monster, rather more like people instead of ironic representations of movie clichés fighting for their lives.

Being who I am, I particularly enjoyed lovely crude details like the way Headless's head regrows bit by bit with each killing (I don't think I've seen that before), the pleasantly mythical aspects of the backstory, and the film's low-level yet insistent gore made more out of rubber than CGI. Most importantly, once the Headless Horseman's mood turns, and it lets go of most of its attempts to distance itself from its contents (which always makes one wonder why a film doesn't go for content the people involved feel fine with from the very beginning), it becomes  a classic thrill ride horror movie fun with nary a boring second.

If Headless Horseman had shown these qualities right from the start, I'd call it one of the major underrated low budget slashers I've seen, but even in its more heavily flawed incarnation, it's a film that deserves better than the usual jaded "meh, another NuImage/SyFy movie" reaction it typically gets, probably by people who understandably didn't bother getting through the forest of "irony".

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