GORE IN THE STORE
THE HEAD HUNTER ****
Directed by Jordan Downey.
Starring Christopher Rygh, Cora Kaufman, Aisha Ricketts.
Horror/Fantasy, USA/Portugal, 72 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray by 101 Films on 12th April 2021.
Reportedly made on a budget of $30,000, director Jordan Downey’s THE HEAD HUNTER is a prime example of minimalist filmmaking with most of the tiny budget on the screen for you to see and every trick in the book employed to keep you engaged despite the film not showing you a great deal. In a similar way to Lukas Feigelfeld’s HAGAZUSSA: A HEATHEN’S CURSE from a few years back, THE HEAD HUNTER is a masterclass in atmosphere and creeping dread that, if nothing else, marks it out as something special amongst the current crop of genre movies currently hitting the streaming services.
The titular head hunter is a Viking-style warrior (played by Christopher Rygh) who lives in the forest and defends his territory from the beasties and monsters that roam the land by decapitating them and sticking their heads on spikes in his shack. However, one particular head is missing and that is the head of the creature that killed his young daughter years before, but as luck would have it he encounters said creature one day and does what must be done. Unfortunately, our hero doesn’t count on spilling some of his special healing potion onto the severed head and he certainly doesn’t expect what comes next...
And to say any more would be damaging as you really need to see what Jordan Downey and co-writer Kevin Stewart have come up with for an evil twist on revenge. In a movie that is just over an hour long and with barely a word spoken the filmmakers have had to use their meagre budget wisely and conjure up striking visuals to tell the tale, and they pretty much succeed as THE HEAD HUNTER manages to fully envelope you in its world from the opening flashback scene of the warrior and his daughter camping in the forest. Wisely, they don’t show you the warrior’s brutal attacks on-screen, the kills happening off in the distance with the appropriate noises telling you what is happening and then basking in the aftermath, and so when you do get to see where the effects budget went it is all the more effective and, it must be said, very impressive.
Which leads to the movie’s only real flaw and that is the lack of budget. The story itself is really a short story padded out to 72 minutes by an overlong chase scene, and given that the filmmakers have already shown what they can do with what they had at their disposal then a bigger budget would have allowed for the numerous off-screen kills to be shown in all their glory, leading to bigger, longer set pieces to flesh out what we don’t see and allowing the few moments that are left vague in the storytelling to be fully realised.
But it is a small gripe in what is otherwise a triumph of low-budget filmmaking. The overall look of the movie is fantastic, with the crystal clear drone shots of the haunting forest looking amazing and really adding to the atmosphere, and the practical gore effects and monster heads are as good – if not better – than many you would have seen in bigger budget theatrical releases; as a side note, it would be interesting to see how the warrior collected some of the heads on his wall of spikes seeing as there are all sorts of goblins, elves and even zombie-like skulls on there. Coming backed with two audio commentaries from the filmmakers detailing how and why they made the movie – one commentary is called HOW WE MADE THE HEAD HUNTER and the other... you can guess – and a short making-of featurette, THE HEAD HUNTER isn’t a movie to put on for a blockbuster thrill-ride but it shows what can be done with very little money, it clearly has ambition above its limitations (if this is $30,000 worth then imagine what Downey could achieve with a proper budget!) and if HAGAZUSSA: A HEATHEN’S CURSE was an ambient black metal album made visual then you could play any Grand Magus album over THE HEAD HUNTER for a bit of added sword-and-sorcery mood magic. Recommended.