aka Broken Skull
Directed by: Ricardo Islas
Starring: Stephanie Beaton, Johnny Areola, Dominic Capone
Review by Luisjo González
HAPPY HALLOWEEN!! Can you believe it? A Slash above has been online for 10 years! This is our tenth birthday. I agree, there’s been some problems. The fact that I was in hospital a lot of that time, doesn’t help matters and whilst I’m the first to admit that el tiempo usually flies by, I’ve really felt this recent decade. A lot has been lost for me and I’ve definitely changed. No one ever told us that life was going to be easy.
Anyway, the major difference between the slasher cycle of today and the boom years of the early eighties is that it’s much easier to make a movie now. If you had the budget to produce a small feature then there’s not a genre less complicated than the traditional stalk and slash flick. Many of the hundreds of direct to video turkeys that have been released post-Scream haven’t even attempted to revitalise the age old formula, which makes it enticing that a fair majority of them still make a tidy profit. Being a self-confessed avid fan of the category, it’s great to find a poorly financed effort that actually looks to have been made with the inspiration to try something different. Headcrusher certainly carries a great deal of intrigue that warrants it to be seen by aficionados like myself. Despite being one of the few Hispanic-American or Latino cycle-entries, it also boasts a gore-filled reputation and a cameo from a blood-descendant of Al Capone playing a psychotic mobster.
After the credits have rolled, we see prolific scream queen (and all round nudity guarantee)) Stephanie Beaton straddling a soldier named John Ramsey (George Orsini) in a dimly lighted room. Adultery is a bad idea if the wife that you’re playing around with is ‘married to the mob’. Unfortunately for this randy couple, her husband just happens to be a sadistic gangster – and he’s just caught them in an inescapable situation. Before the Lothario has even had the chance to zip up his flies, the mob boss has strung up his flirtatious mistress, snapped a few of her fingers and strangled the last gasp of air from her lungs. It takes two to tango of course, so lover boy gets his head squished in a vice and gives us the explanation for the choice for the movie’s title. (Great brief gore shot!)
Twenty years later, a group of builders are renovating that same room, which has now become an abandoned basement. As the rest of the workers go to lunch, Manolo Santana (Kris Haines) continues digging until he discovers a broken skull lodged behind some re-laid brickwork. As he examines his bizarre find he suddenly begins smashing his head against the wall as if a mad spirit has possessed him. His friend Miguel – who was eating his lunch nearby – rushes to help his workmate, but by the time he arrives Manolo’s head has been crushed to a bloody pulp. Sometime later, whilst being prepared for an autopsy, Manolo’s body re-animates and goes on a bloody rampage. Dressed from head to toe in army surplus garb and sporting a gore-splashed gas mask, the maniac begins killing off the gangsters that were involved with the soldier’s slaughter from the prologue. Manolo’s daughter Sol (Paola Valdes), his friend Miguel (John Arreola) and an inquisitive doctor (Nancy Adams) all begin an investigation to try and discover what strange occurrence has lead to this gruesome massacre…
Headcrusher is possibly the most gratuitous exploitation effort that I’ve seen in 2021. Perhaps you could say that it vaguely resembles the works of filmmakers like Tim Ritter and the Polonias. Richard Islas does look to have a sprinkling of talent and he seems to enjoy pushing the boundaries of what he can display. He worked prolifically after this debut, but since 2018, he’s been quiet. If I had to make a critcism of his style, I’d say that he frames shots poorly and this copy is badly lighted in a large majority of sequences. Make no mistake about it though, this is one gore filled excursion into exploitation that is literally overflowing with blood and extreme scenarios. One guy gets his ‘little friend’ bitten of whilst being ‘pleasured’ by his girlfriend in a scene that’s both painstakingly gruesome and made me cringe at the thought of it happening to me. Another fellow is kneecapped and then squished by a train, a couple of others get their heads crushed and the torture scenes in the pre-credits are fairly hard hitting in how they set a grim tone. Islas manages to get away with the cheap gore effects as they’re only on screen for an extremely brief time. He provides just enough splatter to allow your mind’s eye to grab the full extremity of his intention.
The major problem with Headcrusher is that a lot of things were thrown in wholly unnecessarily, when the feature would have probably played better without the attempts at a ‘shock factor’. There’s a gay sex scene, which seems only to have been included to incorporate homosexual antics. I must mention the Cambodian torture-vixen, who is a female character so inexplicably bizarre that she makes Elvira look like the spectacled church girl that lives next door. There’s also a brief sub plot concerning a government ‘Jacobs Ladder-type’ conspiracy that was immensely intriguing, but was left simmering on the back burner, which is a shame as it deserved a decent conclusion. I really was engrossed in that idea, but it just disappears as the runtime grew.
Although Headcrusher does feel somewhat like a petrol sports car that has been filled with diesel and never manages to hit top speed, the good points just about outweigh the bad. Watching Dominique Capone play a mob boss, when his relative was the most famous gangster in the history of the mafia was a neat touch – even more so when you see how similar Dominique looks to Big Al. Although the dramatics will never be mind blowing in a film of this level, these guys certainly tried their hardest and they deserve credit just for that. Having a Hispanic final girl, even though she wasn’t Meryl Streep, certainly made me happy. I can think of worse ways to waste eighty minutes and it’s certainly better than Don’t Look In The Cellar. I’m not sure about recommending it, because it’s the Adam Sandler of slashers. What I mean by that is, you’ll either love it or hate it. I actually like Adam Sandler, he’s a libertarian like me and knowing that made me start liking his movies, when previously, I didn’t. One last thing I must mention, Stephanie Beaton would get it if I ever met her. She disappeared for sixteen years, (probably being a mum), but I was told she’s got a few projects in the pipeline by a director friend of mine.