Ginger Nuts of Horror
BY ALEX DAVIS
Dir. Fred Vogel and Scott Swan, USA, 88 min
As much as I love watching so many great extreme movies with Film Gutter, as well as having the chance to write about them, I do occasionally wish there was something a bit more fun to take in. Probably once every forty or fifty movies is there something that genuinely makes me laugh, or that I can look back at with real fondness and think 'I'll really look forward to watching that again.' Of course, that's partly the nature of the beast – extreme horror tends to explore subjects that are darker and more taboo than horror in the mainstream, and leans towards the graphic and the shocking. However once in a while there's a movie that does leave me thinking 'that was fun'. But one that does fit that rare bill is Scott Swan and Fred Vogel's 2009 movie, Maskhead.
It's a strange movie, almost a film within a film, mostly following Syl and Maddie, who run a fetish film business – and their wonderful advert for models sold me in the first few minutes. They come across (if you'll forgive the expression) a range of male and female performers whom they employ in a range of sometimes disturbing and sometimes flat-out weird scenarios designed to titillate their viewers. The spectacle in places is so strange you simply have to laugh, and some of the stories and anecdotes we're regaled with by the characters are genuinely great. The whole experience is a bit crazy, a bit psychedelic and a little wonderful.
The titular character, Maskhead, is one of the popular characters in the film business' line of movies and is a pretty odd visual, all bandages and barbed wire. The genuinely nasty part of the movie comes rather later into the piece, when Maskhead's killings go from being staged and scripted to genuine and impromptu. The slightly meta style of film-making does leave you wondering if some of the earlier killings were the real deal to, but there's certainly no doubt at all as we get into the last half hour.
Don't get me wrong, it's not perfect. We get thrown all kinds of characters, most of whom are only in one scene and are sort of meat for the grinder. There's not a great deal by way of coherent plot either, so most of the movie ends up feeling something like a series of vignettes or in places comedy sketches. I was more than once put in mind of Frankie Boyle's Tramadol Nights so surreal and dark was the humour. But that humour is really cutting and really wicked – I never thought a scene featuring anal fisting could actually make me laugh, but I was proven wrong here. Then again, that might just say something about me...
I can't possibly leave this review without a mention for the real star of the show, The Cowboy, wonderfully depicted by Daniel V Klein. He's a fairly enigmatic figure who drifts in and out of the film almost at will, but when he's there things really step up a gear. The Cowboy just seems to have real charisma and stage presence, and his stories of debauchery are such a highlight here. It's worth watching just for his lurid tales of drugs and sex.
If you watch extreme horror because you really like your limits tested and your movies to be genuinely horrifying, then Maskhead probably isn't for you. No doubt it has some pretty hideous moments, but some of the video shoots are more like to promote laughter for this with that surreal sense of humour. Equally if you love a compelling plot this won't be for you – it's bitty, it barely goes anywhere and it has a whole host of throwaway characters without any real sort of arc or journey.
But in spite of that – or maybe because of that – I genuinely loved Maskhead. It's so out there, and the humour is so up my street, that I was more than willing to forgive some of the other problems the movie had. I was properly entertained from start to finish, which isn't always a familiar feeling around these parts. And I can genuinely see myself coming back to this one when I need a chuckle.
RATING: 8/10. I can't give it top marks, even though part of me was very tempted too, because I can't deny it has a few flaws. It almost feels like a showreel for the oddest, darkest comedy series you've ever seen. But seen in that light, it's very good, very funny and very much held my attention rapt. The characters are a bit disposable but there are enough gems in there – particularly the deranged Cowboy – to keep you hooked. Quite unlike anything I've seen in extreme horror – some readers out there might not take to it but this was something I heartily enjoyed, so I'm giving it a strong 8/10.