One great idea is all it takes to make a movie. The world is really just a computer simulation by robots enslaving the human race. A man lives his life unaware he's the star of the world's most popular reality television show. A grouch relives the same day over and over until he learns to value what's really important. Header takes a different tactic, posing a question instead: What is a "header"? That alone presents a challenge, it'd hard enough for the reveal to live up to expectations after building for 80 minutes, but luckily (I guess), the movie reveals the revolting but disappointing answer 20 minutes in, so those too lazy to scour IMDb, Wikipedia or MoviePooper.com for the answer will have their curiosity satisfied quickly. Unfortunately for me, I still had to slog through the remaining 70 minutes.
Our story involves a series of terrible crimes out in a random set of West Virginia woods. Last I checked, murder was generally the responsibility of a homicide detective, but in this case our "hero" is ATF agent Stewart Cummings (Jake Suffian), who takes it upon himself to try and figure out who's behind the gruesome trail of bodies as they begin to pile up (you know he's ATF because he only wears one shirt the entire movie, which says "ATF Agent" on it). Why the ATF is posted where one would normally expect to find a forest ranger is never made clear, although I also can't say I'd be surprised to learn that residences near the woods in any state proved to be teeming with alcohol, tobacco and firearms.
Admittedly, there was probably a little more detail to the plot than that, but budgetary constraints clearly took a toll on the movie in the all-important areas of sound and casting: a bigger-budget movie wouldn't have hired an old man (Dick Mullaney) whose missing teeth cause him to incomprehensibly mumble most of his lines, or they'd have had good enough microphones to pick up on the nuances in his voice rather than garbling them further. Sure, I was able to understand a good 80% of the dialogue in Header, but I imagine the other 20% was probably important too. The DVD helpfully includes neither subtitles or closed-captioning, so unless you've got the script in front of you, these gems are lost forever.
That said, even if you were able to hear Mullaney, the other actors indicate you wouldn't be hearing anything good, as each performance bears its own unique stamp of inadequacy. Elliot V. Kotek plays a resident who looks vaguely like Joaquin Phoenix when he's turning on the charm, but sports a goofy, Mike Tyson-like whine and constantly devolves into fits of hysterics. Jim Coope plays one of Cummings' ATF co-workers who argues about headers and refuses to confirm what the term means even though Cummings already seems to know the whole story. Last, and definitely least, we have Bill Corry as Thibald Caudill, whose performance is truly a disaster of over-the-top, cartoon acting. Every line of dialogue is made worse by the writing by Michael E. Kennedy, which poorly jumbles cop and hick cliches with clunky exposition in a way that magically produces something even worse than the sum of its parts.
Header is based on a book by Edward Lee, and the screenplay was adapted by Michael E. Kennedy. I can't vouch for the book, because I've never read it (I hadn't even heard of it before this movie), but the script is riddled with problems. There's really no one to root for; while Agent Cummings is meant to be the hero, one of his first scenes involves him brutally torturing a drug criminal in order to get a name, and he's ferrying drugs all over town as he goes about ATF business. I guess we're supposed to like him because he's doing it all to support his wife Kathy (Melody Garren) and her increasing medical bills, and for his apparent lone-soul devotion towards catching the "header" killer (Coope snarls at Cummings when the guy does, you know, actual police work), but I don't buy it. The other cops are so insistently lazy and belligerent that it seems more like Cummings is embarrassed into solving the case than that he has some sort of investment in it, and Suffian's performance adds to the strain. The actor practically runs from one end of the spectrum to another, playing his character's dirty dealings with broad hysterics and everything else at a subsonic level of dull flatness. Cummings' investigation also has a deus ex machina in it, in the form of a hitchhiking girl he picks up off the side of the road.
So what is a header? Unfortunately, even if the movie isn't worth your time, I'm not going to reveal it here, but it is certainly disgusting. People complain about "torture porn" in horror movies, but I'm more annoyed by a tendency for low-budget horror filmmakers to try to devise the most awful, shocking thing and then rest on their laurels. Don't get me wrong; I like horror movies and a truly jaw-dropping act of evil can really get under the skin, but the idea here is all surface shock (gross, but not truly inventive in any sort of gorehound-appealing ways). The film also trots it out several times, so the audience will also likely become desensitized to the concept of headers before the movie ends.
Archibald Francranstin's direction tries to be inspired, but the cheapness of the whole venture shuts hum down as well. There are a lot of tiresome editing tricks when the characters get riled up, but whenever the camera sits still for more than two seconds, the movie reeks of family basements and backyards. Combined with the amateurish performance, the whole thing is pretty silly, and if it weren't for the movie's grotesque nature, it might have been unintentionally funny.
In the movie's third act, the film appears to get distracted by a relatively useless drug subplot rather than the whole "header" concept, hitting a few bases with lackluster enthusiasm and then skipping off on tangents that are of little interest before finally coming back around to a predictable ending. One great idea is all it takes to make a movie, but don't let Header fool you. What's a header? Nice premise, but the film can't live up to expectations; the idea at the heart of this movie is the question, and not the answer.
Header comes in a DVD cover with a sufficiently bloody image on the cover to attract curious gorehounds, and a nice enough back cover that should effectively trick people into thinking the movie is more professional-looking than it actually is. My disc has a plain-text label, so I can't comment on it, but it included an insert advertising 42nd Street Forever, Vol. 2 and Christina Lindberg's Exposed on one side and a textless version of the cover on the other.
The only good thing to say about this 1.78:1 transfer is that it's anamorphically enhanced. The movie was shot on low-quality digital video, and the problems with the transfer are constant and wide-ranging. Ringing is constant, especially on the letters of Cummings' ATF shirt, and there are lots of digital artifacts, anemic blacks, and washed-out colors during the entire movie. Worse, there are a handful of close-ups that have clearly been digitally zoomed in, which makes the whole image look soft and blurry, and one outright instance of horrible pixelation right in the center of the image. Certainly some of these problems were inherent to the source, but this is an embarrassing transfer.
Dolby Digital 2.0 is provided, which is extremely basic. The music goes through the outer channels and the dialogue comes through the front, but the production audio is often tinny and plagued with echo, and the dialogue is often incomprehensible. Since no captions or subtitles are provided, you'll never know what the characters were saying. Then again, maybe I should actually raise my score for that.
A gallery of interviews under the title "Making Header" are included. The segments include: "The Director" (5:55), "The Author" (9:43), "The Guest" (11:38), "The Star" (7:50), "The Producer" (9:04) and "The Effects" (11:01). It's a surprisingly lengthy set of featurettes, and some of the interviews are interesting (the two with gracious, friendly authors Edward Lee and Jack Ketchum are better than the entire feature film), but some of them effectively reveal the misguided intentions involved with making the movie, including the director claiming he wants his movie to "wake up America" with its portrayal of violence. Yeah, sure, buddy.
Two of Header's promotional trailers are included as well.
Header is as stomach-churning as they come, but it's only on the surface: there's nothing genuinely unsettling about the film other than the massive number of problems hampering the final product. Skip it.
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