How to describe The Amazing Screw-On Head? It's a big help that Mike Mignola gave him a name that does half the battle. The Hellboy-creator introduced the character in a one-off comic several years ago, a strange single issue that became a cult hit among those fortunate enough to have come across a copy. It contained the usual stellar art from the cartoonist, along with his strange ideas, but the Head also gave Mignola a forum for his absurdist humor.
Screw-On Head is a living metal head that can insert himself into any number of robotic host bodies that he's had built so that he can go out and fight the evil beasties of the world. Much like Hellboy exists outside normal society, hiding things that go bump in the night as urban legends, Head is part of a secret alternate history that Abraham Lincoln decreed would be kept separate from the public record, lest regular citizens lose their marbles. He employs Head to take care of wonky occurrences before they get of hand. Yes, Lincoln is the boss of the Screw-On Head. Didn't I mention this is a period piece?
The twenty-two minute animated program on this DVD was created as a pilot for the Sci-Fi Channel. Paul Giamatti (Sideways) voices Head, and in this premiere episode, he has to track down his arch nemesis, Emperor Zombie (Frasier's David Hyde Pierce), who has used a gun-toting monkey and a couple of old lady zombies/werewolves to steal an evil mystical artifact. To mess with Head's mind, Emperor Zombie deploys his servant, the Vampire Queen Patience (Molly Shannon of SNL fame), to trip up the do-gooder, knowing full well that before she was a vampire, Patience was the love of Head's life. It's up to Head's zombie canine (already stuffed and mounted before reanimation occurred) and his manservant Mr. Groin (Patton Oswalt, The Comedians of Comedy) to keep the hero from losing his way.
I am not sure why Sci-Fi didn't pick up The Amazing Screw-On Head. It sounds pretty great, doesn't it? They never even really gave it a fair shake. As far as I know, it never aired on the network and could only be watched as a low-resolution internet stream. Too bad, because it's a fun cartoon, made even more entertaining by Bryan Fuller's script. As the guy behind Wonderfalls, he's shown he can do whacky, but capturing Mignola's talent for deadpan non-sequiters proves he's in another league entirely. The Amazing Screw-On Head displays a fantastic dry wit, and the premise lends itself to no end of kooky situations.
The animators, with Mike Mignola as art director and under the helm of director Chris Prynoski, also do an amazing job preserving the look of a Mignola comic, with plenty of well-placed shadows and jagged shapes. Unfortunately, the actual animation itself leaves something to be desired. Somewhere in the ballpark of the more rudimentary Adult Swim offerings and web-based flash animation, the onscreen movement is minimal, restricted largely to character's mouths and the most essential gestures. I now that the history of television cartoons is built on limited animation, but something about the employment of digital technology as a shortcut feels cheap, and it keeps a cool cartoon from being truly great.
Even so, it's an entertaining pilot with a fair amount of laughs and neat ideas. The price point is a bit so-so for such a short offering, but if this is something you dig, there's a good chance you'll get your dollars back over multiple viewings (especially if you can get it for under $10). If they made more episodes, I'd watch them. And hey, with Hellboy now having his own successful cartoon franchise, why not a crossover?
A two-and-a-half minute storyboard showcase provides a tri-screen view of one scene from the show. The top half of the screen has the flat storyboards, which are presented as two images at a time, just as they appear on the original sketch sheet. The lower right quarter shows those storyboards in animatic format, and the lower left has the final version, allowing you to see the three stages of production together in a clockwise position.
The featurette "From Comic to Cartoon" (14 minutes) takes a look at the production from Mignola's inception through development and final animation. It's a relatively standard approach, driven largely by interviews, but it's also full of production footage (including some at the Korean animation studio), design artwork, and more from the animatic and the Korean pencil tests.
There are a couple of trailers for other Lions Gate releases both as the DVD loads and in the special features menu.
Finally, the case contains what is billed on the packaging sticker as an exclusive comic book, but it's not a comic at all. The folks at Lions Gate maybe need a tutorial on what that actually means. Thankfully, what we do get is still pretty cool. As it says on the booklet's cover, it's a "Limited Edition Collector's Album." Mignola provides a new cover, introduction, and two drawings of new characters (both colored by Dave Stewart). The rest of the booklet is 8 pages of production artwork by the incomparable Guy Davis, a comic book superstar who currently draws the Hellboy spin-off series BPRD.* So, despite the misnaming, nicely done!
* Full disclosure: Guy Davis also drew a story I wrote for The Dark Horse Book of the Dead, which just so happened to be colored by Dave Stewart. That anthology also featured an exclusive Hellboy story by Mignola.