"Are we a cult item yet?" The question seems to hover in the air right alongside the title entities in SHRUNKEN HEADS, sort of a first-among-oddballs from the high-profile/low-budget studio Full Moon Entertainment, source of such direct-to-video fantasies as ARCADE, OBLIVION, PUPPET
MASTER, SUBSPECIES, and too many more.
The setting is an archetypal urban neighborhood (the filmmakers claimed inspiration from the 1937 melodrama DEAD END), where adolescent buddies Tommy Larson (Aeryk Egan), Bill Turner (Bo Sharon), and newcomer Freddy Thompson (Darris Love) get back at a local greaser gang by videotaping their
thievery and turning the evidence over to the police. However, the punks are affiliates of an organized crime network run by lesbian Elvis-lookalike Big Moe (Meg Foster, mannish and unrecognizable in a padded suit and pompadour), who's even got the cops on her payroll. When the kids steal
paperwork from her gambling racket and escape, Moe orders main punk Vinnie (A.J. Damato) to find and kill them.
The triple murder, however, is not the end, thanks to the victims' old pal Mr. Sumatra (Julius Harris), a West Indian newsstand vender who's actually a Haitian voodoo sorcerer adept at manufacturing zombies. He resurrects the kids as bodiless floating craniums (via cute but obvious blue-screen
cinematography and computer graphics imaging). Sumatra tutors the boy-things in how to use their magical abilities: Tommy can kill or stun with brain waves, Bill bites, and Freddy wields a switchblade in his teeth. Finally the three attack Big Moe's criminal empire. Her henchmen, once slain,
become Mr. Sumatra's rotting zombie slaves (he puts them to work picking up litter). All the while, though, Tommy pines for his true love Sally (Becky Herbst), and after he reveals himself to the startled girl she eventually agrees to become Sumatra's voodoo priestess and join the ghoulish good
guys in a climactic raid on Big Moe's hideout. The movie finishes abruptly; one has to wait through the entire closing-credit crawl for the final scene of Big Moe and Vinnie transformed into zombie street sweepers.
To answer the easy question first: yes, director Richard Elfman is the brother of composer Danny Elfman (who contributed the main title theme), and more Elfmans show up throughout the cast. It's notable that his first feature, 1980's FORBIDDEN ZONE, featured midget Herve Villechaize and some
Andy Warhol superstars reigning over a sixth-dimensional underworld kingdom, with music by the Elfman-led band Oingo Boingo. There, as in SHRUNKEN HEADS, an ambition to be emphatically weird undercuts everything else. Granted that shaggy horror-comedy isn't the most logical of genres, the film
would have benefited from a line or two explaining why Sumatra re-animates his little friends in such grotesque manifestations (that the premise springs from the violent deaths of three likeable children leaves a queasiness that all the goofing around can't completely dispel). There's a
surprisingly sweet posthumous romance between Tommy and Sally; she lets his shriveled skull slip beneath her blouse to nuzzle next to her heart, astonishing Sumatra, who had been trying to wean his undead wards away from all emotion and humanity--but for what dark purpose? Like most features from
the same production outfit, the sequel-ready conclusion leaves untidy loose ends.
It remains notable as a vehicle for a bizarre publicity stunt. Video retailers from all over the country won a raffle to go to Hollywood and be extras, killed en masse for a throwaway bit in which Big Moe's fleeing car runs a bus loaded with religious fanatics off a bridge. Richard Elfman cameos
as the crazed leader of the "Temple of the Apocalypse," underscoring SHRUNKEN HEAD's heady aspiration to be a cult picture, one way or another. After a smattering of theatrical exhibitions, the feature went the usual direct-to-video path. (Violence, profanity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: "Are we a cult item yet?" The question seems to hover in the air right alongside the title entities in SHRUNKEN HEADS, sort of a first-among-oddballs from the high-profile/low-budget studio Full Moon Entertainment, source of such direct-to-video fantasies… (more)
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