Here at CHUD, I’ve watched my fair share of weird-ass movies (the good, the bad, the good-bad, and the existentially horrifying.) I’ve become pretty jaded to weirdness in film; it still pleases me but it doesn’t take me off-guard like it once did. Still there comes along, every once in a while, a film so bizarre that it gives me pause. That theoretical film seems perfectly sane in comparison to Shrunken Heads.
We start out on a quiet city street where our three heroes (friends Bill and Tommy and new kid Freddy) meet up for the first time. They stop by the local newstand to get some new comics from the friendly Haitian news vender Mr. Sumatra. Whilst embroiled in a discussion about who is the cooler superhero, The Green Lantern or Krypto the Superdog (!), they are accosted by a group of criminals. The gang’s leader Vinnie is dating Sally, a girl about Tommy’s age. Tommy confronts Sally and asks her why she’s dating such a massive tool and by nightfall she’s broken up with Vinnie and is now sweet on him.
That night, the three boys sneak out and film Vinnie and his gang The Vipers stripping a car for parts. They hand the footage over to the police who take The Vipers to jail, so Vinnie goes to his boss Big Moe to get money to bail them out. Big Moe has the boys kidnapped and held in a store-room to scare them but they manage to escape through the cavernous vent system of her bad-guy warehouse, taking two large bags of betting slips in tow. Big Moe is livid and orders the boys gunned down in the street.
Now up until this point the movie has been completely devoid of swearing, violence, or blood. Even the boys’ deaths were a bloodless affair and we didn’t so much as see them fall down. The music has been cheerful and silly and the tone and acting has reflected something harmless and kid friendly. After the boys’ resurrection the movie changes. The movie changes a lot.
Mr. Sumatra, being a Haitian man in a horror movie, uses the voodoo rituals he knows to boil the boys’ heads and bring them back to life as flying shrunken heads with super powers. All three can fly but Tommy shoots lighting, Bill has vampire teeth, and Freddy carries a switchblade in his teeth because he’s black and Full Moon doesn’t have the best track record in regards to racial stereotypes.
The heads fly out into the city to dispense murderous justice and if a superhero revenge horror movie involving the decapitated heads of murdered children wasn’t strange enough for you then get a load of this: the heads’ victims reanimate as zombies that pick up litter and clean up graffiti, they are also constantly shitting their pants and prominent fart noises accompany every screen appearance by the revenants.
I could write a book about all the weird shit in this movie. There’s stuff that’s obviously intentional like Vinnie’s reply to Sally when she tells him she’s not ready to have sex: “What do you mean you’re not ready? You’re almost sixteen, right?” But there’s stuff like a bit late in the movie where Mr. Sumatra asks Sally if she’s a virgin because “it’s required for the ritual” and after she answers in the affirmative he tells her to go put on the outfit in his bedroom and the movie just lets that lay without acknowledging the very obvious other meaning that could have. Here’s a few more gems:
-When Sally meets Tommy as a shrunken head, he asks to embrace her one more time. She asks how she could do that and he replies that he will show her before flying up her shirt and chilling out in her cleavage.
-Big Moe is played by They Live and Leviathan’s Meg Foster who is rendered unrecognizable under a pompadour wig and make-up that makes her look like Ralph Macchio attempting to impersonate Joe Pesci. She talks like a Dick Tracy villain with an overdone Italian American accent and would fit in very well with Eddie Murphy’s borderline racist stick-up man from Vampire in Brooklyn. Foster has said that this was her favorite character of all the ones she has played.
-Mr. Sumatra’s solution to waking up Bill (the designated fat kid) from death’s eternal slumber is to stick a box of Whizzo-brand jellybeans in front of his mouth and say “Eat the Whizzo. Eat the Whizzo.”
-Mr. Sumatra summons the heads by standing on the balcony of his condominium an blowing an oxe horn.
This was Full Moon’s first theatrical release and boy would I have loved to be a fly on the wall when the MPAA watched this for classification. It’s ostensibly a superhero movie and a kids’ film but it’s also a really dark and violent revenge film. Shrunken Heads is like Baby’s First Exploitation Movie. Every scene is weirder than the previous one and just when you think you have reached peak absurdity, the movie peels back another layer to reveal something even crazier, it’s like a real-life version of those alternate reality TV stations from Rick and Morty.
I’m going to quote Drew Dietsch, who stopped what he was doing and started watching this on Hulu last night the moment I mentioned the pants shitting zombies: “This movie is ridiculous, awful, uncomfortable, bizarre, light-hearted, stupid, delightful, and possibly the best Full Moon movie ever.” That encapsulates my thoughts on this movie in a nutshell, though “what the actual fuck” would also do nicely.
Shrunken Heads is amazingly, horribly, disgustingly, profanely, wonderful. It deserves to be hoisted up with movies like Manos, Troll 2, The Room, Miami Takedown, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Plan 9 From Outer Space as a genuine cult classic. Though unlike those movies, this one is actually well-made (give or take a crop of pretty abysmal child actors this is probably the most professional-looking Full Moon film in existence) and intentionally bugfuck nuts. You need this in your life.
Watch, Toss, Or Buy? BUY. BUY IT NOW!
If You Liked This, Watch: Modern Vampires (1998), Forbidden Zone (1980), Freaked (1993), The Toxic Avenger (1984), TerrorVision (1986), Darkman (1990), The Monster Squad (1987), The Paper Brigade (1996), It (1990), The Vagrant (1992), The Goones (1985), Mystery Team (2009), Robocop (1987), The Crow (1994), The Wraith (1986), Star Kid (1997)