Studio: Full Moon Features
Director: Charles Band
Writer: Roger Barron, Charles Band
Producer: Charles Band
Stars: Adam Noble Roberts, Maria Olsen, Brinke Stevens, Darcy DeMoss, Jacqueline Lovell, Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer, Irena Murphy, Stuart Gordon, David DeCoteau, Denice Duff
A deranged film fan kidnaps and kills his favorite B-movie scream queens with the help of his mother to create a demented trophy collection.
Genre film fans of a certain age well remember having a fair chunk of their formative years forged in the fire pit of Full Moon Features’ heyday. Charles Band was to the 1990s what Roger Corman was to the 1970s, fashioning a unique B-movie fiefdom with distinguished branding and a familiar stable of talent turning low budgets into high entertainment on both sides of the camera. Projects weren’t terribly tall and neither were their production values, but they had a spirit that strode us into the video store with a livelier step, eagerly anticipating a new Jack Deth, Andre Toulon, or Radu the vampire epic.
As fortunes faded, Band took the term “movie industry” and started focusing more on the latter and not enough on the former. Cost-saving measures first turned sloppy, then exploitive. Productions were split in halves of under 70 minutes each and sold as two movies instead of one. Library titles were edited to within an inch of their lives and repackaged as “new” anthologies. Band increasingly cashed in on goodwill the former home video powerhouse no longer had until “Full Moon Features” no longer meant “can’t wait to see” and became synonymous with “certain to be sh*t.”
Watching box covers devolve from cool killer puppets and fang-baring creatures to sentient holiday cookies straddling anthropomorphic drug paraphernalia is enough to drive any frustrated film fan to serial murder. Which is exactly what happens when cellar-dweller Max, his mind warped by an obsession with Band’s peculiar brand of B-grade entertainment, waxes nostalgic about the good ol’ days and hits upon a perverted idea to preserve his VHS fantasies for all time.
Aided and abetted by his demented and doting mother, Max takes a cattle prod and a creep van on a scream queen roundup all over Los Angeles. After recreating his favorite hallmark moment movie scenes with Halloween masks and a camcorder, Max then plays Queen of Hearts and enshrines each B-movie beauty like a 10-point buck in a biker bar.
The “Trophy Heads” concept is impossible for director/producer Charles Band to ignore, as its very nature inherently incorporates his trademark corner cuts in a way that is as brilliant as it is blatant. Max’s mission is to reimagine films like “Creepozoids” and “Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama,” affording ample opportunity for himself and his captives to indulge in copious clips from previous films that keep the runtime rolling without requiring new footage. Max’s amateur recreations also involve rubber props and a black-walled basement, effectively excusing the single-room sets and cheap costuming.
Broken into five individual episodes of 18-22 minutes apiece (the total runtime is about 85 minutes without credits), “Trophy Heads” wisely plays on nostalgia for off the wall ideas and notable names like Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, and Michelle Bauer. Yet finally armed with a fan service premise that doesn’t involve diminutive dolls or stoner jokes, Band still slathers his movie in cheap production value that makes it too much like the Full Moon of today, when it should be harkening back to the Full Moon of yesteryear.
The trouble for “Trophy Heads” is that it comes out of the gate with a lethargic attitude. Camerawork is flat. The fun is not as devilishly clever as the concept could be. And the actresses exhibit only a lukewarm interest in the job at hand as if they saw the script once, said “I guess so,” and the camera cut and printed the first take before moving right along.
While uniting Brinke, Linnea, and Michelle as themselves in a self-aware horror pastiche is the movie’s hook, it is their next decade heirs who turn up the tempo as “Trophy Heads” approaches its midpoint. Irena Murphy receives the more amusing early lines when she refuses her captor’s force-fed meal on the grounds of being a vegan and wonders aloud if running into a brick wall would knock her unconscious so she doesn’t have to listen to any more of “Sister Quigley’s” bible-thumping b.s.
Interestingly, the more “Trophy Heads” becomes distracted from its main storyline, the more entertaining it becomes. Once Jacqueline Lovell and Denice Duff swing the spotlight in episode three, “Trophy Heads” takes on a totally different tone of inspired irreverence and cynical charm.
The in-jokes at last lean away from flogging gags like Linnea Quigley’s second life as a Christian missionary or framing Irena Murphy’s nipples into every shot and start favoring show business jabs that are no less obvious, but delivered with much more aplomb. Duff and Lovell are just two of the feisty females baring cat claws at each other during a hilarious “mother in her thirties” audition with Stuart Gordon channeling sleepy Chevy Chase ham. Captured by Max and Mom, Denice and Jackie never let the deathly danger get in the way of their rivalry, whether it is Jackie taking potshots at “Subspecies,” Denice sitting out of escape attempts due to autograph-induced carpal tunnel, or the two of them judging success by sequel count and arguing the defining merits of “cult classic.”
“Trophy Heads” requires grading on so many curves that a visualized review score would resemble an Ouroboros looping in a figure eight. Anyone without an understanding of Full Moon’s stock in trade or the cast’s pedigree may understandably think they’ve had the misfortune of stumbling into a student film shot in a dorm room. For them, the movie pulls in one star at best.
On the other hand, Jackie Lovell’s entertainment factor alone nets a 100/100. Her and Denice Duff show how enjoyable “Trophy Heads” can be when all of its knobs are properly tuned. Lovell’s 1996 film “Head of the Family” marked Full Moon’s full turn into campy creep comedy as well as my tuning out to anything the label produced without the words “Puppet Master.” But Lovell is so much fun in “Trophy Heads” that I am genuinely inspired to finally add it to my queue decades later.
Of course, this is still a movie for Full Moon fanatics first and foremost. For less-demanding crowds accepting of current Full Moon standards, “Trophy Heads” climbs an Everest-high apex. Meanwhile, those who still grimace with regret at the wistful thought of what the brand used to represent would be wise to apply a little more caution to their expectations.
If more visible enthusiasm and snappier scenes came from the veterans in the first two segments, “Trophy Heads” as a whole would sport an easy upturned thumb. The acting, scripting, production, and effort are so inconsistent and occasionally careless however, that it feels like Band is still counting on fans to forgive shortcomings as being part of the Full Moon charm. With this being production #268 as noted in the end credits, it’s past time to demand that Full Moon movies look like they’ve learned something and evolved from the 267 productions that have come before.
Review Score: 65