Tuesday, March 9, 2010

'Skull Heads' fails to come together

Skull Heads (2009)
Starring: Robin Sydney, Samantha Light, Kim Argetsinger and Rane Jameson
Director: Charles Band
Producer: Charles Band
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Lonely and emotionally backwards teenager Naomi Arkoff (Sydney) lives in an isolated castle with her strange and abusive parents, along with a number of dark secrets. She longs to visit the outside world, and the closest she is able to come to this is when a film crew arrives to use their castle for a backdrop.

"Skull Heads" is a return to the past for Charles Band and Full Moon in many ways. First, it is filmed in the same castle that served as the setting for true classics like "Castle Freak" and "The Pit and the Pendulum". Second, it revisits elements that worked extremely well in yet another true Full Moon Classic, Band's own "Head of the Family." Finally, it introduces yet another set of tiny terror (and potential merchandising tie-ins), the Skull Heads. Heck, it even has gratuitous nudity in the form of Robin Sydney undressing and "getting busy" with herself in front of a mirror. Yes... this film is jam-packed will all sorts of things that were present in some of the greatest Full Moon features from the 1990s.

It's too bad this film can't hold a candle to the great pictures it brings to mind.

The problem with the film starts with the casting of Robin Sydney as Naomi Arkoff. She is playing a character who is five or ten years younger than she actually is, and the result is that Naomi comes off as being retarded. (Now, given the twists and shock-revelations at the end of the film, it could be that she was SUPPOSED to come off that way. But, given that none of the outsiders who enter the castle comment on her juvenile behavior, I don't think so... I think that Band just went with an adult actress to portray a younger character.

Secondly, Band ruins a rather intense and twisted story by shoe-horning the Skull Heads of the title into the film. They are the film's obligatory "tiny terrors," included either because Band hopes to create toy spin-offs or because he thinks the audience expects it. Sadly, if Band had left them out of this film, it would have been better for it. The Skull Heads add absolutely nothing--the jokes surrounding them are not funny, the puppetry used to animate them is so obviously no-budget that it makes the homunculus from the "Decadent Evil" movies look like something from the original "Puppet Master" film, and even the nature of the curse on the Arkoff family and the castle would have been more interesting without the little critters to add unneeded fluff and distraction.

"Skull Heads" is actually one of the better films from Band in recent years. The character of Naomi is more fully realized than any others--and she would have seemed even more convincing if Band had cast a younger actress and skipped the masturbation scene--and she is likable enough that the audience both relates to her and cares about her fate. The story, thin as ever and fairly standard Full Moon fare (except for the final twists) also flows a little better than a number of other Band efforts recently. If the Skull Heads had been left out, this film would have been on par with "Doll Graveyard," an almost-good effort and a more fitting return to the good old days that the old Italian castle represents for long-time Full Moon fans.

In the final analysis, "Skull Heads" is worth checking out if you're a fan of Charles Band and Full Moon-type movies... but it's not one you necessarily need to make a priority.

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