Movie Review: “Head of the Family”

   The Nightmare Shift is direct with its intentions – I want to find my favorite films (and video-game, television series, etc.). This is a fool’s errand in the ever-expanding world of entertainment, but it’s also a lot of fun to share my opinion with each of you. I’ve played it safe on occasion – I review a lot of mainstream blockbusters and heralded classics, but I like to venture on the wild side as well. This is why I review ChineseJapanese, and South Korean films, because I want to try and widen my horizons and develop a respectable palate for the art-form. That, and who doesn’t love curling up by a fire with a cup of hot cocoa and watching Choi Min-sik wail on someone with a hammer? Besides finding new films and discovering new stories, I’d also like Mashers Club to be a celebration of the films I hold fondly from yesteryear. This is why I declare Mondays to be Full Moon Magic Mondays! (The “magic” part is an inside joke between me and Full Moon Features creator Charles Band that Full Moon Features creator Charles Band isn’t in on)

   For those that aren’t familiar, Full Moon Features is a movie production and distribution company run by Charles Band, a filmmaker who has specialized in the B-movie genre for almost half a century! The filmmaker also ran the notable Empire Pictures which brought us the cult classic Re-Animator and Trancers, films that will be grandfathered into Full Moon Magic Mondays even though they were made before the sweet, sweet Full Moon magic was discovered. The brand’s catalog includes series’ like Puppet MasterSubspecies, and more schlock-type (I’ve always enjoyed Full Moon more than Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma brand) series’ such as Evil Bong and Gingerdead Man.

   They aren’t all exactly what I’d call Academy Award nominees, but I did have a lot of fun with the brand in my youth, with 50-something Full Moon Features films under my belt. I look forward to revisiting them and seeing whether the aspects I enjoyed about them still hold and if there’s anything to them beyond as a guilty pleasure.

   The first review for Full Moon Magic Mondays will be of Head of the Family. This black-comedy hit bargain bins and rental stores in November 1996. Like many Full Moon Features, I first discovered it from a movie-pack at Walmart (one of the real big reasons Full Moon and I always along so well was because I could find packs with as many as 9 of their films for only $5, which, as a poor boy with a lot of time on his hands, meant I stocked up with as many as I could). The film was directed by Charles Band, who, for some reason, went under the pseudonym of Robert Talbot. I’m not entirely certain why he chose to do this. Sometimes directors will use pseudonyms as a way of disowning a film, however, considering it was released through Charles Bands’ company and this is the same man who directed Evil Bong, and the fact it’s one of my most fondly remembered films from the Full Moon catalog, I can’t imagine that’s the reason.

   Head of the Family opens with the musical contribution of Richard Band, the distinct sound of the entire brand, in my opinion. The score for each Full Moon film certainly aren’t what I’d call unique, in the sense that, most of Richard Bands’ scores are plays on the same theme and melodies, but I always feel a nostalgic affection when I hear his contribution, and I always miss him when he isn’t in a Full Moon film. (Maybe he’s the aforementioned magic I’ve jested about so far?) The film tells the story of a man named Lance who owns a town diner and is fooling around with a woman named Loretta. All would be well, except Loretta is already in a relationship with Howard, a douche-bag thug who shakes down the whole down to fill his pockets. One night, things taken a turn, however, when Lance discovers the secrets being hidden by an oddball family and blackmails them to try and rid himself of Howard.

   The acting in this film is over-the-top and oftentimes exaggerated, resembling that of a made-for-TV film (which isn’t too far off from what it actually is), like a SyFy film that feels more whimsical. It doesn’t laugh at itself, instead, the humor’s derived from the audacity of what’s happening on the screen. Jacqueline Lovell is nude way more often in this film than I remembered which may play a part in why my high school subconscious remembered it so fondly, but I think there’s something more to it than that. In a lot of ways, Head of Family feels like it could have been a very solid, quirky short-story or a memorable episode of The Twilight Zone. I mean, you’d have to change something here and there, you’d be better off leaving the nudity on the cutting-room floor, however, the meat and potatoes of Head of the Family is an engaging science-fiction B-movie comedy.

   The swindled becomes the swindler – Lance tries to rid himself of Howard, who is, in itself, a bad guy, and Lance tries to have his cake and eat it too by blackmailing a group an oddball family, who are, as well, bad people. It’s an intriguing yarn that screenplay writer Benjamin Carr has spun and although it isn’t brought out in its best form, the film’s novelty and peculiarities, its charm and overacting, and strange decisions all weave a tapestry. I think they could have made some small changes (ignoring the larger ones they could have made), in-particular, Lance could have presented as a more likable protagonist. The actor Blake Adams has a natural charisma and charm, albeit, in a very over-the-top and goofy fashion, and I think they could have played up his likability and made him and Loretta worth rooting for. Instead, the bad-guys are the family and the good-guys are also bad-guys.

   The film’s rough-around-the-edges, but I think most of what I thought of Head of the Family still holds now as I recollect my thoughts. It is a quirky b-movie I’d recommend to fans of the genre. A sequel is in the works for Head of the Family, one that has taken over twenty-years to raise off the ground, and of Full Moon Features’ upcoming slate of films, it’s definitely the one I’m most intrigued by.

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