Shrunken Heads (1994) — Directed by Danny Elfman’s brother, Richard

“There’s nothing more for us in this world now except for revenge.”

Justin’s rating: Just put them in water overnight, they’ll fluff back up to normal size

Justin’s review: If you’re anything like me, sometimes you’ll hear a bizarrely unique movie premise and know that it is your destiny to see it. Seriously, if the film industry can surprise me with a concept, then I feel obligated to show up and support originality. So what else was I supposed to do when I heard that Composer Danny Elfman’s brother directed a movie about shrunken heads that fight crime?

Shrunken Heads follows around a trio of well-meaning but daffy teens who want to clean up their neighborhood from what looks like a local production of West Side Story. They’re really into comic books and superheroes, so you know that they skip leg day and figure they’re invincible. Spoiler: They’re not, because Big Mo (the steely-eyed Meg Foster) up and has them murdered.

Good thing that the kids are best pals with a local Haitian newspaper dealer named Sumatra who dabbles in voodoo. Sumatra resurrects them, but not as they were. No, he decides that the best course of action is to chop off their heads, shrink them to half-size, and bestow them with the powers of flight, electricity, vampirism, and, er, switchblades? Yeah, one of the heads carries a switchblade in his mouth for specific opportunities where that might come in handy.

What’s even better is that when the disembodied crime-fighting trio take out their vengeance, their victims end up reanimating as well — as helpful farting zombies. Again, how could I NOT see this?

So obviously, Shrunken Heads isn’t asking you to be flexible on your understanding of reality so much as “toss it out the window and start laughing maniacally as truth itself unravels.” It’s the sort of thing that Charles Band and Full Moon specialized in making. There is a pretty jarring shift as the movie goes from a light-hearted kid comedy to a gory revenge-fest, but it’s just one more hit that your sanity will take so that you can tell friends, “I once saw Shrunken Heads and it ditngh tlj flarghble” and then you drool into the carpet while they make worried calls to the hospital.

The most surprising thing about a movie about flying heads is that it’s — and stick with me here — it’s actually good. I mean, good for what it is. I was expecting a very shoddily made and poorly edited piece of trash, but this is quite competent, including some decent acting, smooth camerawork, and a fun adherence to a ’50s gangster theme. The soundtrack is cartoony, highlighting the often absurd scenes. The only problem is that while the tone seems aimed at the kiddy market, the hard language and bloody kills would like to appeal to a grown-up crowd.

The effects might not be the best, but the pure cheeseball factor of Shrunken Heads more than makes up for any half-size deficiencies. Easilyi the best movie about superhero voodoo heads you’ll see this year. Or ever.

Didja notice?

  • Danny Elfman created the rather Beetlejuice-like main theme (and it’s good!)
  • The bad guy’s name is “Booger?”
  • That is one very dead cat
  • Boiling heads in your apartment is smelly work
  • It takes one year to train superhero heads
  • Electricity can transmit memories, why not

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