THE HEAD HUNTER - "Sword & Sorcery Lives!"

The “Sword & Sorcery” genre is one of the most produced, peaking in the mid 1980s and eventually petering out late ‘90s before the genre had new life breathed into it by Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" Trilogy. Sword and Sorcery always played little brother to the menagerie of over the top action shoot ‘em ups, over-sexed slashers, and strange chest bursting sci-fi creature features, and yet, they remained a regular staple of the silver screen, and even more so to the straight to video movie rental market.

Most cost very little to make and for every big budget "Conan the Barbarian" or "Willow", there were eight or ten imitators churned out by low budget production companies that utilized the Roger Corman philosophy of filmmaking; show a bloody death or a pair of breasts every ten minutes or so.

In spite of many of these films often being low rent in nature with a cliché plot (one buff dude sword fighting another buff dude - who might just be wearing a rubber monster suit - in order to defend the honor of a babe who’s being held captive somewhere in the woods and possibly topless), it just doesn’t seem to get the same love that it used to outside the work of Peter Jackson.

But never fear my fellow beastmasters! Jordan Downey ("ThanksKilling") is here, with his newest feature film "The Head Hunter".

This fantasy/horror mash-up follows a nameless medieval warrior who stalks the land, hunting and killing any and all monsters he encounters. Many are by the request of the King, to ensure the safety of his kingdom, but for our warrior hero, it’s personal.

Years prior, he and his daughter had the grave misfortune of crossing paths with one of these dangerous creatures. It took his daughters life and escaped into the wilderness before her father could cut it down.

And now, after all these years have been spent living a solitary and bleak existence – filled with murder and suffering - the vengeful warrior finally gets his chance at revenge when fate crossed his path with that same monster again.

So what we have here is a filmmaker who knows how to tell an interesting and original story while playing to it’s strengths – keeping it simple. Downey manipulates the tone and tempo of the film (bleak and slowly building) as the father goes about his daily routine of tracking and hunting monsters before he returns home to display their decapitated heads as his trophy. A small retribution for his loss.

The setting (the forest and his stone cottage) are excellently utilized, giving the small film a big atmosphere which puts many sword and sorcery films from yesteryear to shame. It feels authentic and lived in.

"The Head Hunter" teases the audience every time the exterminator returns home from battle with his a new trophy. Each must have been as different a fight as the head he brings back further hints at what lays beyond the forest. The creatures, the people, the villages, the dangers and the adventures. It’s like watching just part of a "Dungeons & Dragons" campaign.

I enjoy this movies look and feel so much that I regret bringing up what I find to be it’s only shortcoming - the final battle. Everything before it feels intentionally restrained, building toward the finale, allowing it’s audience to finally bask in the blood and thunder that is a man battling a monster to the death. However, I was underwhelmed by the monster, which is the only thing preventing "The Head Hunter" from being a total home run. And it isn't that the monster is bad, but I started to expect something more grand.

I won’t go into any more detail than that, as I don’t want to spoil anything more. "The Head Hunter" does end on a high note with a bit of a twist, and I’ll leave it at that.

If you enjoy sword & sorcery, "D&D", or "Skyrim", by all means watch The Head Hunter. Jordan Downey has moved from horror comedies with killer turkeys and into the realm of high adventure, and through his work Sword & Sorcery Lives! "The Head Hunter" is currently available on VOD platforms, as well as the Shudder network.


★ ★ ★ ½

"A medieval warrior's gruesome collection of heads is missing only one - the monster that killed his daughter years ago. "