Much as I hate to begin with indecision, I genuinely can’t decide whether Skull Heads is one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen or one of the most ridiculous. Probably a bit of both.
The Arkoff’s are an odd family. First off they are clearly American despite apparently living in Italy for generations and never leaving to do anything ever (a tenuous reason is given for this anomaly, but it’s too silly to be worth mentioning). Their little family unit is made up of a domineering disciplinarian dad, Carver, who makes his first appearance tying his daughter to a rack for the heinous crime of bringing a mobile phone into the castle. We also have mum, Lisbeth; a pampered and temperamental curvaceous ‘Italian’ sex kitten, mentally deficient, but sexually voracious Uncle Peter and a shadowy bedridden grandfather with a penchant for Poe. Daughter Naomi completes the picture and she’s something of unsurprising loon too though seemingly harmless with her childlike wackiness. Their peculiar brand of crazy is allowed to run free in their rambling and picturesque ancestral home.
Things seem to be going swimmingly for the nutty Arkoffs, but trouble looms on the horizon in the shapely form to teenage Naomi who is beginning to discover a world of cell phones and iPods which, as these things are apt to do, is beginning to open a whole new world outside the castle walls and filling her head crazy ideas like college and travelling and new people. Fortunately big mad dad is around to show his daughter the error of her ways and the evil of the outside world by introducing her to medieval torture devices.
The trouble really kicks off when a film crew arrive and express interest in using the castle a possible filming location for a new movie. Naomi is thrilled with idea especially when spots attractive young Jensen among their number (however to be fair Naomi probably hasn’t seen a boy before so Jensen’s relative attractiveness isn’t really qualified by this). Big daddy Craver, on the other hand, doesn’t care a smidge about how attractive Jensen is and he rudely sends the pesky showbiz types on their way sagely stating ‘nothing good can come of strangers.’
Crafty little minx Naomi won’t be beaten though and conspires with the more congenial Lisbeth to invite the crew to a fancy Arkoff family dinner where, helpfully, the legend of the Skull Heads is finally explained. The Skull Heads are apparently hundreds of years old and are the protectors of the Arkoff castle, I’m not really sure what exactly they do to protect the castle, but they can raise the dead and really that’s impressive enough by itself. Now, this is my favourite part, odd glimpses of the Skull Heads have been seen through the movie and they are something of revelation. The Skull Heads, it turns out, are small glittery Día de los Muertos style examples of art and craft hour. As ridiculous as this sounds, in a time of crappy CGI, the fact that someone sat down and made these and animated them makes me really happy. Even though they really don’t contribute anything to the film despite it being named for them and a teensy bit of dead raising at the last minute, I still love this. Someone really persevered to insert them into a film where really a much simpler and less silly narrative device would have done of the job; I thoroughly respect such blind, bull-headed commitment to artistic vision.
Back at the plot, the awkward dinner with a bunch of crazy people is going as well as can be expected, but it soon becomes apparent that the guests have more nefarious plans on their minds than shooting a WW2 epic. It turns out that they are in fact a bunch of thieves intent on robbing the castle of all its priceless treasures and helpfully the guiless Naomi gives the team a guided tour so they can earmark all the best stuff.
Naturally the Skull Heads are non to pleased with this turn of events and things promptly kick off bad style (I’m not sure why I just said that). In the madness that ensues we learn the real disturbing truth about the Arkoff family.
Arts and crafts gone mad
Despite a rather rushed and chaotic ending, Skull Heads is silly crazy fun and the bizarre little family at the centre of the tale are thoroughly engaging and something of a depraved delight. I’d also like to give a shout out to the gratuitous and lingering nude scene. Kudos to all involved.
I’m fairly certain that it’s widely agreed upon and that I can speak on behalf of everyone everywhere when I say that The Thing is awesome. I’m also confident that few people will disagree when I say that Kurt Russell in The Thing is awesome. But, despite the inarguable awesomeness of Mr. Russell, there is still one who monumentally and heroically overshadows even him, one who is the true star of The Thing, and that star is, of course, Kurt Russell’s beard!
As helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady, Kurt Russell, or more specifically Kurt Russell’s beard, is stationed at U.S. Outpost 31 in the Antarctic when all manner of alien skulduggery kicks off and it seems apparent to me that it was the beard who was running this show. Although part of a twelve man crew, MacReady is something of the brooding loner and prefers to spend his time alone in his cabin playing computer chess and cultivating an alcohol problem. Despite this, and a general all round feeling of mutual mistrust, he still commands the respect of his team mates and his unassuming confidence and quiet reliability sees the other crew members defer to him as an unsanctioned figure of authority. When the interloping alien organism stakes its insidious claim on Outpost 31 it is MacReady who takes charge (much like Scott Baio’s Charles and, of course, Bruce Forsythe). Fortunately for everybody MacReady has an innate and primal survival instinct that spurs him into heroic action against the eponymous Thing.
It is self evident that the MacReady’s beard is the hardest working beard in cinema. It is lush and verdant, the kind of beard not only created to battle the deadly freezing conditions of Antarctica (although it is clearly a master of that aspect of the role) but also to be a gallant hero against extraterrestrial menace, to save all of mankind with its epic, godlike might.
The beard is masterful and captivating delivering a multi-layered performance, effortlessly it emotes the pain and ravages of an ungodly fate and climate, it demonstrates the cool thought processes of a tactician and subtly but powerfully it conveys world weary acceptance, a reluctant, uneasy heroism, a beleaguered understanding of necessary self sacrifice and the weight of a past that was already to hard to bear. All of this and still all the while it unrelentingly manages to remain simultaneously both defiant and vulnerable, the defining traits that underpin the character and draw the audience in.
Kurt Russell’s beard, whether you be hoary with Antarctic frost or luxuriant and virile in combat with the intergalactic scourge, I salute you!