Actor Paul McCloskey as serial-killer-next-door Wayne Montgomery in "Head Case."
Actress Barbara Lessin as nagging wife Andrea Montgomery in "Head Case."
I asked filmmaker Anthony Spadaccini, the writer and director of Head Case (2007), what the point or purpose of his movie was. He replied, "My goal was to show evil incarnate in a suburban setting. Taking horror out of ghosts, zombies, and foreign torture chambers and placing it next door to the viewers. Their neighbors, their friends, people from their church. People the audience knows.
"Wayne and Andrea Montgomery represent familiar faces in a suburban neighborhood, but ones who carry out their own sick pleasures behind closed doors. That frightens the hell out of me so the film depicted things that frighten or disgust me."
What he hopes is that his film will also frighten and disgust you, the audience, and undoubtingly it will. Wayne and Andrea Montgomery, whom Spadaccini referenced, are his two main characters who just happen to be husband-and-wife serial killers. Spadaccini's movie works under the premise that what you're seeing are the recovered videotapes the two made of their murders.
It's as shocking and disturbing as watching an actual snuff film. It does have a lot of blood and gore, but some of the camera-work and/or editing obscures certain moments of "penetration." You don't actually the see the hammer to the back of the head or the cheese grater as it's castrating. Nevertheless, the film is still likely to garner just as visceral a reaction. It takes place in Claymont, Delaware, and seems as if it's set in the present-day with Wayne and Andrea using what looks like a mini-DV camera. Neither of them are trained photographers, so I suppose we have to accept that the look of it is amateurish. What we get is a sick series of scenes from this married couple's home movie collection.
Yet, according to the article "A Pinch of Snuff" by Barbara Mikkelson for Snopes.com, there has never been any known record of a serial killer capturing his actual murder on videotape nor willingly releasing it to anyone. In 1979, serial killers Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris came close, but, even if they had, there's no way those tapes would have been released by the police to a filmmaker so that he could then make a movie with it.
In 1993, during the trial of Canadian, husband-and-wife serial killers, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, the judge refused to show the videotape the two had made of the rape and torture of their victims. If the judge wouldn't even show the video in the courtroom, there was no way he would show it to filmmakers. Coincidentally, Bernardo and Homolka made a murder victim a Christmas present just as in Head Case.
But, one wonders then who was it that put these Wayne and Andrea home movies together. The opening titles suggest that someone else besides them assembled it. This unfortunately creates a plot-hole for Spadaccini's movie. Whoever put this movie together would have to have access to the police surveillance cameras because we see Andrea being questioned by the cops. Immediately after that, we see Wayne picking up someone by himself. Whoever put this movie together, how would they have access to both those tapes?
Whereas Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (2004), which is also about a man and woman who become serial killers, was an over-the-top, Tarantino-style, media satire, Spadaccini's movie is meant to be another in the found-footage genre of movies. Yes, according to wikipedia, "found footage" films done in the same style as The Blair Witch Project (1999) are now their own genre. The first found-footage type came out in 1980, but, really, this genre is just the horror version of mockumentaries, which have been around since the 1960s.
Most of these found-footage films are mainly about something supernatural. Less than a handful are about supposed, true crimes, the recordings of serial killers in particular. Spadaccini's movie and its subsequent sequels are the most recent. The first of this type though was a Belgium, independent film called Man Bites Dog (1992), which I happened to see before seeing Spadaccini's Head Case.
In Man Bites Dog, it isn't the serial killer named Benoit who is recording himself and his crimes. Instead, Benoit has a camera crew documenting his twisted exploits. The problem is that there's never any context provided. Why is this crew following Benoit? How did they even find him? Where and to whom are they planning to show this documentary? Yes, it's a dark comedy so that stuff isn't supposed to matter but without it the audience has nothing to take away and nothing to care about.
Unless you're a sadist, there really is no enjoyment to be had or anything to be gained at all. There is also no diplomatic way to make the suffocation of a little boy a crowd-pleasing moment. Yes, it's a horror film of sorts and all horror films are supposed to be just murder and mayhem, but with any movie regardless of what it is, the audience should have a reason to keep watching. There is no reason to keep watching Man Bites Dog, although I guess sadism is as good a reason as any.
Man Bites Dog is also no Dexter nor a vigilante film like The Brave One (2007), so it's not as if the serial killer is any way a likeable character. Benoit is a racist, homophobic, self-involved, reckless, bourgeois opportunist. Another found-footage-genre film about a serial killer called The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) addressed this problem by framing it in such a way that makes it more about the police investigation and thus slightly more relatable.
Spadaccini's Head Case is morbid voyeurism at its best. There's no air vent. The way that he's set it up, the audience is merely supposed to breathe these people in like some kind of nitrous oxide he's giving before violently pulling their teeth out. If it works, it's because, unlike going to the dentist, America at-large seems to enjoy movies and TV shows about murder and murderers.
Husband-and-wife serial killers are a rare thing. According to TruTV, they do exist, but are too few to be a thing of any kind of real study. Alvin and Judith Neelley in 1982 were considered the "Bonnie and Clyde of Georgia." Gerald and Charlene Gallego were convicted in California in 1980, while Ray and Faye Copeland were the eldest married serial killers ever to go to jail.The last husband-and-wife serial killers might have been the Bernardo and Homolka case, which was now about 20 years ago.
There have been several examples of men-and-women serial killing teams that weren't married like Ricky Davis and Dena Riley in 2006 in Missouri or the Lonely Hearts Killers in New York back in 1949. Several midwestern states in 1984 saw the murders of Alton Coleman and Debra Brown. But, the most famous example was probably Charles Starkweather who with his girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate in 1958 killed 11 people and inspired several movies including Terrence Malick's Badlands (1973).
Malick's film was beautifully shot and amazingly acted with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as his leads. Here, Spadaccini has Paul McCloskey and Barbara Lessin who play Wayne and Andrea respectively. Both are very interesting actors and Spadaccini utilizes a lot of improv. Both seemed to have fun with their characters, but I think that I agree with Felix Vasquez of the Cinema Crazed website. Vasquez reviewed Head Case saying Lessin was pretty much one note and while McCloskey had depth, his behavior was perhaps too inconsistent. His character even makes serial killing somewhat boring.
With the trial of Cleveland serial killer Anthony Sowell about to start, as well as the arrests this year of the Grim Sleeper serial killer in Los Angeles and Elias Abuelazam, one would hope Spadaccini's movie might offer some insight into the mind of a serial killer, how one thinks or why he does what he does. Wayne's answer to that is he's simply doing this because he's bored.
For a guy who worries about getting caught, Wayne is way too obvious and even sloppy in his techniques. Plus, if you look at a lot of the serial killer cases, ones with partners or not, there's always a sexual aspect. Spadaccini's film is practically abstinent.
Three stars out of five Unrated but recommended for mature audiences Running Time: 1 hr. 45 mins.