Triskaidekafiles is a love letter to cheesy cinema from the 80s and 90s, with the occasional dip into other eras.  if you're a fan of MST3K, Elvira, Joe Bob Briggs, or just bad horror movies in general, Trisk is the place for you.

Headhunter (1988)


WRITER: Len Spinello

DIRECTOR: Francis Schaeffer

STARRING: Kay Lenz as Katherine Hall
    Wayne Crawford as Pete Guiliani
    Steve Kanaly as Captain Ted Calvin
    June Chadwick as Denise Guiliani
    John Fatooh as Roger/Headhunter
    Sam Williams as Samuel Juru

QUICK CUT: A pair of detectives are called in to deal with some squabbles in the Nigerian community when an old friend comes over from Africa to visit.


    Kate - A Miami detective who's good at her job, bad at relationships, and probably one of the stronger females in 80s horror.  She's not just a love interest, and she's tough.

    Pete - Kate's partner, and has just as many, if not more, relationship issues.  He handles them poorly, he's loud, and he solves his problems with alcohol.  But he's always ready to do the job, no matter the personal issues.

    Roger - Kate's boyfriend, a beat cop, and more of the typical 'love interest' role than anyone else in this movie.

    Juru - A helpful Nigerian professor, and shaman to the local black community.  A great resource to the cops just discovering these new beliefs and folklore.

    Headhunter - A demon come to kill all those who refuse to believe in him.

The original title for Highlander.

The original title for Highlander.

TRISK ANALYSIS: Welcome back, Triskelions!  We are capping off May as summer starts to kick in, with a little known flick from the 80s called Headhunter.  This was during a wave of 'voodoo panic' movies that we had around the time, with stuff like Serpent and the Rainbow.  This is more African than Caribbean, but still very voodoo in the aesthetic.  And really, either way this is gonna get kinda racist, isn't it?

The movie opens up in Africa, and we watch some native ceremonies as some animals are slaughtered for their blood, and I'm sure they are trying to make us think, "savages!"

In the middle of the rituals, suddenly a booming rings out, and everything is bursts into flames and a RaimiCam rushes through the village.

The movie cuts from there to the US, during a parade showcasing a blending of African traditions with the taint of Christianity upon them, as tends to happen, as things blend together.  Ahhh, the melting pot in action.

It's a kind of magic.

It's a kind of magic.

And in the middle of these rituals, the same thing happens.  Guys, if every time you do a ritual, the fog rolls in, things catch fire, and people die - STOP DOING IT.

We head from a little death with the beheading, to a little death in the bedroom, because it's time for our white leads to enter the movie.  Of course it has to be about white people exploring this strange, savage world of barbaric rituals.  Ahem.  Okay, jumping off that soapbox.

Kate and Roger are both cops, and we meet them while they're banging.  They hear a noise as someone breaks in, and it's their old pal Pete, who is having a rough go of it.

The next day, a more sober Pete and his partner Kate get assigned the beheading case, and head out to do their jobs.

A head which at this time, has no name...

A head which at this time, has no name...

Nothing about the crime scene looks right.  There's no struggle, there's very little blood, it looks cauterised...wait wait, the Headless Horseman did it!

They do find a letter amidst the dead man's personal effects, from Nigeria, and I hope it's not one of those mailings from a Nigerian prince.  Y'all know those are fake, right??

Pete decides to head home and pick up some stuff, and gets into a confrontation with his wife.  Boy I sure do love my horror movies taking ten minutes out to have a character yell at his ex.  There's a fine line between building character and wasting my time.

Domestic squabbles, the real horror.

Domestic squabbles, the real horror.

Between that and more detectivating, there's another scene of rituals being done that once again ends badly in another beheading.  What was I just saying??

While our buddy cops are investigating at the shop, Samuel Juru shows up, to a chanting crowd.  He's a professor of pan-African studies at the university, as well as the shaman for the local people.

Juru comes down to the station to tell the cops all about a demon in their folklore, whom they believe is striking out against the Nigerian people in Miami.

Surprisingly, the cops don't believe any of this magic bullshit, but hey.  Here's a thought.  You better believe that THEY believe, and that can be what is driving someone to do these deeds.  You don't have to believe, just respect and investigate what you can.

And I gotta give credit to Kate, since she says much the same in the next scene.  While these practices are presented without much respect, and even vilified at times, at least they do have a character trying to respect them.

During the night, Pete has a nightmare of his face being carved up, and Kate being beheaded so yeah, his head is in a good place.

If it came down to just us two, would you take my head?

If it came down to just us two, would you take my head?

We then cut to a priest doing a baptism in the river, and while he's doing that, a scythe like thing drifts through the water to a NotJaws theme, and beheads the woman he was about to claim for Jesus.

The cops head to Juru's to ask more questions, and see what he can tell them that might make sense.  This is also when the killer first gets called "Headhunter".

Juru does give us some insights into the motivation at least.  The Headhunter wants to kill those who don't believe, hence why he keeps appearing during rituals not about him.  And the more people don't believe, the more they are a threat, and that includes the cops as they circle around the case.



Kate meets up with her boyfriend Roger for a drink, and Pete's about to join them, but he sees...something and goes chasing after it.  We eventually see he's running after Juru, and spend a good long while with the chase.

It ultimately culminates with the demon wind blasting Pete through a wall and out a window, into a waiting slop truck below, where Kate eventually finds him.

They head back to the station, and the captain wants a progress report.  And this I like, that the racism inherent in the system is part of the plot.  The cops won't commit a lot of resources to the black neighbourhood, so there's too much ground to cover, so people just keep turning up dead.  And if more cops were doing their jobs and treating everyone equally, they might even be more likely to come forward and offer information.

Later, Kate's boyfriend calls off a date, but Pete gives her a call to come meet him at some old abandoned place, because he found something.

She instead stumbles upon more rituals, and catches a glimpse of the killer using Pete's voice, so you know this is gonna end well.

The sensation you are feeling is the quickening!

The sensation you are feeling is the quickening!

All the people suddenly start chasing Kate with torches, for no particularly good reason.  Are these the followers of the Headhunter, doing his bidding?  Are they controlled?  Is this in her head?

In the midst of everything, someone gets too close, and she shoots one of them in self defense, then calls the rest of the cops in to make sense of this.

It takes some convincing from Pete that it's really him, and while poking around, they find the remains of Juru in the area, killed off screen.

Hung Juru

Hung Juru

Amidst the stuff, they also find a manuscript about the headhunter folklore, and go to talk to the man who wrote it, a Robert Sinclair.

Even Sinclair believes in the monster, and they ask him about how to stop the creature, since he left that out of his book for fear of his own life.

And hey, it's easy!  All you gotta do is dismember him!  Cut off his head, and limbs, and everything!  Shouldn't be a problem!

Of course, the Headhunter knows Sinclair has given this information, and comes for him after the cops leave.

Who wants to live forever?

Who wants to live forever?

Suddenly the cops get called to a house where someone is waving around a machete, saying he's the killer, and they surround the place.  Pete is scpetical, but the chief believes him, just wanting this to be over with.  They shoot the guy when he rushes at them with the knife, and Pete knows it's not the real Headhunter.

With the case 'solved', Roger comes over to celebrate, but the other two don't really feel up to it.  Pete heads out for a drink at the bar, and Roger ducks out to grab some takeout for dinner.

The instant Roger walks out the door, his face shifts and...seriously?  Are they going there?  Yes, yes they are.  Roger is the Headhunter.  Boy, it sure would've been nice if he was anyone in the movie for more than three minutes.  This is ALMOST an out of nowhere twist.  Or is the twist that the Headhunter is Roger?

Pete gets a call at the bar from his ex, and heads home to try and talk things out.  The movie dramatically pans over to...a BAG OF TAKE OUT.  I *guess* this is supposed to signify that she's in league with the Headhunter, because Roger went to get take out, but man that is a weak connection.

Anyways, Pete heads home and his wife tries to patch things up, and this is so not what I want from a climax to a horror detective story.  Anyways, as he's about to leave, he sees a few dead bodies, his wife becomes menacing, and he runs off.

Little pig, little pig, let me in!

Little pig, little pig, let me in!

He drives to the nearest hardware store, and buys the first chainsaw he sees, ready to go full Ash on this guy.  He is about to try and live the dream of every man with an ex-wife.

Pete rushes to Kate's house, did he put THOSE threads together??  I spaced out three times watching this movie, at exactly the wrong times, and am only NOW getting the plot, myself.  Or did he just rush there to protect his partner, and stumble upon seeing Roger become the Headhunter?  Or were the bodies he found in his house, his wife and Roger?

Our hero chainsaws his way through the door, because fuck doors, and chases the creature out into the backyard, where they fight with chainsaw vs. scythe, and this is almost worth the price of admission.

Father! Forgive me , I am a worm...

Father! Forgive me , I am a worm...

The Headhunter gets the upper hand when he lifts Pete up, but he then loses it, literally, as Kate grabs the chainsaw and slices it off.

Which is enough for our heroes to get ahead of this thing, and Pete does the rest of the job, hacking the Headhunter into head sized bits.

They get Kate into an ambulance and the survivors ride off into the sunrise, but evil like this never stays dead for long, as long as someone believes...

It's better to burn out, than fade away...

It's better to burn out, than fade away...


Video: Looks pretty solid, with decent colour and shadows.  It's a bit too compressed at times, but for a late 80s flick, it's not bad at all.

Audio: It felt quiet at times, and with a bunch of mumbling, it was a bit off putting.  But for the most part, fine.

Sound Bite: "All right, oooga booga, let's dance!"

Body Count: A decent amount, I must say.

1 - Six minutes in and we get a random beheading
2 - Another beheading
3 - Woman gets beheaded at her baptism.
4 - Guy gets shot by Kate
5 - The cops find their dead friend Juru
6 - Sinclair gets killed
7 - A false killer gets shot by the cops.
8 - Pete finds someone dead in the bathtub of his house
9 - And someone else dead in a chair
10 - The Headhunter gets killed

Best Corpse: While there's a lot of beheadings, you just can't top a dismemberment scene of a body being hacked apart by a chainsaw while on fire.

Blood Type - C+: Not bad, not great, but points for trying, and having enough there when needed.  With an extra point for a decent enough monster makeup.

Sex Appeal: There's a sex scene, but I don't recall anything else

Drink Up! Every time someone dies.

Video Nasties: I always hate going for the climax, but you can't beat that final fight.

Movie Review: This is solid enough.  It's well made, the direction is pretty good, even.  The story is solid, and I absolutely love any movie where there is actual detective work and investigating.  But man, it is a slog at times.  I know movies were slower, but by the late 80s, they had picked up more than this.  This is almost a mid 70s throwback with its pace.  When this movie is on though, it is ON and really works.  The stuff with the culture is fascinating, and handled better than other instances, although still dodgy.  The kills are good, and the motivation is maybe not unique, but well used.  But there's too much interpersonal bullshit to really get into it, and I start tuning out.  And while there's some great investigatorial work, it all builds up to some major leaps in logic at the very end, which is a shame.  The good does outweigh the bad though for a perfectly average three out of five severed heads.

Entertainment Value: I wish this was cheesier, so so much cheesier.  It's a thoroughly average watch, so it's not bad, but SOMEthing over the top would've helped.  Someone chewing scenery, a villain with more presence, anything.  The acting is average, the story is average, everything about this is exactly that.  Perfectly fine, inoffensive, entertainment.  Two out of five chainsaws.