Headhunter (1989)

Those of us who grew up in the ’80s came to accept certain universal truths, perhaps none more enduring than the belief that the official uniform of Miami cops consisted of white sports coats, pastel muscle shirts, two day-old stubble and no socks EVER. You can imagine my shock, then, when I sat down to watch Headhunter. It features Wayne Crawford as Pete Giuliani, a Miami homicide detective who’s straight out of the New York fuzz archetype: down on his luck, schlubby, full-blown mustache, drives a crappy sedan, even has a Brooklyn accent. Did I mention he “plays by his own rules”?

He has good reason to be pissed off, though, seeing as his wife just left him…for another woman. On top of that, someone’s running around the city’s Nigerian community lopping off people’s heads. Ooh yeeaaah…it’s time for Africans to do what they do best in horror movies: get slaughtered. Whether the culprit is a big mutant animal, a pack of small yet “bitey” beasts, a mystical voodoo-type guy or some sort of demon, if Africans are involved, you can bet they’ll be killed. All of ’em.

Speak of the devil, here comes Samuel Juru (Sam Williams), a professor of pan-African studies who offers to help Pete and his partner Katherine (Kay Lenz) with the case. He informs them that the culprit is an evil Nigerian spirit who takes souls by cutting off victims’ (read: black victims’) heads. Before you can say “snitch,” oops, Sam’s a goner. In fact, we get at least SIX different scenes of Africans dying in Headhunter, although it’s never clear why the spirit goes after only Nigerians. Penance for all those email scams perhaps?

Headhunter has the foundation of a good horror movie, if only it didn’t take itself so seriously. It seems determined to be dark and atmospheric, like a low-rent Serpent and the Rainbow — an unrealistic goal when the bad guy’s wearing a hooded Halloween costume from Spencer Gifts. The film, does, however, temp you with splashes of the sort of camp that’s more appropriate for this story:

  1. In one memorable scene, a Nigerian gal who apparently thinks the key to survival is converting to Christianity, is about to be baptized in a river (“Gonna leave all that jungle darkness behind!” the preacher exclaims.) when the demon’s sword appears out of the water like a shark’s fin — cue some distinctly Jaws-esque music — and slices her in two.
  2. The police captain (Steve Kanaly, of Dallas fame) is an over-the-top racist with a Southern drawl who sounds like he should be giving prisoners permission to “wipe off” in a 1940s chain gang. When Phil complains about the lack of police support on the case, he responds, “They are just Negroes, and they are not even our Negroes.”
  3. Only in the last five minutes do we get another scene worthy of craptasticity, as Phil whips out a chainsaw to fight the demon, uttering the epic line, “Alright, ooga-booga, let’s dance!” They never do show him explaining to the cops how the yard got littered with body parts.

Alas, the rest of Headhunter is pretty straightforward with kills that seem like an afterthought. Any film containing lesbians, chainsaws, demons, swordplay, white supremacists, witchcraft and serial decapitations should never be this dull. For shame.

“No, I don’t know where your doily is.”
“I dare you to knock this Coke can off my should–oh, well, there you go. Well done.”
“Honey, where are the pork rinds?”
Rachel could sense a Penthouse Forum Letter coming on.

What do you think?