Curse of the Headless Horseman

August 27, 2011 at 11:20 pm (5 Heads, Curse of the Headless Horseman) (, , , , , )

Curse of the Headless Horseman – 1974 – United States

IMDB records Curse of the Headless Horseman as released in 1974. According to the Temple of Schlock and Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Video Guide, Leonard Kirtman produced it in 1971 while simultaneously making Carnival of Blood. It’s likely Headless Horseman was shelved for years before release. Producer/director Leonard Kirtman (credited in Headless Horseman as John Kirkland) is a mysterious figure, more so for numerous pseudonyms and frequent misspelling as Leonard Kirkman. Regardless, his prolific output of cut-rate horror and soft-core flicks secures his place in the annals of sleaze cinema. Also, be sure to notice Warhol alum Ultra Violet’s cameo.

Opening with throaty deeply reverberant narration (“it is like living in the silence between the ticks of a clock”), we see a bunch of flipped-out hippies loving, fighting, and eating pizza at a party. A straight-looking dude announces his inheritance of a Wild West theme park and the hippies all decide to live there. Many minutes are spent clowning around and cracking wise amid the ranch’s kitschy attractions but subplots soon emerge in the likes of the resentful caretaker, the murderous horseman, and hidden gold deposits. Hippies are bumped off until an unexpected and illogical twist reveals the killer as whom you’d least expect and the climactic shootout begins, featuring a genuine gunslinger. In the final scene it is insinuated that all the violence and misfortune stems from the horseman’s curse and the narration chants, “It will begin again…again…again…”

With an enormous cast of freaky hippies playing themselves, Headless Horseman is terrible and interesting. Dialogue and situations often seem improvised (i.e. an overlong weed smoking skit). However, surprisingly, sexual promiscuity is limited to a single ambiguous rape (?) scene. I especially appreciated the staged cowboy showdowns and quick-draw competitions.

As you’ve surely surmised, Headless Horseman is a technical catastrophe. The dialogue fluctuates in volume, flubbed lines are not reshot, and scenes cut mid-sentence. The handheld camerawork uses a point-and-shoot style reminiscent of home movies. The Horseman’s costume sucks. And the only effect is a flashing chromatic trip sequence. Plus, the whole thing is worsened by a bad transfer—although interesting streaks of overblown color and other optical artifacts result. Only the music bears positive mention for mixing folk and country ballads with squealing video game-like electronic tunes.

Despite all that, I like Headless Horseman. Its carefree tone makes me believe it was a blast to make. The genuine cast and setting enhance believability and the stupid plot is at least unpredictable. It’s a unique time capsule of slapdashery, reminding us that they don’t make them quite like this anymore.

Rating: 5/10 Shrunken Heads. Watch and learn to make your own Headless Horseman costume from things you already own.


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