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Head Trauma DVD Review

Written by Steve Pattee

DVD released by Heretic

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You’re never gonna believe what happened last night. – George

Directed by Lance Weiler
Written by Lance Weiler and Brian Majeska
2006, Region 1 (NTSC), 84 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on September 26th, 2006

Vince Mola as George Walker
Jamil A.C. Mangan as Julian Thompson
Mary Monahan as Mary Edwards
Jim Sullivan as Chet Jackson
Meryl Lynn Brown as Roberta Thompson
Steve Garvey as Steve

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Poor George.

On his way to his grandmother’s house, after years of being absent, he wrecks his car, effectively totaling it.

Escaping the accident seemingly unscathed, George walks the rest of the way to his childhood summer home, only to find it slated for demolition. Apparently, since his grandmother had passed away a few years earlier, squatters and renters of dubious lifestyles had been living there.

Not to be deterred, George moves into the house in hopes of repairing as much damage as he can to save it from the wrecking ball.

His first night, he confronts what he believes to be a squatter. As the two struggle, George is thrown by the unknown man off his porch, and gets knocked out in the process.

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When he awakes, he learns the squatter is not a squatter after all, but the grandson of the next-door neighbor — something the kid had been trying to tell him as they were pushing each other around. While he’s talking with the young man’s grandmother, someone enters what is now, albeit temporarily, George’s house and busts the water pipe in the basement. Flooding it.

So, for those keeping score, George’s first day back involved a car accident, a condemned house, a concussion and a catastrophe in the basement. Clearly, it’s not a good day.

But when you throw in the tooth he finds between the floorboards, the mystery of the black-painted windows in the attic, the visions he’s suddenly starting to have and, oh yeah, that strange, faceless, hooded figure that’s paying him nighttime visits, you have to wonder if his coming back home is worth the mess.

I guess it depends on whom you ask.

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It’s gotta be tough for the low-budget filmmaker who decides to forgo nudity in his or her film, knowing a distribution deal is many times easier to achieve for a movie that includes it. It’s probably just as tough for a relatively new low-budget filmmaker to avoid making a slasher film. With naked women. Because, let’s face it, that’s what 90 percent of your low-budget horror films are. Slashers. With boobs.

But Lance Weiler seems to have, once again, made an enjoyable low-budget film without it being a slasher, or a boobfest (although boobfests are sometimes nice). Weiler’s first movie, The Last Broadcast, which he co-wrote and co-directed with fellow first-timer Stefan Avalos (The Ghosts of Edendale), was also devoid of slashing and nudity. And it managed to entertain on a little higher level than your basic straight-to-DVD flick.

With Head Trauma, Weiler has invited us into the surreal world of George Walker, who’s disturbing visions and actions may or may not be real. Weiler lets the story do the entertaining, rather than blood and breasts, and, sometimes, that’s a refreshing change.

Visually, Trauma has its moments. On occasion, there’s that quick “hitch” editing (probably best known to horror fans when Samara did her TV dance in The Ring) and it’s used very well. I’m a big fan of that sort of editing, because it does get a reaction from its freak factor, but it’s rarely done well. See the “Thriller” scene with the nurses in Silent Hill for a good example on how not to do it. But Weiler doesn’t overdo it, uses it when he needs to and it’s those type of moments in Trauma that give it an A-movie feel. In addition, there are some impressive aerial shots. Impressive because I can’t recollect seeing aerial shots in a low-budget film and because of the way they were done. More on that in the special features.

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Also, Vince Mola, as the manic George, is completely convincing. When he first came on screen, my first thought was, “Oh, something’s off with this guy.” As George, Mola creates a believable character of a man who doesn’t know what to make of the situation going on around him. George’s character is so crucial to the story, anything less than a damn good performance would have crippled the film. Luckily, though, Mola was able to deliver that performance.

The only thing the film suffers from is the story. Both the story and script are good, mind you, but the ending isn’t quite the kicker it feels like it should be. It completely fits the movie, as all the clues were there, and it’s not too difficult to determine at least one part of the ending (let’s say the “what,” but not the “how”), but it just doesn’t give you a punch — and it should, as it had the potential to. You know that feeling you had when The Sixth Sense delivered its final blow? Trauma could give you that feeling (albeit on a smaller level) if there were just a bit more back story presented throughout the film, and a tad — just a tad — more subtlety with some of the clues.

But, I can live with that as the movie doesn’t terribly suffer because of it and I didn’t feel cheated, as everything was presented to me in a nice little package. Hell, even George’s reaction to the situation, once everything became clear, was pretty cool and completely believable from the character. If nothing else, Weiler did a stellar job making sure all the loose ends were tied up, and he even threw in some bonuses.

Judging by Trauma, Weiler’s sophomore effort, I think the best is yet to come from this young director.

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Video and Audio:

As par for the course, Trauma’s widescreen presentation suffers from the usual low-budget suspects. Grainy darks, soft on occasion. I’ve seen worse, I’ve seen better.

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The 5.1 soundtrack more than gets it done. It’s one of the better sounding mixes out there in the B-movie genre.

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Special Features:

  • Collector’s Edition 8-Page Booklet
  • Director’s Commentary
  • Cast Interviews
  • Blowing Up a Car
  • Shooting in the House
  • John Magdic and His Amazing Flying Machines
  • S.R. Bissette Discusses the Art of Head Trauma
  • Behind the Music of Head Trauma
  • Theatrical Trailers

Like its release of The Last Broadcast, Heretic Films really came through with the special features here.

The “8-Page Booklet” can be glanced at, but only if you have a strong stomach. The first page is an interesting look at George’s character, but quickly turns into a fanboi-esque diatribe on the greatness of Trauma and Weiler. It made me a little ill.

The director’s commentary, however, is a must. Weiler really does a great job on of breaking down the movie from its roots to the locations, the actors and beyond. I really enjoyed this commentary, as Weiler never let up, and there is a lot to be learned about the movie both filmwise and storywise. One of the best commentaries I’ve listened to in a while.

All of the offered documentaries are enjoyable, but my hands-down favorites were “Flying Machines,” “Shooting in the House” and “Blowing Up a Car” — in that order. “Flying Machines,” on how they shot the aerials, was just fascinating. I’m honestly surprised the technique is not used more often on low-budget features. And “Shooting in the House” is a great watch because, man, that house is a character of its own. “Blowing Up a Car” is cool because, well, things that blow up are cool.

“Cast Interviews” and “Behind the Music of Head Trauma” are self explanatory.

Trailers for The Last Broadcast and Head Trauma seal the deal.

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Movie: 3 Stars
Video: 2.5 Stars
Audio: 3.5 Stars
Features: 4.5 Stars
Overall: 3 Stars
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Head Trauma has some pretty good moments — one when I actually jumped — a tight, albeit slightly flawed, story, and an actor that can get it done. This one’s a solid rental, but not quite a blind buy. I have a feeling, though, that Weiler’s future films will be a solid blind buy as he gains more experience.

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About The Author
Steve Pattee
Author: Steve Pattee
Administrator, US Editor
He's the puppet master. You don't see him, but he pulls the strings that gets things done. He's the silent partner. He's black ops. If you notice his presence, it's the last thing you'll notice — because now you're dead. He's the shadow you thought you saw in that dark alleyway. You can have a conversation with him, and when you turn around to offer him a cup of coffee, he's already gone.
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