Directed by Leonard Murphy, Michael Patrick
Written by Leonard Murphy, Michael Patrick
In a nutshell: An amusing mixture of Re-animator and small engine repair.
Run Time: 80 minutes
Tagline: “Recycling has a whole new meaning!”
Here comes yet another item from the infamous "Catacomb of Creepshows" boxed set…marketed as "Hours of Spine-Chilling Tales", but let’s not go there. (And Karl, thanks again for the DVD’s, I’m not trying to look a gift horse in the mouth…I’m merely noting how I guess some people’s spines get "chilled" a lot easier then mine!) Anyway, our feature movie "Machine Head" is an indie project which closely follows the familiar Frankenstein story line, but with a refreshing twist on the "monster" itself, thus the movie’s title, but first things first.
There’s no point on spending too much time on characterization. Let’s see, we have Max, the film’s requisite "mad scientist". When not attending high-school and getting beaten up by bullies, he’s grudgingly working at his abusive father’s funeral home. After hours, Max locks himself in his room where he peruses copies of "Four Stroke" magazine and performs the occasional, and hitherto unsuccessful, raise-the-dead type experiments on various road kill. So let’s get started.
Cut to science class, and give yourself 2 points if you guessed that there’d be a crackling Jacob’s ladder on the countertop. A wad of awkward dialog reveals that Max is taking part in the community’s Regional Science Fair with its $25,000 prize. With a smug smile, Max strolls up to the front of the classroom and pulls back the covering from his latest experiment: a Commodore 64 hooked up to a lawn mower engine. You see, this is supposed to bring back the dead by, well, doing something with neurons and back flow yadda yadda. Does it make any difference? The class immediately (and understandably) laughs their collective ass off as the bell mercifully rings to end the awkward moment. On the way out into the hall, generic high-school bullies who all look like they’re at least 30 years old, engage in teasing Max thus assuring their death later in the film.
Later that day at his family’s "Angel’s Dust" funeral home, Max spots a weeping couple burying their dead cat behind a tree..he pauses and dramatically rubs his chin with a mischievous smile…could this be the next experiment? Mwu-ha-ha! Sure enough, after his father has fallen asleep, Max digs up the cat (a quick nod to Stephen King’s "Pet Semetary"), takes it back home and cuts open its skull. After sticking a couple of wires into the goo there’s only one thing left to do…
With a gleeful chuckle, Max fires up his computer and starts a nearby lawn mower engine which brings the cat back to life. (I was hoping he’d stare up towards the heavens and shout, "It’s alive! It’s AAAALLIVE!", ahh, but no.) Anyway, the cat turns into a hand puppet and attacks Max with surprising vigor. After struggling with the beast for a few moments, Max finally gains the upper hand and flings it to the ground where it transforms from the puppet back into a real cat and runs from the room. (On a side note, this zombie cat is never seen again. Now that could have been a funny sub plot, but I guess budget and time didn’t permit.)
Encouraged by the previous night’s "success", Max swipes a body from the family’s funeral home (convenient!) and somehow gets it back to his room without anyone noticing. Go figure. After hooking the stiff up to a computer, Max decides to mount the lawn mower engine directly onto the guy’s head…and…hey…I get it now! Machine Head!
After school the next day Max clumsily hints to Sally that he’s sure to win the upcoming science fair, and uh, if she’d like a sneak peek she’s more than welcome to come over to his place and take a look…heh heh. Naturally, she agrees to come over (what girl in her right mind wouldn’t?) but the experiment goes awry, way wayyyyyy awry: Machine Head goes bonkers and strangles Sally. Oops. Into the crematorium with her.
It’s now time to be rid of the bullies that are constantly harassing Max. Max tosses down the gauntlet and challenges them to a fight later that night out in some lonely park; they accept. Sure enough, Max shows up with Machine Head who quickly dispatches the troublesome trio with an onslaught of chokes and punches, including a nice backhand which tears one guy’s head off and sends it sliding across the ground. (It’s amusing to see how being resurrected gives super-strength to a relatively normal sized guy…how does that work?) Moving right along, Max gathers the bodies and oh-so-discretely disposes of them on a hastily-built bonfire.
The next morning school is crawling with cops investigating the disappearance of the 4 students Machine Head has recently killed. Max panics, turn the car around and drives back home to find his father snooping around in his room. "I’ve done something very naughty, Father dear!" Max shouts as he karate chops him across the neck in the famous "neck chop -> unconscious" move made famous by low-budget movies throughout the ages. When his dad regains consciousness he finds himself tied to a chair with Machine Head sputtering by his side. Unfortunately it’s all just too much for his weak ticker and he dies of a heart attack; Max casually tosses him into the crematorium as well. Boy, I tell ya, that Max sure is one cold cucumber.
Now for the emotional scene, so grab your hankies: Max, with Machine Head laying at his side and surrounded by more candles than a Madonna video, cries out to the heavens, "Who ARE you?!" Yeah yeah…the angst of having power over life and death. Been there. Done that. Guzzling booze, Max switches into Mad Scientist Soliloquy Mode and reassures himself that after the next day’s science fair he will be worshipped as a God! Insane scientist-y cackling ensues.
Speaking of the, <cough>, Science Fair, cut to a dilapidated old building filled with a crowd of movie extras pretending to be interested in the local high-school science scene. As the students present their pedestrian projects, Max pushes his way onto the stage with a covered gurney and a long extension cord…Science! As the other competitors nervously make room for him, Max dives into a huge tirade about science, discovery, and other mumble jumbo as the audience rolls their eyes. But this lackadaisical mood swiftly changes as Max rips back the sheet, pulls the start cord, and brings Machine Head back to life. Now the unavoidable "Monster on a Rampage" sequence begins as Max takes a bump and falls unconscious to the floor while the audience flees in panic. For some reason Machine Head decides to knock one unfortunate woman’s head right off her neck with a vicious back hand…It’s getting hard to feel sorry for this guy…
OK, with the auditorium emptied of potential victims, Machine Head shuffles out into the dark and comes across a local carnival where he’s mistaken for a circus freak..yuk yuk. There is, however, a funny scene where he finds a gas station and tries to, er, "top himself off", so to speak.
Despite all the recent chaos, Machine Head finds time to wrap a sheet around his motor and pop into a local bar for a beer (!). Alas, the ruse doesn’t last long when oil starts running down his head and dripping onto the bar. The bar patrons break out in random screaming and scrambling about as Machine Head flees into the street where he’s promptly struck by a passing car. Panic breaks loose, cops show up, people gasp…you get the idea. At this time, Max also just happens to drive by and winds up crashing into the other cars. (Doh!) Shaking off the shock from the collision, Max discovers that he’s trapped in the flaming wreckage…oh, dear reader, will Machine Head save him? Sure he will! He’s great guy! Well, except for the 5 people he pointlessly murdered he’s a pretty great guy. I guess.
Anyhoo, pulling Max from the burning car, Machine Head runs out of gas or something and falls limply to the ground. As Max cradles his wayward creation in his arms, Machine Head pleads with him to remove the damned motor so he can die with dignity. "Now we’re even…goodbye Max," he croaks before expiring on the pavement.
Wow! Now that was a sad ending…but wait!
Fade to Max’s house where he’s just woken up from a nightmare…"What’s the matter?" asks Machine Head from his Laz-y-boy comfy chair where he’s nursing a Scotch and reading a copy of Four Stroke.
"I just had the worst nightmare!" says Max with a smile.
Dennis Grisbeck (July 2014)
A quirky independent flick breathes a slight breath of fresh air into a tired Frankenstein story line. The film makers made a good effort given the miniscule budget, and I have to admit I broke a smile or two while watching it…something that happens all too seldom while watching movies featured on this site. I doubt you can find this movie anywhere outside of a box-set, but if you do happen to stumble across it, go ahead and check it out, if only just to see “machine head” and have a laugh.