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Maskhead - Toetag Pictures Print E-mail
User Rating: / 16
Written by Ray Casta   
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
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Directed by: Scott Swan & Fred Vogel
Written by: Scott Swan
Produced by: Shelby Vogel, Jerami Cruise & Fred Vogel
Cinematography by: Dave Dellassandro & Shelby Vogel
Editing by: Jason Kollat
Music by: Logan Tallman
Special Effects by: Jerami Cruise
Cast: Shelby Vogel, Danielle Inks, Daniel V Klien, Mike Witherel
Year: 2009
Country: USA
Language: English
Color: Color
Runtime: 88 minutes

Studio: Toetag Pictures

Written by Scott Swan (author of two John Carpenter's Master of Horror episodes, Cigarette Burns and Pro-Life), Toetag's Maskhead tells the sick, demented tale of Syl and Maddie (Shelby Vogel and Danielle Inks), a lesbian couple who produce extreme fetish/sex films and interview actors/models looking for parts in their movies.  An acquaintance of theirs, The Cowboy (Daniel V Klein) helps with the recruiting of actors, and embarks on repugnant adventures on his own.  Syl and Maddie's DVD series involve the actor's partaking in weird, perverted fetish and sex acts.  If actors do not cooperate, they are viciously dispatched by the title character -- menacingly played by Mike Witherel -- a disfigured, overbearing hulk of a killer who sports a metal-wired mask and murders at the direction of Syl and Maddie.  One of the great aspects of Maskhead is the way it toys with chronology.  In this regard, the film plays like a puzzle; we get so many "pieces" until the ending which puts the entire puzzle together.  In this way, the narrative fulfills the ingenuity as it unfolds in many unexpected manners.  The film trusts its viewers to get a conclusive enough picture of the flawed characters by avoiding linear convention and by welcoming in an unorthodox style and idiosyncratic charisma.

Early on, there is a sequence involving the characters of Syl and Maddie that effortlessly sets a tone for the film.  "Do you have what it takes to be a model?"  Everyone wants to be a star and everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame.  In an amateur promotional video made by the two, they advertise their underground series and vow to make any of their hopeful viewers a star.  They discuss the most meaningful traits a model could possess, and the strict rules they must adhere to in order to be successful, accomplished stars.  Their promotional video fittingly describes the "Maskhead" experience in a nutshell: it is outrageously humorous and insidiously seductive.  Likewise, the video suggests the film exists in a hypnagogic alternate reality mocking the media whores of our "pop culture" society.  The vain, mocking attitude of Syl and Maddie are presented right off the bat.  Their mean-spirited nature establishes the type of temerarious mood the movie carries until its eventual end.  The movie magnificently mixes its biting humor with its dreadful terror, sarcastic wit with methodical brutality and off-the-wall fetish with abhorrent sex acts.

No movie is perfect, and Maskhead is not without its flaws.  The "puzzle" metaphor works wonderfully when describing its shortcomings.  Maskhead actually feels like it's missing a piece or two.  The pace is so relentless yet the movie leads itself to an abrupt, hasty ending that feels unsatisfying.  While the movie leaves its viewers in dreadful awe of just how it ends, it leaves them disappointed of WHEN it ends.  The movie is frustrating, if only because you'd want it to unfold further before it quickly wraps itself up.  There are many different things you'll expect throughout -- for instance, it conjures a need for CONFLICT and the family dynamic of Maskhead, The Cowboy and Syl and Maddie to be developed -- yet it throws a curveball and gets rid of your expectations or predictions.  This can truly be both a good thing or a bad thing.  In the case of Maskhead however, it's mostly a good thing.  One of the paramount qualities of the film is how it packs plenty surprises and feels unexpected at all times.  Cold and sinister atmosphere suggest that at any given moment, something terrible can happen.  There are no telegraphed scenes, as Maskhead remains unpredictable throughout.

The structure makes the movie feel like a horrible nightmare.  The "feel" is freakishly bizarre and twisted.  It has a dreamy surreal quality that suggests an alternate universe where these characters reside.  It presents a gruesome death of a character we will be introduced to later on.  Deaths of the characters seem to be personal and esoteric for Syl and Maddie since the deaths are kept from the camera.  The camera cuts away or the short feature depicting their sadistic treatment by the hands of Maskhead ends rather quickly.  Interestingly, most of the character's deaths are never shown.  Torment and suffering is shown in pertinacious detail in the movie, but actual deaths are kept broadly ambiguous.  This is a wise decision to omit an ordinary happening in horror movies: deaths.  This is not a slasher flick where it focuses on a helpless teenager is dispatched in a creative and inventive way.  In Maskhead, the violence lingers.  But death is never the "point"; it is merely a device to give meaning to this fetishistic world.  In many scenes, different types of fetishes are presented -- whether they are subtle or in your face -- and fetish consumes the characters.  A small gripe: there definitely could have been more nudity to further accentuate the movie's dirtiness.  Nevertheless, the fetish image is a driving force of control and objectification.  It clearly gives the film an authentic, bona fide identity and separates it from genre features of its ilk.

In Murder Collection Vol. 1 (released much earlier this year), Toetag Pictures introduced us to a character named Balan, who hosted the gruesome video collection of death and murder, ala Faces of Death, and he posed questions and forced his viewers to evaluate themselves and reflect on their reasons for watching his program.  Balan's provoking thesis is revisited in Maskhead and offers subtext to the surreal world these characters occupy.  These themes elevate this from a mere violent slasher to a mockingly cruel, bitingly sarcastic commentary on media's power on one's self-esteem and self-image, the influence of the media and futility of technology.  Syl and Maddie represent the "news", in the way they bring us FEAR.  Daily, we mainly hear about unfortunate news reports, involving DEATH, destruction and tragedy in our society.  Maskhead, Syl and Maddie's Frankenstein, represents DEATH and destruction whereas Syl and Maddie respectively serve as directors/producers/hosts of the "news show" of their unique world.  Their surreal world is a scathing, darkly comic metaphor for our harsh, dog-eat-dog society.  The Cowboy, who has a majority of dialogue throughout, serves as Syl and Maddie's "news reporter" (their "creative consultant) -- he is filled with fascinating stories on life's crazy experiences.  His wild monologues, which evoke the best of Quentin Tarantino dialogue, are simply outrageous and infectiously entertaining.

Sexuality is one of the principal themes of the film.  It isn't a coincidence the lead characters are lesbians and The Cowboy is a degenerate, sexual deviant.  Every male who Syl and Maddie interview in the video segments are super confident, content with themselves, their sexuality and image.  They brag about their penis size, and swear that they have what it takes to be a star.  There is a fascinating parallel here that, whether intentional or unintentional, leaves an impression on the movie and what it has to say about masculinity.  The men who brag about their penis size are, quite simply, outmatched when compared to Maskhead, who shows his superiority off at the film's shocking conclusion when he flaunts a 2 x 4 cock!  There is much potential with the monstrous Maskhead.  Like Gunnar Hansen's notorious Leatherface, body language is a huge part of the role, and all the praise can be given to Mike Witherel's superb depiction of him.  No words (except one) are spoken.  A mysterious presence, Maskhead is evil.  He is territorial and a master of his domain, the dingy cellar of Syl and Maddie's warmly domesticated pad.  He demonstrates his dominance when The Cowboy struggles to carry a box with a victim within.  Out of nowhere, Maskhead viciously grasps his neck, releases him and carries the box himself. 

Jerami Cruise, a master of his craft, outdoes himself with exceptional gore effects.  I will not spoil it, but there is an effect so audaciously disturbing that it indisputably floors you with its badass technical brilliance.  Pain and suffering is littered throughout the movie.  No one is as thorough and strikingly proficient as Toetag Pictures, who perfectly understand little nuances and details that make the affliction of violence so traumatic.  Directorial credits are coequally shared between Fred Vogel and Scott Swan.  Their collaboration is a significant one, since it stamps the very first time Toetag Pictures work with an outsider.  Scott Swan lends a helpful hand and feels right at home with TTP, who deliver their finest work to date.  Among the cast members, who are all equally talented and memorable, Shelby Vogel deserves an honorable mention for her dark, wicked performance.  She is excellent as Syl, and her relationship with Danielle Inks' Maddie is touching and sweet.  During the dinner scene, we almost forget they are talking about sadism and murder because they are in love.

Filled with genuine attention to detail and rich subtext, the collaboration between Scott Swan and Toetag Pictures delivers stunning impact.  Their Maskhead is comical, filthy, depraved, nasty and perverse.  What turns you on?

The Maskhead DVD features a fascinating Behind the Scenes featurette hosted by Jerami Cruise who guides the viewer through the creation of the Maskhead character.  The inception of the character and the make-up work is covered, unfortunately, like the film itself, you wish the featurette went on longer.  It makes you wish Cruise went over the movie's awe-inspiring special effects, such as a painfully brutal arm-break and especially a bloody glorious "money shot" at the film's end.  The blooper reel is terrific, but sadly enough, it felt much too short for my tastes.  Like previous Toetag DVD's, Maskhead features a cool easter egg which showcases Fred and Shelby Vogel reenacting one of the movie's most bizzare fetish sequences.  The definite highlight of all the features is the Scott Swan and Fred Vogel audio commentary.  You really get a sense of their passion early on.  They talk about the project's inception, how Scott and Fred linked up and what they initially set out to achieve (the mix of an underground/Hollywood-style genre film), the writing/casting process, and its execution.  It is a solid commentary track and if you liked the movie, it's certainly worth listening to.  Even though I hoped for a cast commentary to hear Shelby (who co-shared DP credits for her role) and Daniel Klein (who can really deliver a monologue perfectly), the supplemental material is fine until a "Special Edition" is released, in the hopeful future.  Lastly, the DVD also includes the movie trailer and a neat still gallery.

In conclusion, Maskhead is Toetag's new stunner of a horror movie that deserves to be in your collection ASAP!

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Aspect Ratio:
English LPCM

- Directors Commentary
- Behind The Scenes Featurette
- Blooper Reel
- Still Gallery
- Trailer
- Cowboys Whistling Clinic

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