The Head Hunter (2018 film)
The Head Hunter (originally titled The Head) is a 2018 American fantasy horror film directed by Jordan Downy, who also co-wrote, produced, and edited the film. It stars Norwegian actor Christopher Rygh as the title character, Cora Kaufman, and Aisha Ricketts. The film centers on the title character, who works as a bounty hunter for a local kingdom, all the while he awaits the eventual return of the creature responsible for the murder of his daughter.
|The Head Hunter|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jordan Downey|
|Produced by||Jordan Downey|
|Screenplay by||Jordan Downey|
|Music by||Nick Soole|
|Edited by||Jordan Downey|
|Distributed by||Vertical Entertainment|
|Box office||$44,652 (Worldwide)|
Influenced by Jean-Jacques Annaud's 1981 film Quest for Fire, as well as the The X-Files, and Tales From the Crypt television series, The Head Hunter was developed by Downey and Kevin Stewart, with the location in mind long before the film's story was eventually developed. The initial concept for the film later came about during a writer's retreat, in which the filmmakers had assembled and hosted at Stewart's family home in Soutelo Mourisco, a small village in Northern Portugal. Norwegian actor Christopher Rygh was cast as the leading role, in his feature-film debut, after filmmakers discovered him while searching a casting website. Principal photography later began in Bragança, Portugal, while additional scenes were shot in Norway, and Mammoth Lakes, California.
The Head Hunter first premiered at the Sitges Film Festival on October 6, 2018, as a part of the festival's "Panorama Fantàstic" section. While the film was screened at Sitges, and Nightmares Film Festival under the title The Head, but the title was later changed to The Head Hunter due to lukewarm reactions. The film would garner several awards and nominations at the various film festivals it was screened at, and received positive reviews from critics upon its release, with many praising the film's atmosphere, cinematography, and Rygh's performance.
This article needs an improved plot summary. (March 2020)
- Christopher Rygh as Father (The Head Hunter), a lone Viking warrior, and bounty hunter tasked with hunting down and eliminating monsters that terrorize the local kingdom
- Cora Kaufman as Daughter, Father's child, who was brutally murdered by a mysterious and deadly creature
- Aisha Ricketts as The Head (voice), a deadly creature responsible for the brutal murder of the Head Hunter's child
Concept and developmentEdit
Writer/director Jordan Downey on the inspiration for the film's story
The Head Hunter was produced and directed by Jordan Downey, who also co-wrote the film's script. Downey had previously directed several short films, including the 2014 short Critters: Bounty Hunter (based on the film franchise of the same name), making his feature-film debut with the 2008 comedy-horror film ThanksKilling. After the completeion of several short films, as well as the third film in the Thankskilling series, Downey and his frequent collaborator Kevin Stewart began developing their next project. Initially, the film's story was not immediately forthcoming, as Downey later recalled, "We didn't have the idea first, we just had this drive to make a movie [...] So we just sat down, to see if we could come up with something that we could shoot for a low budget." The initial concept for the film later came about during a writer's retreat, in which the filmmakers had assembled and hosted at Stewart's family home. At the retreat, the filmmakers had envisioned a scene in which a lone warrior carrying a severed head inside a sack, stumbling into a room filled with heads mounted on the walls. With this scene in mind, the filmmakers then developed a forty-page script, which contained very little dialogue, describing it as a medieval horror film. From the outset, both Downey and Stewart knew that the film would be low budget, and feature a very small cast, which was all factored into the film's script. For inspiration, Jordan Downey and Kevin Stewart have cited Jean-Jacques Annaud's 1981 film Quest for Fire, Robert Eggers' The Witch, as well as The X-Files, and Tales From the Crypt.
Early on in pre-production of the film, the two filmmakers had decided to shoot the film around Stewart's family home in Soutelo Mourisco, a small village in Northern Portugal, due to the remoteness of its location. The filmmakers had wanted to utilize the location for some time, feeling that its remoteness and scenery "would lend itself very well to a horror movie". For the titular character, the filmmakers wanted the role to look and feel authentic, refusing to cast an American actor in the role as they felt that it would not be appropriate for the time period and feared that it would end up 'looking fake'. Norwegian actor Christopher Rygh was later cast as the leading role, in his feature-film debut, after filmmakers discovered him while searching a casting website. Downey later recalled, there was no formal audition for the role, with the filmmakers casting Rygh after having a conversation with the actor in regards to the role.
Construction of the film's props and various monsters in the film commenced before the script was completed, with the filmmakers experimenting with the designs and techniques that would be implemented on a low budget. In creating the look and feel of decomposition in the severed heads featured in the film, the production crew reappropriated many old Halloween masks by staining them and placing layers of melted plastic over them in order to create the effect of rotting flesh. Other props for the film were purchased inexpensively by the production crew the day after Halloween, as Downey recalled "we just bought every medieval thing in there we could find. Every plastic sword or shield, skeletons, and skulls, anything that just looked kind of creepy, crawly, medieval, or metal. We bought it all." The title character's armor was created by Swedish costume designer André Bravin, who fashioned it out of leather. Downey later described the armor as 'being more Leatherface-esque, rather than a Game of Thrones-style vibe', with faces and skin appearing stitched into the entire outfit. The film's main antagonist, referred at the end credits as "The Head", was designed Troy Smith, who had previously worked with Downey in both his Thankskilling series and Critters: Bounty Hunter.
Principal photography began in Bragança, Portugal, while additional scenes were shot in Norway, and Mammoth Lakes, California. With very little dialogue featured in the film, Downey later stated that he had always been drawn to films that centered more on visual storytelling rather than relying on dialogue to convey the story. In order to combat the film's low budget, the variety of creatures that appear throughout the film are only shown in glimpses or merely implied, the film's low budget also limited the amount of production crew the filmmakers could hire, which, according to Stewart, only consisted of three other people, including himself and Downey. Shooting occasionally proved challenging, as the costumes, and props had to be shot in a certain way in order to "look right on camera", and crew members, including Downey, performing multiple roles during production. The climactic fight sequence was shot in a water mine, after on of Stewart's cousin's suggested it as a possible location to film. The scene was devised as a way to enhance the threat of "The Head", by forcing the title character to fight it at less than full strength, as he is unable to use the weapons that he is accustomed to fighting with. Shooting at the location, as Downey later stated, proved to be the most difficult, and frustrating portion to shoot, with cast and crew members forced to enter the location one at a time. Later the recalling the cave's conditions, Downey noted: "It was really crammed, dark and there were spiders and water up to our ankles and knees. The torch was putting off fumes and there was no ventilation." Downey later developed a cold after shooting at the location.
The Head Hunter first premiered at the Sitges Film Festival on October 6, 2018 as a part of the festival's "Panorama Fantàstic" section. It was later screened at the Nightmares Film Festival on October 20, 2018.
While the film was screened at Sitges, and Nightmares Film Festival under the title The Head (the name of the film's main antagonist), the title was later changed to The Head Hunter. According to filmmakers Downey and Stewart, the reason for the change was mainly due to lukewarm reactions under the initial name, with the film's distributor, Vertical Entertainment, suggesting a change in the film's title. After "combing through all kinds of medieval literature", the filmmakers later came up with the film's current title. Downey and Stewart were originally against the name change, but later embraced it as they felt the current title shifted the focus from the antagonist to the main character.
Under the new title, the film was screened at the Insólito Festival de Cine de Terror y Fantasía on February 7, 2019. It would also be screened at the Fantasporto Film Festival later that month on the 24th. It received a limited theatrical release on April 5, 2019.
|The Head Hunter|
|Soundtrack album by |
|Released||April 8, 2019|
|Label||Gamma Ray Gun (Digital)|
CD Baby (CD)
Official soundtrack for The Head Hunter was composed by Nick Soole, and was later released on CD and Digital download on April 8, 2019. The soundtrack was a later played as a part of an official selection of Soole's works during the 2019 San Diego Comic Con's "Sounds of Horror" Panel on July 19, 2019.
|1.||"Something Is out There"||03:50|
|11.||"A Gift - It's Back"||02:59|
|14.||"The Monster's Lair"||01:10|
|15.||"The Journey Home"||04:12|
|17.||"It's out There"||01:44|
|18.||"It's in Here"||01:20|
|20.||"Entering the Cave"||05:13|
The Head Hunter was released via Video on Demand, cable, and digital media on April 5, 2019. It was later released on DVD by ADNA Films and Lionsgate on May 7, 2019. It grossed a total of $44,652 in domestic video sales.
The Head Hunter received positive reviews from critics upon its release, with many praising the film's atmosphere, cinematography, and Rygh's performance. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, The Head Hunter holds an approval rating of 100%, based on 13 reviews, and an average rating of 7.38/10.
Sandy Schaefer from Screen Rant wrote, "While he clearly had limited resources to draw from here, Downey is nevertheless able to deliver a mean and lean tale of revenge with a surprisingly rich sense of atmosphere. Armed with a pulpy spirit and plenty of monster gore to go around, The Head Hunter makes for enjoyably gnarly fantasy horror B-movie entertainment." John Squires of Bloody Disgusting offered the film similar praise, writing, "Brutal, bloody, gnarly and atmospheric as can be, The Head Hunter is medieval horror gold, as well as one of the coolest and craziest horror movies I’ve seen in a long time." Janel Spiegel from HorrorNews.net praised the film's atmosphere, cinematography, as well as the film's suspense, originality, and Rygh's performance. Noel Murray of The Los Angeles Times praised the film's "refreshing simplicity", as well as the cinematography, Rygh's performance, and action sequences.
Jonathan Barkan from Dread Central rated the film four out of five stars, writing, "The Head is a testament to independent filmmaking. Created by a skeleton crew on a meager budget with limited supplies, it is overflowing with imagination and atmosphere." Joblo' Jake Dee gave the film a score of nine out of ten, praising the film's atmosphere, visuals, mounting tension, and third act, hailing it as a fine example of low-budget filmmaking. Dee's only criticism was directed towards the 'wandering' second act. Kenneth Lowe of Paste Magazine wrote: "If The Head Hunter had come in with a bigger budget and a different director, there would have been all sorts of attempts at injecting silly lore into this pure and primal tale. It may feature just one or two fight scenes, no cackling wizards or captive princesses, but it manages to evoke that spirit while also telling a straightforward horror story." Gaming and culture website Polygon's Rafael Motamayor favorably compared to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II, and the fantasy video game Skyrim. In his review, Motamayor praised the film's production values, practical effects, and atmosphere.
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s) and nominee(s)||Result||Ref.|
|Nightmares Film Festival||October 21, 2018||Best Cinematography Feature||Kevin Stewart||Won|||
|Best Overall Feature||Jordan Downey||Won|
|Fantaspoa International Fantastic Film Festival||June 4, 2019||Best Special Effects||Kevin Stewart
|Fantasporto||March 2, 2019||Best Actor||Christopher Rygh||Won|||
|Best Portuguese Film||Kevin Stewart
- Black Death- A 2010 horror film set in the same era.
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