Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick… Michael Leonard Murphey’s Machine Head.
Machine Head follows Max, a brainy high school student attempting to break the laws of life and death for his school’s science faire. On top of his quest to become the next Herbert West, he must contend with a trio of cartoonish bullies as well as his father (who just doesn’t get all of this science stuff). As you can probably tell by this point, Machine Head is another in a long line of Frankenstein knockoffs, and plays out pretty much as one would expect.
The make or break moment of any movie of this kind is the monster, and I’m glad to say that Machine Head totally delivers in this department. I don’t know where they got the idea for this, but the film has a pretty fitting title as this dude literally has an engine strapped to the side of his noggin. It’s such a bizarre and goofy look that it strangely works. Aside from the look, Rich Cowden also plays the part well. He’s always twitchy and unpredictable, seemingly confused by everything that’s going on. Considering he was basically just birthed into existence this makes sense and fits the bizarre nature of the film well.
The rest of the cast ranges from terrible to passable. None of the acting is particularly good, but it can be entertaining. Josh Walitt as Max is the highlight here, as he really hams it up and chews as much scenery as humanly possible. This is very much his movie and it documents his descent into madness as he goes further and further down the rabbit hole. Obsession turns to sheer lunacy when the bodies begin to pile up. Any scenes between him and his father or the bullies are great and totally over the top. The one big downside of the cast is that the high school students are clearly not high school students. Not even close. Hell, Wallit didn’t even shave his goatee or five o clock shadow for the role, making him look closer to thirty than sixteen. It’s awkward, but I’ve seen that so many times in these low budget horror flicks that it almost doesn’t phase me anymore. It’s just par for the course.
There’s not much to say about the plot or the screenplay here. The dialogue is cheesy and the pace is quick, but it’s so derivative and straight forward that it doesn’t leave much to be talked about. For the most part, it’s fine. It’s relatively well-written and with a much larger budget I could have seen this being a lot better. There’s even a few quieter more introspective moments sprinkled throughout that I really appreciated. Also, the decision to make Max’s father a mortician was genius, since it answers a lot of potential questions such as where he has access to a dead body and medical supplies or how he disposes of the monster’s victims. The main motivation being a high school science fair is questionable, but since the movie doesn’t take itself all that seriously it’s fine. That’s probably the best description for most of the movie. It’s fine.
Unfortunately, given that low budget everything looks incredibly cheap save for some of the special effects. The monster looks good and some of the small amounts of gore look alright, but on the whole I feel like I’m watching something slightly less polished than a student film. Part of me doesn’t really mind this, but I could (again) see how this could have worked so much better with more funds. The death scenes are a good example. I said there’s a small amount of gore and I meant it. Most of the death scenes are relegated to the monster choking people or snapping necks, but with some really ludicrous gore gags here and there it could have kicked the film up a notch or two.
As it stands, you could do worse. It’s a really straight forward retelling of the Frankenstein story that doesn’t do anything particularly new or different, but does what it does fairly well. It’s really not a good movie, but it’s certainly entertaining for what it sets out to be and if you’re in the mood to crack open a few beers and toss on something dumb and goofy it’s worth a watch.
Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.