No one can criticise ROAD HEAD for dishonesty in advertising. The film makes good on its promise of road-based head almost immediately in not one way, but two – count ‘em – two ways. First, we get the idiomatic “road head”, then we get the literal road head, as a decapitated noggin rolls across the bloodied highway blacktop. Admittedly, this opening scene sets the tone low, letting us know exactly what kind of experience we’re in for.
Bryan (Clayton Farris) brings partner Alex (Damian Joseph Quinn) and friend Stephanie (Elizabeth Grullon) on a roadtrip to a fondly remembered childhood location, Isola Lake. Upon arriving, they find it unexpectedly barren, having dried up years ago and blended into the surrounding desert as though it had never been there to begin with.
There’s tension within the group, as Stephanie feels Alex has taken Bryan away from her when she really needed him. She’s on the run from a troubled relationship, and is literally haunted by visions of her emotionally abusive boyfriend. They try to make the best of their short break from L.A. but soon find themselves stalked by an unexpected threat in the desert: a man dressed in an executioner’s hood, brandishing a large, medieval sword.
ROAD HEAD makes an interesting choice for its slasher villain, up there with some of the kookier ones we saw in the genre’s heyday. While he cuts an intimidating figure like he cuts off heads, he looks more like an escapee from the set of Beastmaster than your typical cinematic slasher. What’s his backstory? Has he been transported into modern-day California from ye olde English times? Or is he just a LARPer? When we find out, it’s actually pretty disturbing, but I won’t spoil that for you.
ROAD HEAD doesn’t hold back on its frank content. As the title might imply, there’s plenty of sexual discussion and innuendo. Some of the press around the film makes a point of the characters being LGBTQIA+, but honestly, I don’t see much difference between “gay” horror and “straight” horror. We still get horny folks going out into the middle of nowhere in a van, we get weed smoked, and a murderous psychopath lopping off heads. SSDD, as Stephen King might say.
Where the film differentiates itself is in its open desert landscape. The location provides a pleasant change from the usual small-scale claustrophobia of independent horror. It’s easy to see why there aren’t a huge amount of slashers that take place out in the open like this; salt flats don’t have many places to hide a jump scare. ROAD HEAD’s location is scary and oppressive in its own way though, with its relentless sunlight and no shady relief in sight.
The movie doesn’t do much to scare the audience though, aiming more for laughs, which it manages to raise on a few occasions. Nothing uproarious, mind you, but a few chuckles. The performances are energetic and eager to entertain. Elizabeth Grullon, in particular, is a standout, reminding me of a young Pam Grier in the best way possible.
But despite the best efforts of the cast, ROAD HEAD struggles to be classified as anything beyond a minor entry in the genre. It doesn’t do enough that’s new to stand out from the pack, but that won’t stop you from having at least some fun with it. It has a weird enough villain, and enough unexpected twists and turns to make it worth the short running time for a slasher fan who’s seen it all.
ROAD HEAD is now available on Demand and DVD here.