HBO’s Tales From the Crypt was one of the first proper successes in bringing horror to television and when a thing is successful studios inevitably want to turn it into a movie. There are three official Tales From the Crypt movies, ranging from “dumb fun” (Demon Knight) to “really dumb fun” (Bordello of Blood) to “we don’t like to talk about it” (Ritual.) While these movies aren’t too far afield of the source material, they don’t really catch the essence of what an episode of the show (or an issue of the comic it was based on) felt like.
There is, however, one movie that’s lurid enough, corny enough, with a cast of uniformly terrible people and a vein of hopefully unintended misogyny to really capture that Tales From the Crypt feel.
Head of the Family feels so much like an episode of Tales From the Crypt that the static open and nonsensical end feel like they should be book-ended with segments of The Cryptkeeper making terrible puns. Summing up this twisty plot succinctly is difficult so let me spin it for you as quickly as I can.
Lance (Blake Adams) is the owner of a diner/grocery store(?) who is having a fling with Lorretta Oates (Jacqueline Lovell), the only problem is that Lorretta is married to Howard Oates (Gordon Jennison Noice), a local low-life thug with a fair amount of pull who would definitely murder Lance if he ever found out. Lance and Lorretta want to kill Howard, but they don’t know how to get away with it until one night on the way home from one of their torrid affairs they come upon a wall in the middle of the road.
The wall is a trap set up by the Stackpool family, a trio of local weirdos that largely keep to themselves. They’re luring motorists off the road and then taking them inside their mansion to experiment on. Lance gets the idea to use the Stackpools to get rid of Howard without getting caught. In his attempt to blackmail the trio he is brought before the secret fourth member of the family, Myron (J.W. Perra.)
The Stackpools are quadruplets, all possessed with a special ability. The bug-eyed Wheeler (James Jones) has superhuman sight and hearing, giant Otis (Bob Schott looking like a giant Michael McKean) has the strength of several men, the painfully attractive Ernestina (Alexandria Quinn) has a mesmerizing ability to arouse men, and Myron the titular “head” of the family hurr hurr is super intelligent. They are telepathically linked and since his siblings are all but mindless, Myron uses them as his puppets to do his bidding. They’re kidnapping people and performing exploratory brain surgery on them in an attempt to find a body into which to transplant Myron’s superior mind. Lance blackmails the Stackpools and gets Howard taken care of, but then decides to begin extorting them for money. This of course goes bad.
This is an atypical Charles Band movie: there are no tiny monsters, it looks professionally made, the acting is good, the special effects (mostly involving forced perspective to make Myron look the size he is supposed to be) work really well. And I have to reiterate because this is almost unheard of in these movies, there’s not a weak performance in the bunch.
I can’t help but feel this would’ve worked better as a Tales From the Crypt episode. The plot puts a lot of ideas on the table and mostly doesn’t use them, this is a story of a battle of wits between two people who aren’t nearly as smart as they think they are and that’s about it. There’s a lot of padding and most of the last half of the movie is just treading water in getting to a finale that would work better as the end of an episodic TV show rather than a movie.
This film is lumped into horror only because of the target audience and the studio/creator behind it, it’s just a weird Southern Gothic comedy/drama. I’m sure the recommendations below are going to seem wrong to you, and maybe they are, but it was hard thinking of other movies that feel or look like this one does. Head of the Family is fun and captivating but not much beyond that.
Watch, Toss, Or Buy? Head of the Family is well-made and entertaining enough, but it’s light and doesn’t lend itself to repeated viewings. I’d say give it a watch.
If You Liked This, Watch: Basket Case (1982), Basket Case 2 (1990), Basket Case 3 (1991), May (2002), Bad Biology (2008), Freaked (1993), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), Pink Flamingos (1972)