It was at the New York City Horror Film Festival back in 2005 that I first met director and producer Andrew van den Houten while sitting in the audience at Tribeca Cinema. He and his cohorts were in-house for the world premiere of his first independent venture into horror – Headspace. Unbeknownst at the time, it would firmly set the foundation for Houten’s film company Moderncine (which would later direct and/or produce Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, Jack Ketchum’s Offspring, Ketchum & McKee’s The Woman, and Brian Keene’s Ghoul) building toward their present day reputation for art house caliber productions, creating gutter-violent and dark, taboo material for those who usually wouldn’t confront such content directly.
In Headspace, Houten’s rookie passion for horror puts forth a psychological yarn knotted with psionic nightmares and beasts that crossover from them. On paper, or from the mind of Troy McCombs who actually milked this plot from a dream – it sounds like a rich, cerebral thriller. With a veteran cast from Olivia Hussey to William Atherton to Udo Kier, and stage caliber talent like Christopher Denham, the original cut of Headspace – even with such a steroidal cast and crew – still manages to land on tails instead of heads. A good looking, well acted, New York City set horror film that just somehow falls flat for oddballs reasons. A bit like Houten’s other film, Offspring. Here’s why.
In Headspace, Denham’s character Alex Borden is an orphan living quite the New York City life. Apartment sitting for the wealthy, he spends his days studying life, playing chess… until a series of sharp headaches befall him, cracking open his consciousness allowing knowledge, in all its forms, to come flooding through. Unfortunately for Alex, other things are also traversing this cerebral portal. Monsters aimed to make him pay for the answers that no man should know.
The director’s cut is Houten’s attempt to take the source material from the original film and re-edit it under an eye of experience seven years wiser. While the song remains the same, and although everyone knows you cant polish a turd, the periods of dead space have been sewn up neatly, and the tempo of the film flows a bit better, allowing the more subtle strong points of Headspace to come shining through. Factors like Ryan Shore’s orchestral score become more appreciated, instead of being lost amidst the distraction of bad special FX moments, which have been given attention to in the new cut. Such as Headspace’s infamous gaffe – the rubber hand syndrome when William Atherton’s head gets crushed against the door in the hospital.
Jamie Kelman’s special FX work is nasty and effective where violent injury and death is concerned. Atherton’s crushed head, Kier’s clawed face – even the contact lenses and fangs that cued the monsters’ coming from the other side – good moments for fans who are looking for that which defines many a horror film: those Fangoria poster-worthy moments of death… But the monsters. Those rubber suits and tentacles and ears and turned up noses… Man it just didn’t work back then, and it still doesn’t work. So while some clever editing can ruffle over some seriously poor, film ruining, rubber claws and fingers – the monsters are still there. They’re still in the kitchen, and the closet. They ruin the film for a lot of people, and there’s no getting around it.
And not to simply point out faults, lets look at one reason some of you may just want to pick it up and give it a go: Pollyanna McIntosh (The Woman) has a supporting role, and does a semi nude sex scene you’ll want to take notice of. I’m sure, as was the case with me, that’s all that really needed to be said to whet the taste buds of curiosity. Meow!
Andrew van den Houten is one of the best up and coming horror producers out there today when it comes to adaptations and quality horror films – look no further. But when he gets into the director’s chair, be warned. He is sort of cursed. Headspace is a pretty good horror film with a pulpy plot and veteran cast top to bottom, ruined by some bad creature FX (and perhaps some slight over-acting by Denham?). Offspring was close to being a cult classic of sorts, but the cannibal costumes caused the whole thing to shit the bed. Truth be told, Houten’s intention was for those children to be naked, and state laws forbade that from happening, so minimal raggedy costumes were created. But its these little things that have marred Houten’s films, sticking out to horror fans like sore thumbs. Otherwise, Headspace is a strongly acted, star casted, keenly plotted film with a story that’s just a bit too crazy for anyone to take seriously. But if you’re gonna go with it (and honestly its a decent watch, as there are a lot of worth while moments) – having seen both versions – do the Director’s Cut. It doesn’t offer anything more in the realm of plot or FX / its better edited, and flows smoother with a running time some five minutes shorter than the original – which is against “director’s cut” reputation, but reaffirms the age old mantra that sometimes less is more.