Shrunken Heads comes from director Richard Elfman. Richard Elfman was one of the principal members of the alternate rock group Oingo Boingo and is the brother of the better known Danny Elfman, the composer celebrated for his scores for Tim Burton films like Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and a host of other films, as well as creator of the theme tune for tvs The Simpsons (1989 ). Richard has developed a minor cult as a director. His first film was the totally whacked-out Forbidden Zone (1980), an almost unclassifiable surrealist sf film. Subsequent to Shrunken Heads, Richard made a mediocre vampire film Modern Vampires (1998). At the same time as Shrunken Heads came out, Richard also made the juvenile crime thriller Street of Rage (1994), where he took the pseudonym of Aristide Sumatra, the chief voodoo practitioner here. (Richard Elfman can be seen in a cameo here as the person leading the people on the bus in a singalong during the climactic chase). Shrunken Heads was written by Matthew Bright, one of Elfmans co-band members in Oingo Boingo. Matthew Bright went on to become one of the most exciting directors of the late 1990s with the likes of Freeway (1996), Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby (1999) and Ted Bundy (2002).
Shrunken Heads alas proves to be a disappointment in the sense that one expected more of a film with such a wacky premise. As it is, it is not much more than a B movie with a novelty concept in fact, there is not much that sets Shrunken Heads apart from being another Puppetmaster sequel. The optical effects of the flying heads are mediocre Elfman cuts between closeups of the actors faces and brief medium angles of the flying creatures so often that it is difficult to follow what is meant to be happening during the action.
As the central character of Mr Sumatra, Julius H. Harris, at age 71, often seems a bit beyond it and to be struggling with the requirements of the role. (Of considerable amusement is the characters total hodgepodge of a background he is said to be from Haiti but is called Mr Sumatra, which is one of the islands that comprise Indonesia; he swears by the name of Haile Selassie, who was the emperor of Ethiopia up until 1974 and most known as a convert to Rastafarianism; and claims to have been a member of the tonton macoute, which was at least Haitian but was a far less nicer organisation than the film would seem to have them formed by Haitian dictator Francois Papa Doc Duvalier, it could be considered the Caribbean equivalent of Hitlers SS). An unrecognisable Meg Foster is made up in a double-breasted suit as a cliché version of a mobster, although gets to play the part with unmistakeable overtones of a butch dyke.
For all Richard Elfmans probably undeserved cult reputation, Shrunken Heads is ordinary in terms of its potential wackiness. There is an almost perverse scene where the head of the lead youth burrows down the top of Becky Herbst and between her cleavage. However, compared to the similar severed head scene in the Bands Re-Animator (1985), there is a singular lack of anything perverse or tongue-in-cheek to the scene. The tone is almost one of sweetness rather than anything kinky. Furthermore, the actress and head are never seen in conjunction, which considerably diminishes the effectiveness of the scene.