Netflix horror worth your time #3: Head Trauma

Fear isn’t just about being scared. It’s not just about death, murder, knives or permanent disfigurement. Fear, too, a portion of it at least, is about discomfort – the disorienting and the disgusting.

Think of Toby Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The slashed off fingers, the segments of broken jaws and snapped off fingernails.

What Hooper and the likes of Eli Roth do is remind us of something we don’t like to think about – We’re not just a neat and complete package; we’re composed of loosely connected parts that can be separated and sorted in a very messy way. They take the chases and the scares and add a little something to bring it over the top – The kind of discomfort that comes from dirt and cold and exposure, that makes you ring your hands, hold your arms tightly into yourself and breathe shallowly to keep the smell out.

Who probably executes it best is A&E’s “Hoarders,” but that’s too much for me.

Head Trauma, on the other hand, hits the discomfort sweet-spot, marrying a measured amount of gore with the messy reality of things.

On the jarring-displays-of-phsyical-violence side of things, over the course of the movie our protagonist George finds a woman hanged in a tree by her pink scarf and a tooth wrapped in hair embedded in hardwood floors. Head Trauma though, is less about the physical effects of killing, and instead, the psychological, the mess it leaves behind in the psyche.

George has killed. He didn’t mean to. He got drunk with a girl and they went up to a tree house. Through a series of unfortunate events, she falls. He catches her, by her scarf. He tries to save her, he tries to pull her up. But that’s how she dies. Hanged by her own pink scarf.

He panics, puts her in a sleeping bag and tries to sink her into a river. And when he has, still hyperventilating, he speeds off in his car and wrecks it. He rolls it and suffers the titular Head Trauma.

We don’t know at the beginning that George is the killer. His Head Trauma, has made him forget. He has flashbacks, though. He was wearing a parka that night and instead of seeing himself kill the girl, he sees a man in his parka with the hood pulled up. Where his face would be, there’s just blackness, rimmed by the white lip of the parka’s white fur lining.

And that’s why we can categorize Head Trauma as Horror. Even though George is the killer, he’s
running from the man in his nightmares. The Man with Darkness for a Face. In his nightmare, George sees him kill. George sees him in the world around him, closing in on him like any good motivated killer.

All the answers are there, though. His grandmother, when she died, left him her house, and in the house she left him a box. In the box, are the parka, his head x-ray, the newspaper stories about the
accident. But the basement floods.

As the murky liquid rises to waist-deep, we see it swallow up the box, and the box belches out bubbles and sinks below.

The house is disgusting. It’s a mess and it’s condemned. And that disgusting house with a flooded-out basement is a metaphor for George.

In addition to swallowing up the box – the evidence and manifestations of what really happened – the basement flood is a weird brown stew of baby doll parts, old clothes, hair. And that’s just the basement, the id of it. The house’s upper floors are strewn with garbage. And drug addict squatters have painted over the windows. You can almost smell the mess through the screen and it almost feels like you might get some of it on your hands.

What’s scary about the movie is the faceless killer stalking George, of course. But you know you’re supposed to be afraid of that apparition.

After you learn the truth, though, things change. For the entirety of the movie we’ve followed George. He’s trying to fix up and clean up the condemned house. It’s the only thing he has and it’s the only thing he has to work for. We’ve been rooting for him, and when we find out that he’s the killer, that can be scary, too.

But what’s really scary is what the act of killing has done to him. There are physical manifestations of this. He’s balding. He’s got a scraggly beard. He chronically nips from a flask.

The trauma makes him forget, but what’s worse, just like how the basement flood swallowed up that box of answers, so did his trauma. And in the process it’s left his mind a place like that house. Like that brown-water basement. A place that leaves you wishing you could wash your hands.

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3 Responses

  1. I’ve been trying to figure out what the name of the movie head trauma is for 4 years. I watched it and then kept trying to google it. I can’t believe I finally got the name by reading this.

    • Glad I could help.

      It’s definitely a memorable movie.

      • I’m watching it right now on netflix. I’m shocked I didn’t have to go threw a long wait to orser it off amazon or something. I have netflix so as soon as I figured out the name I got to watch it. I googled girl hung from treehouse by scarf movie… that’s the only thing I could think of to find it. Thanks so much I’m glad I read this… got some other good ones to watch after head trauma.

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