“Don’t fire till you see the whites of their eyes!” That line is usually attributed to Andrew Jackson from the Battle of New Orleans, but actually it originates with Israel Putnam, a general in George Washington's Continental Army, and is from the Battle of Bunker Hill. The full quotation is: “Don't fire till you see the whites of their eyes. Then, fire low.”
You have to “fire low” to hit the headless horseman; and since he doesn’t have eyes, it’s kind of hard to see the whites, first — that’s the clever set up to the beginning scene of this year’s SciFi Channel’s Halloween treat, Headless Horseman. Set in the Civil War era, the opening sequence features some really atmospheric music, stylish cinematography, and a super-cool, awesomely violent beheading.
Flash forward to modern times, where a carful of teens is driving on back country roads on their way to a Halloween party. I know: I was a part of that collective groan, too. The period-setting was great, but SciFi Channel’s movies are almost always low budget and all those horses, muskets and frock coats cost money.
Fortunately, Headless Horseman is not another teen movie. Head and shoulders above the usual SciFi giant monster movie, this little thriller is briskly directed by Anthony C. Ferrante (Boo). In spite of an uninspired storyline and exposition-heavy dialogue, he still manages to keep things interesting and reasonably suspenseful. Certainly, Ferrante’s background in the horror genre and special effects helped: the beheadings are wicked, and both the CGI and practical effects are more than adequate. The music was noteworthy, too (it’s by Alan Howarth).
The collective cannon-fodder find themselves stranded in the small, out of the way town of Wormwood Ridge, where the residents are named after TV’s horror icons (Sheriff Buck, Kolchak) and the hospitality is nothing short of hostile. As they start to suspect that something’s not right in Wormwood, a cloaked figure tries to whittle their number from 7 to 0… but why? Could it be for the fulfillment of some evil prophecy? Of course!
While, as I say, there are certainly so big surprises here, Headless Horseman’s nods to the genre and inventive noggin-chops make the detour worth taking.
Headless Horseman premieres on October 27, 9:00 p.m. EST on the SciFi Channel.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson