When your flaming torch-carrying protagonist is wading through a claustrophobic, waterlogged, subterranean labyrinth in pursuit of a reanimated monster he has killed once already, you've pretty much reached peak Dungeons & Dragons.
Gorgeously shot in Portugal with a budget of around $30,000, The Head Hunter is a mix of character study and horror flick, with so little dialogue it's almost a silent movie.
Carrying the entirety of the action on his shoulders, Christopher Rygh is phenomenal as the main character, the titular "head hunter", Dagg, a grizzled, veteran, monster-slaying bounty hunter.
A film of two halves, the first part of the 73-minute movie examines the head hunter's day-to-day life in his isolated cabin on the edge of the kingdom,
Rather than focusing on the monster slaying (which always occurs off-screen), it instead establishes his routines and then deals with the immediate aftermath of each combat, coping with injuries, recycling parts of slain monsters as potions and salves etc.
As Dagg's wall of trophy heads grow, there is always one missing: the head of the creature that killed his daughter (Cora Kaufman) years earlier.
But then a trumpet summons comes from the nearby castle, the monster has been seen, and the head hunter sets out to wreak his vengeance.
The film is peppered with beautiful world-building details, such as the way the largely unseen inhabitants of the castle communicate with the head hunter - suggesting they are probably as scared of him as they are of the monsters they send him after.
The second half of the film deals with Dagg's confrontation with this final beast. He kills it and brings its head back to his home to mount it on his wall, but things don't go according to plan/
The Head Hunter (aka Viking Vengeance) demands a lot from its audience, but investment and observation are richly rewarded.
The set-up may seem slow, but writer-director Jordan Downey's script (co-written with Kevin Stewart) is incredibly tight, with measured pacing that sets-up and foreshadows every twist, right to the marvellously nihilistic ending.
Superficially, The Head Hunter may present itself as just another small Viking/sword-and-sorcery film, but it's really unlike anything else.
With its primary emphasis on the more mundane aspects of Dagg's brutal career, lack of expositional dialogue, and reliance on horror movie tropes when dealing with the final monster, The Head Hunter is quite unique.
From the costuming to the set-dressing, for such a low-budget flick, the mise en scène is incredible, creating a wholly believable world for Dagg to exist in, while the beautiful, unpopulated vistas that he travels through are pure fantasy RPG territory.
With its vivid dream-like nature, The Head Hunter is compelling, intriguing, exciting, and heart-breaking.
If you're willing to open yourself up to it, it's not a film you're going to quickly forget.
Game MaterialAlthough the creature that follows, the Kopfklaue, is simply inspired by this movie, some aspects of it will be spoilers.
So if you haven't seen the film yet DON'T READ ON!
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!
|Art by by Erick Weir (aka @Dubweir on Instagram).|
An insidious beast, in its natural state the Kopfklaue resembles nothing more than the severed head of an eyeless creature with a gaping, fan-filled maw.
Where the neck should be are three or four tentacles (each with a diameter of about an inch or so) that it uses to scuttle around.
However, it is is rarely encountered in this state, as it prefers to attach itself to the spines of skeletons or corpses, that it then reanimates and uses to travel.
The tentacles entwine themselves around the host's spine, and tiny tendrils create a nervous system for the corpse or skeleton, giving the Kopfklaue better mobility, limbs to use etc
It can communicate in a very basic approximation of the Common tongue, but speaks in a very guttural, grunting manner.
AC: 5  (as head)
Atk: 1 (bite) or 2 (see below)
MV: 4 (as head)/ 6 to 12 (full body, depending on armour)
- REGENERATION: The Kopfklaue regenerates (1d4+3) hit points of damage every round, except for damage caused by fire, lightning, and acid.
- SENSES: Although it has no eyes, the Kopfklaue is psychically aware of everything going on around him, and thus cannot be surprised, backstabbed, snuck up upon invisibly etc
- BODY POWERS: It takes the Kopfklaue only three rounds to take control of a body once it has found a suitable (deceased) host. After that it will have full use of the body's limbs for basic functions, such as movement and combat (for example, it can swing a sword, but not fire a bow), attacking as per its HD and causing normal weapon damage - as w ell as its bite attack! When the body is killed, and falls to the ground, the Kopfklaue will attempt to flee... preferably somewhere secluded near to more corpses or skeletons!
- DAMAGE RESISTANCE: When a Kopfklaue is 'riding' a body or skeleton, the body will have its own Hit Points and AC though (roughly 2d8 HP for a corpse, AC dependent on armour worn, or 1d8 HP for a skeleton, but this would be immune to damage from non-crushing weapons, and AC 8 ). Any attacks against the creature will be considered to be against the body unless the attacker states otherwise. If he is specifically aiming at the head, his attack rolls are at a Disadvantage (ie roll 2d20 and use the lowest as the attack roll).