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By Niki Foster | October 23, 2007

A bizarre collection of short experimental films, “The Severed Head Network” is the closest thing I have seen on film to the delirium of nightmare; particularly memorable images include a slaughtered cow, a girl strangling her sex partner in the throes of orgasm, and a clown with a forked tongue and extra-long fingers on one hand emerging from a child’s closet. Haunting music, suspenseful pacing, and off-kilter camerawork complete the experience. While the eight films are of varying quality and effectiveness, the compilation is unique and certainly never boring.

“Vomire,” directed by Chad Evans, is a harrowing start, not for the weak of stomach. Graphic slaughterhouse footage is rendered even more disturbing – if that is possible – by its juxtaposition with blasphemous sexual images and, bewilderingly, unicorns. I’m not sure whether the intention of this piece is to indict such institutions as Christianity and the meat industry or simply to shock, but in any case, it is thought provoking and powerfully sets the scene for what follows.

Eric Stanze’s music video for Analogue Satellite’s “Faith in Nothing” was one of my favorites of the compilation. After a couple part ways, the girl dances in various stages of undress. Her somnambulistic dancing works perfectly with the ambient music and dramatic, layered camerawork to create a hauntingly beautiful piece that is unsettling in a much more subtle way than “Vomire.”

“Satisfaction,” a 21-minute experimental film by Tommy Biondo, is another standout piece. The bulk of the film is a one-night-stand that begins slowly and apparently innocently, though a note of darkness emerges at the beginning through a psychotic voice-over that sharply contrasts with the visual. As the girl calmly initiates a prolonged sex act, chaotic notes slip into the music and photography, and brief flashbacks to a rape reflect her damaged psyche. The girl’s calm deliberation is transformed from innocent to creepy, as her one-night-stand moves towards a grim climax. The gradual buildup of unease in “Satisfaction” is effective, and the depiction of a disordered mind overlaid on a familiar scene is brilliant.

“Unwanted,” a Purple Screwdriver music video directed by Tom Tevlin, is another journey into psychosis, but much less dreamy than the collection’s previous offerings. Choppy, frenetic images of violence complement the industrial soundtrack, and the last moments deliver a nice thrill, but ultimately, neither its violence nor its tone are especially striking, especially in the context of the rest of this compilation.

Jason Christ’s short drama “Victim” has a claustrophobic atmosphere reminiscent of “The Blair Witch Project,” but seems like a fragment rather than a stand-alone piece. It is artfully shot in black and white with emotionally charged acting, but there is hardly a story, just the end of one. “Victim” added to the disorienting mood of the whole, but a more developed piece would have been more interesting and satisfying.

“Sedgewick,” directed by Stephen M. Lashly and Quinn M. Botthoff, is the second longer film on “The Severed Head Network.” Of the group, this one felt most like a nightmare as it followed an elderly man suffering from dementia on his trip to the grocery store. The 22-minute film’s merging of the everyday with the surreal and horrific was perfectly executed. Simultaneously frightening and darkly comic, “Sedgewick” featured some of the best acting and the most genuinely scary scenes of the compilation.

Aaron Crozier’s “Liontown” was by far the weakest piece and seemed out of place in “The Severed Head Network.” While the school-play style costumes and music were obviously intentional, it’s hard to tell what the point is. “Liontown,” a musical about a bunch of animals tricked into visiting the city of Liontown and being eaten, is neither scary nor amusing, but simply silly. The credits also go on for much too long for a ten-minute film over one of the most irritating and repetitive songs I’ve ever heard.

“The Severed Head Network’s” final offering is another music video, Jason Christ’s “Curveball: Pile of Junk.” It is skillfully shot and edited and showcases the band well as they play amid a pile of rubble, but the main image, of a man running alone through a decimated city, did not hold my interest. Though technically superb, “Curveball: Pile of Junk” did not make for a strong ending.

“The Severed Head Network” is trippy and entertaining as a whole, but suffers from its weak spots, and “Curveball: Pile of Junk” is not enough to redeem the film after the letdown of “Liontown.” “Faith in Nothing” and “Satisfaction,” at least, make the compilation worth watching, but “The Severed Head Network” is not for those with conventional tastes or squeamish sensibilities.

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