#MyNFB: Land of the Heads
“There are no ghosts in Canada… The country is too new for ghosts,” proclaimed a character in Susanna Moodie’s 1852 novel, Roughing It in the Bush. You might be tempted to apply the same sentiment to the notion of monsters lurking in the country’s cultural closet: there are no monsters in Canada or, at least, they typically go unnoticed.
But if you’ve spent some time watching Canadian stop-motion shorts, you will know that Canada’s cinematic landscape is actually full of monstrous creatures—like the disgruntled vampires in Land of the Heads (Claude Barras and Cédric Lewis, 2009). A film I long-ago stumbled across on the NFB website, and that’s been near and dear to me ever since as a researcher and teacher of Canadian animation.
Land of the Heads, which was recently listed as one of nine hidden gems on NFB.ca, is the gruesome tale of a loveless vampire couple. The bride has opted for an extreme skin-rejuvenation program: having cut off her own wrinkled head, she dispatches her reluctant husband to find a new and youthful replacement, but every head he brings home is promptly tossed away in dissatisfaction.
With growing frustration on both sides, the unwilling vampire must quickly find a solution so that he can go back to playing his squeezebox in peace.
With its Gothic vibe and spindly-limbed characters, this endearing short borrows from the animation styles of Henry Selick and Tim Burton. The narrator-moon and the vampires’ skull-shaped castle are reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s Bonejangles in Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride.
While there’s a strong nod to the influential work of these directors in Land of the Heads, it sets itself apart by carefully blending horror with whimsy in its twistedly entertaining tale. Because what’s not to like about a chainsaw-fuelled decapitation montage? Or a forest of severed heads having a sing-along with a patchwork harpy and a vampire playing the accordion?
Only animation could make such otherwise horrific moments seem cute—and these delightfully dreadful scenes are exactly what make this film special. That, and the welcome absence of blood-drinking vampires in favour of a beauty- and youth-obsessed vampire à la Elizabeth Báthory (a.k.a. the Blood Countess).
Growing up in the Canadian media and education systems, Michelle cannot easily recall her first exposure to NFB animated classics like the Log Driver’s Waltz, The Hockey Sweater, and The Cat Came Back. These works, however, would make a lasting impression, as she continues to engage with them as a researcher specializing in Canadian animated works.