The Curator of Schlock #13 by Jeffrey Shuster
Running Man (20 Seconds: Your Head Explodes)
No, this is not a review of the 1987 action movie The Running Man starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto, and Richard Dawson. This is not a review of that dystopian science fiction movie set in a future America where resources such as oil are scarce, constitutional rights have been stripped away, where the news media lies and spews propaganda, and the masses are kept at rest by bad reality TV shows. Such improbable nonsense has no place in The Museum of Schlock.
This is a review of Running Man, an animated short I caught on MTV late one summer night back in ’92. They used to have this show called Liquid Television that presented outré, experimental cartoons. You could watch a leather-clad Aeon Flux ripping down enemy soldiers with her twin machine guns or Uncle Louie taking the express route to New Jersey by means of flushing himself down the toilet. Good stuff. Running Man was the most spectacular cartoon shown on Liquid Television.
Running Man is about Zach Hugh, a futuristic racecar driver who competes in stock car races that turn out to be very deadly. Zach Hugh is the best, beating all competitors, usually sending them to a fiery death. He gets past the finish line, the only racer left on the track until sees another car coming up behind him, a ghostly visage that looks just like himself. The ghost car passes him and Zach doesn’t stand for it. He keeps going faster and faster, trying to catch up and we, the viewer, get to see the terrible drag the g-forces are taking on his car and his body, especially his head.
The increased pressure causes the muscles in Zach’s face to start popping out. His eyes start to get bug-eyed and blood starts to shoot from his ears and mouth and it’s beautiful. Neon colored red streams go everywhere and we wait in anticipation for his whole head to break apart. When he and his car finally merge with his ghost, it explodes, a spreading inhuman scream from what remains of Zach’s mouth.
There’s something to be said about watching a man’s explode on the screen. Movies allow us watch the unspeakable in a safe environment. Maybe there’s a catharsis involved with seeing a brain container explode, our literal self being obliterated beyond all hope of recovery. Sure any of us can be killed, but there’s something final about the destruction of the brain.
David Cronenberg’s Scanners was pretty much marketed as the exploding head movie back in 1981. We saw a young Kristy Swanson shatter the cranium of Anne Ramsey with a basketball in Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend in 1986. I was personally scarred as a child watching the Arc of the Covenant scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Of course that had more to do with Arnold Toht’s face melting than René Belloq’s head popping like a balloon.
There’s artistry to the exploding head in Running Man that sets it above those other efforts. Does that make it more palatable on the eyes? You be the judge. Running Man can be seen in the Japanese animated anthology film Neo Tokyo.
Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47) is an MFA candidate and instructor at the University of Central Florida.