Wednesday, August 24, 2011

...and Two Bits for the Body

Film: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass DVD player.

We’re venturing into 50 Worst Films of All Time territory again. The first time I did this, it turned into the profanity laced rant that was my write up on Last Year at Marienbad. Sad to say, there’s no profanity (or at least not much) this time around, although in many ways, this movie deserves it more. Peckinpah without swearing is sort of like a cheeseburger without the cheese.

Regardless, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia isn’t hiding what it is or what it wants to be. That title is pure grindhouse schlock at its best, and the film does everything it can to live up (or down, depending on your perspective) to it. I’d like to call it a revenge movie, but it really isn’t one. It’s less about that than it is simply an excuse for Sam Peckinpah to have guys die of bullet wounds in slow motion.

The plot is pretty simple. The daughter of a Mexican crime boss called simply El Jefe (Emilio Fernandez) has gotten herself in a family way. After a little torture, El Jefe gets her to admit that the father is Alfredo Garcia, a former lieutenant of sorts and a known ladies’ man. Garcia has hoofed it, and so he must be found and brought to crime boss-style justice. El Jefe demands Garcia’s head, offers a $1 million bounty on it, and we have a title for the film.

One of the many people who gets caught up in the search is Bennie (Warren Oates), a bartender. He discovers that his sort-of girlfriend Elita (Isela Vega), a hooker with a heart of perhaps bauxite or cadmium instead of gold has spent a bit of time with Garcia lately “saying goodbye.” One would think that having a prostitute girlfriend would inure one to such things, but this is not the case. Elita tells Bennie that Garcia is dead—killed in a drunk driving accident. However, since Bennie has been promised $10,000 for collecting the head, he decides to dig up the body, saw the head off, and claim the reward. He goes, and Elita goes with him.

What follows is, for lack of a better way to put it, a series of attempted rapes, gun battles, and grisly deaths. There’s a real grindhouse feel to this film that goes beyond the lurid title. There’s a sense going in that everyone who is given a name and quite a few people besides will not make it to the final frame still breathing, and that sense is exactly correct. The body count hits the mid-20s easily, and that’s not counting Garcia. But the violence is only a part of the lurid business of this film. There’s plenty of grotesquery to go around here.

Eventually, Bennie gets the head, Elita almost gets raped and then gets killed, and Bennie drives around Mexico talking to the bloody, fly-encrusted melon of Garcia as a form of confession. He packs the thing in ice after awhile, pours booze on it, and speaks to it as if he was hearing it answer back. We never actually see the head itself—not really—but we get plenty of looks at the oozing cheesecloth it’s wrapped in.

As I’ve already said, this is not a movie about anything as important or noteworthy as revenge (although once Elita dies, Bennie goes on a killing spree that lasts roughly the last half of the film). It’s more or less here to give Sam Peckinpah an excuse to have guys get shot, see blood splatter out of their chests from fresh bullet wounds, and have them tumble gracefully to the ground as if they were Baryshnikov on a bender all filmed lovingly in slow motion. It’s not Peckinpah unless we get a slowed down view of every blood droplet.

I can’t say that I hated this film completely. There’s a certain poetry to the level of nihilism present here. Bennie becomes a sort of wrecking crew, mowing down anything and anyone who stands in his way, but he’s also pretty fragile. By the time the film ends, Bennie looks like he hasn’t been near a shower in a month, which is something he seems to share with pretty much everyone else in the film. There’s a feeling I get from this film that everyone in it smells like week-old body odor, cigarettes, and stale beer.

So I don’t hate it. I also don’t love it. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy to recommend it. Peckinpah was far better in films like The Wild Bunch, and equally nihilistic and violent. Unless you’re a Peckinpah fanatic or have a thing for guys flopping to the ground in slow motion, I can’t offer a really good reason to spend any time with this one. The gruesomeness of this film exists simply because it does and not for any other purpose.

Why to watch Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia: The name of it really says it all.
Why not to watch: It’s an excuse for violence rather than a reason for it.


  1. First of all I'm probably one of the biggest Peckinpah fans out there. Now we have gotten that out of the way. I liked it in all its grittyness and the premise is awesome. I'm kind of amazed it hasn't been remade a la Grindhouse style actually. Its also a great portrayal of Warren Oates.

  2. I agree that Oates is great in this, and I understand that the grittiness is appealing. I'd rather watch one of his Westerns. I liked The Ballad of Cable Hogue and The Wild Bunch better.

    I can see why a lot of people love this one, though. It simply struck me as being nothing particularly noteworthy.

  3. My only tie to this flick: Fletch makes the titular request after waking up in the records room (B1). :D

  4. True dat. I believe he also asks for The Beatles White Album and a glass of hot fat.

  5. I wonder if the concept of a "Mexican standoff" comes from this movie? It is essentially what we got.