I'm a sucker for a sweet exploding head scene. Dawn of the Dead had a good one — quick, but fun. Total Recall has my favorite implied noggin popping (almost two). The best-of-the-best though, has to be from the scene in David Cronenberg's Scanners, and it just got a worthy tribute from — of all places — a music video.
Melon Popping Pedigree
In Scanners, it's all about the build. I've watched the movie a bunch of times now, but I still remember the first time I saw that tense scene, not knowing how it would end. We don't know that Michael Ironside's Darryl Revok is a telepathic superweapon. He's brought on stage to be scanned himself, and to prove that "scanners," societal outcasts who have telepathic and telekinetic abilities, are under control by ConSec, the security corporation tasked with keeping scanners in check. Then Revok makes the guy's damn head explode. Here's the scene I'm talking about.
Now fast-forward to Math the Band's music video for "Four To Six" (embedded below), co-directed and edited by friend of the site Sam Goetz. ConSec's disastrous demonstration is replaced with a scene we're all probably familiar with: the doldrums of the office, watching the clock, a boss who rambles on. Think Bad Bosses meets Scanners, in a music video that sounds like Andrew W.K. playing alongside Anamanaguchi.
Why This Head Explodes So Good
Goetz and his co-director Jonathan Yi didn't have a big movie budget to pour into their music video — in fact, it was made entirely with favors and cash out of pocket, totaling just a little over $10,000 for a four-day shoot (and lots of prep).
$1,200 of that went into building the combustible cranium, according to Joanna Tillman, the video's head fabricator. What's more, she only had time to build one test head before the big day, so if the head for the shoot didn't go as well as it did, the team would have been left with a crummy effect. Thanks to Tillman's careful planning — which included spending a lot of time from the folks at the J&M special effects studio — the blast went off without a hitch.
Tillman told us that the effect isn't supposed to seriously gross anyone out. That's why the dummy dome is packed with spaghetti and meatballs, and lots of it. In fact, in the gallery below you can see whole meatballs warping the skin, but not quite breaking it as the head deforms from the blast. The head itself explodes from the back forward, thanks to some careful layering: "as symmetrically as possible, a lot like a firework," Tillman told us, with layers of spaghetti, and then explosives, and then more pasta and meatballs and so on.
A low budget didn't mean the effect was simple to pull off, however. After watching a bunch of YouTube videos of exploding heads — and rightfully choosing the scene Scanners as her target — Tillman first thought to use squibs, tiny explosives commonly used for blood-spurting bullet impacts. In the head, however, they barely did anything, and that's why Tillman turned to professional help. "If anyone is trying to do this themselves," Tillman warned us, "the real way to do it is to hire a pyrotechnician because playing around with dynamite is no joke."
The head explosion in "Four To Six" lasts scant seconds (glorious seconds), but you can see it come apart almost frame-by-frame in our gallery below.