“Skinned Deep” marks the directorial debut of special effects and make up artist Gabriel Bartalos, who has worked on the likes of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”, the “Leprechaun” series, various Frank Hennenlotter films, and more recently, “The Cave”. Although it may on the surface seem like yet another of the recent crop of would-be 1970s grind house style genre films, “Skinned Deep” is actually a deeply crazed and highly inventive effort, with a decidedly surrealist streak which unfortunately may make it too bizarre and whacked out for many viewers.
The plot is based around the familiar ‘tourist trap’ motif, with an odd family of mutated cannibals living in a ramshackle country house and preying on city folks and tourists they catch with the usual road traps. The family is made up of the seemingly benign Granny (Liz Little), the diminutive, crockery throwing Plates (played by the “Leprechaun” himself, Warwick Davis), Brain, a man with a grotesquely oversized cranium (Jay Dugre), and Leatherface wannabe Surgeon General, who comes complete with a steel trap mouth. During the course of the film, a series of unfortunates fall into the family’s clutches, including Tina (Karoline Brandt) and her family, and an elderly biker gang appropriately called ‘The Ancients’ (who include the legendary Forrest J. Ackerman amongst their number). When Brain persuades Granny to spare Tina’s life, hoping to take her for his bride, all hell breaks loose in an insane orgy which is equal parts violence and nonsense.
What sets “Skinned Deep” aside is the fact that director Gabriel Bartalos is clearly unafraid to break with genre conventions and take the film deep into the realm of the weird, making for unpredictable and wild viewing. The film frequently goes off on tangents, with dream sequences and flashbacks a-plenty, one of which includes Brain taking a naked run through the crowded streets of New York (the filming of which resulted in Dugre being arrested, a fact which gives a pretty good idea of the level of dedication on show).
Of course, much of this is hit and miss, and while a number of sequences are either hilarious or horribly inspired in a deranged sort of way, a good few fall flat and have all the charm of being leftovers from a Troma film. Similarly, the fact that Bartalos, who also scripted, divides the screen time between a fairly large cast of characters does tend to give things an episodic feel. As a result, “Skinned Deep” is difficult to take seriously, although this in itself is not a criticism as such, since the director is obviously not aiming for straightforward horror.
However, it may mean that viewers suckered in by the “Texas Chainsaw” style box art are left disappointed and quite probably appalled by a film which expects them to accept a bunch of geriatrics as avenging outlaw heroes. There are a good few scare scenes peppered throughout the film, many of which are strikingly similar to those in Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses”, which “Skinned Deep” actually resembles in a number of ways and to an extent, tone.
However, Bartalos is clearly more interested in disturbing the viewer through the sheer weirdness of the proceedings, and throws in scenes which are memorable rather than shocking. There is a fair amount of blood, and some good special effects, made all the more impressive by the obviously low budget, although most of the gore is either played for laughs or is simply too odd to cause offence.
The film does have a nice look, though the usual pitfalls of independent film making are all too obvious, including some gratingly bad acting and a poor sound mix which leaves a fair amount of dialogue unintelligible. Still, these are pretty much par for the course, and don’t really detract too much from the joy of watching what is a genuine oddity and for those willing to keep an open mind, a breath of fresh air in the stale world of safe, button pushing genre film making.
Gabriel Bartalos (director) / Gabriel Bartalos (screenplay)
CAST: Forrest J Ackerman …. Forrey
Eric Bennett …. Phil Rockwell
Karoline Brandt …. Tina Rockwell
Bill Butts …. Graine
Warwick Davis …. Plates
John Deall …. John
Neil Dooley …. Pig Pen
Jay Dugre …. Brain