Skinned Deep (2004)

A new camp classic!

by Adam Miller

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I loved SKINNED DEEP. After writing a review of the stinkfest that was PSYCLOPS it’s so nice to be able to expound the virtues of independent horror filmmaking. Borrowing happily, merrily, excessively from the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, SKINNED DEEP dispenses with the stuff mainstream films insist on. There is no great acting in this movie, but there is 100% watchable and entertaining acting. There is no great horror in this movie, but it is decidedly a horror film. There is no stomach-churning gore, but it there is nevertheless highly, wonderfully, transgressive violence. I don’t expound any of these points in singularity, however. Rather, they fit together into what can only be described as a modern camp classic, and one of the most pleasurable camp viewing experiences I’ve had in recent memory.

If you know TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, you know the plot: ordinary folks get roped into a situation with some extremely unordinary folks. Heads proceed to roll. The victims this time are the Rockwells—yuppy Americans on a yuppy American vacation. Too bad for them their car breaks down on a deserted highway with only a lonely gas station nearby. Running the gas station is “Granny” who delivers all of her lines with a kind of inflection that suggests she is somewhere entirely else for the scene. Is it good acting? Hardly, but its creepiness tends to grow, especially as more insane events occur and Granny still speaks as if she has no idea where she is.

The Rockwells are brought to Granny’s home to spend the night until garages open the next day. The house itself was clearly meant to be a central character and while it is by no means the creepiest haunted house it is filled with bizarre, low-budget trinkets. The film next introduces us to Granny’s family including Brain (a guy with a huge brain on the outside of his cranium), Plates (Warwick Davis in a straight-jacket who uses plates as weapons), and most proudly The Surgeon General (a huge deformed monster in a trench coat who dons an iron face mask with large spiky teeth; a great character design—and the movie knows it).

The Rockwells don’t seem particularly phased by this which is played humorously until the freaky family starts killing the Rockwells. Mom and Dad don’t last long, but their two children make a run for it—chased by Plates, Brain, and Surgeon General. Alas, they only run so far before they are caught. In arguably the film’s most transgressive moment, Surgeon General swings a blade at the Rockwell son (perhaps 10 or 12 years old). The kid laughs at him: “Hah! You missed!” Before we watch his body split open in half anime style. Yikes! They killed the little kid!

That leaves just Tina Rockwell who is kept alive as Brain’s pet. The rest of the film follows Brain’s attempts to seduce her and her attempts to escape. It would be too easy to just recount all the other highlights of the film. Suffice it to say Tina (Karoline Brandt) is entirely watchable despite the increasing bizarre situations her character is forced into. The film is never truly suspenseful, but it paces itself well. A subplot involving a octogenarian bike gang waging war on the Freaks never feels distracting and instead just leaves the opportunity for some more exciting gore.

The film was directed by Gabriel Bartolos, a special-effect make up artist by trade, and his skills are on full display. This is a man who clearly likes to make things go goo. Watching SKINNED DEEP, you can pick-up on the director’s glee at filming the next big gross-scene. As such, despite its themes, SKINNED DEEP never feels like a sadistic film. It never punishes the viewer for caring about the characters or wanting to know more about the bizarre it displays. Many horror films implicitly discourage the dissemination of knowledge—that which lies beyond the closed door is likely to chop your head off. SKINNED DEEP, on the other hand, merrily takes you to the heart of its twisted universe. Twisted can be a lot of fun.

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