Skinless
R0 - America - Whacked Movies / MVD Visual
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (14th November 2014).
The Film

For five years, doctors Peter Peale (Brandon Salkil) and Alice Cross (Erin R. Ryan) have been working on genetically-programed microbes to cure diseases with the waning interest of investor Neil (Dave Parker). Peter thinks he has finally made a breakthrough when he acquires a Borneo flesh-eating parasite worm. According to the data on a number of its victims who had cancer, while dead their bodies no longer had any trace of the tumors or cancer cells. Peter and Alice work on developing a serum from the worm that can be used to target only cancer in the body without harming the flesh. Neil, however, is unwilling to fund clinical trials and additional research without compelling proof of its effectiveness. Rather than grab animals off the street, Peter wants to proceed with human trials. When he reveals that he has skin cancer (including a large lesion on his shoulder) and plans to inject himself with the serum, Alice refuses to have any part of it and insists that he seek conventional treatment instead and walks out on him. Peter injects himself and discovers the next day that the lesion has disappeared. He phones Neil but discovers that the other man is out of the country. Having not heard more from Peter in two weeks, Neil and Alice go to his house only to discover that the serum has had unexpected and grisly side effects, and that the flesh-eating-enzyme-secreting Peter needs "test subjects" in order to find a cure. Imprisoned by a still-adoring Peter, Alice is torn between revulsion and pity while uncertain about what he plans to do with her.

While shot-through with an annoying amount of intentional lens flare (a la Michael Bay), sparse on production value (intentional to a degree), and sometimes silly when it should be horrific, the Cronenbergian Skinless is a leap in maturity from writer/producer/director/editor Dustin Wayde Mills over Bath Salt Zombies (which also starred Salkil who co-authored the story here) in terms of plotting, technical style, and performances. While Mills ladles on the grue with gusto and puts his lead actress through her paces (although the film is relatively equal opportunity when it comes to nudity compared to most genre product regardless of budget), the crux of the story is to what degree Peter's physical transformation has also altered him psychologically or if it has merely made the defects of his personality more transparent. Peter has more or less blamed Alice's rejection of him for his promiscuity even before the experiment and he also seems to possess a hatred for Neil as well as contempt for his student hookup Olivia (Allison Egan) that seems more deep-seated than a desire to make them as physically ugly as new self (indeed, Peter's decision to move away from genetic modification to genetic re-engineering has an obvious disturbing sexual component to it). The special effects range from grisly to cartoonish with a hilarious mutant dog and the skinless faces looking like more refined variations on Mills' titular Bath Salt Zombies and the worm effects seemingly recycled from his Night of the Tentacles. While this comparatively more sober film might test the patience of those more familiar with Mills' campier horror flicks, Skinless is definitely more interesting than its standard monster cover artwork suggests.


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Video

Whacked Movies single-layer, progressive, anamorphic encode does what it can with the original photography which loses some of its crispness to the incessant use of lens flare with light sources pointing towards the camera in almost every shot as well as a general handheld unsteadiness (an "shaky cam"-esque affectation rather than a technical shortcoming). The close-ups of the make-up effects are sharp enough to repel so I would guess the overall look of the transfer is intentional.

Audio

The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is okay for the most part, but subject to the defects of the mix in which some of Salkil's voiced-over dialogue behind his mask is muffled and requires amplification (one unevenly mixed bit has him competing with music and plenty of screaming).

Extras

While not overflowing with extras, the audio commentary track with director Mills is informative in terms of how the film differed from his previous works, as well as his approach to plotting, effects (he does not hate CGI but felt it was less necessary here), and the photography. He reveals that "skinless Pete" is based on the mold made for Salkil's Bath Salt Zombies make-up and that they had begun shooting a different version of the film that ended up being too broad. When he moved to a house with an attic and basement, he decided to rewrite the screenplay and take a darker take entirely rather than just adapting it to the new location. Of the lens flare, he reveals that he wanted to give the videography the feel of an anamorphic feature (as well as the 2.35:1 framing which was hard-matted in production and re-matted in editing) and explains the various in-camera techniques he used to get the flares (including plastic lids and stretching fishing line across the lens).

The "Production Diaries" featurette (25:21) - under the working title The Ballad of Skinless Pete - is a series of web videos in which Mills discusses the make-up effects in detail (including a practical demonstration on creating slime) and answers viewer-submitted questions along with Salkil, Ryan, and Egan about characterization, performances, and doing nudity. Both extras demonstrate a passion for filmmaking as well as a desire to inform and encourage other filmmakers.

Packaging

Standard keep case with grisly artwork and blurbs from horror sites like Bloody Disgusting and Bloodsprayer.

Overall

Skinless proves to be quite the pleasant surprise amid the glut of low budget horror (especially from Whacked Movies' distributor MVD Visual) and is hopefully indicative of more interesting things to come from director Dustin Mills.

The Film: B+ Video: B+ Audio: C+ Extras: A Overall: B

 


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