FTP: Skinner (1993)

APRIL 22, 2020


Sometimes I watch the bonus features even when I don't like the movie, because I'm a. curious if the people who made it aren't thrilled with it either, and/or b. wanting to make sure that I don't get anything wrong in my review, like accuse it of being a ripoff of something. In Skinner's case, it was more the former - the disc came out 25 years after the movie was originally released, and wasn't from the original distributor, so there's no reason for anyone to hold back on its issues (leaden pacing, repetitive plotting, etc). But it turns out it became a solid example of the latter, because I spent half the movie thinking it was made to cash in on Silence of the Lambs only to discover the script predated it.

Alas, that doesn't make the movie any better, and the writer even notes that the film (which he intended to direct itself, but took an offer when it came and was essentially shut out of its production entirely) only has one real change from his original script, which maybe he shouldn't have noted since the script is pretty lousy. It's akin to Maniac or Henry in that it's not much more than a series of kills intercut with the murderer's home life, but it lacks the chilling intensity of Henry and the... well, I don't love Maniac either, so I guess there's not much difference in general, but doesn't help Skinner feel any fresher or novel. Even the "old LA" vibe is muted since there's so little of it to be seen (they shot it rather quickly in only a few key spots in the downtown/Echo Park area), whereas Maniac gave the vintage (read: grimy) New York a nice showcase in some of its major scenes.

Incidentally, the two films share another common trait: they're most notable for the FX work. Maniac was famously one of Tom Savini's iconic showcases, and here the low budget didn't stop them from using KNB, already a huge name in the genre. The on-screen violence is somewhat limited to throat slashings and other "basics" like that, but the post-murder skinning sequences are appropriately disgusting and wince-worthy, and the burn makeup on Traci Lords (as a survivor of Skinner's, and yes that is his name, Dennis Skinner) is quite good as well, though it's hidden behind her hair for most of the run time while we get more looks at her slightly less effective arm/leg burns. Still, as a showcase for what these guys could do at their peak with a presumably much smaller budget than they were afforded for say, Jason Goes To Hell or Army of Darkness (all three were released the same year), it's got plenty of merit on that alone.

And it's nice to see Ted Raimi taking lead actor duties for a change, instead of playing second fiddle to Bruce Campbell or someone. Unfortunately, he comes off as a total creepy nut in the scenes where he's trying to be normal, and whether it was intentional or not (he's a good actor, after all) it makes the other characters, particularly Ricki Lake as his landlord/possible love interest, come off as a bit moronic. To go back to Maniac, even Joe Spinell (an actor who could never play a random nice guy) managed to seem less of a psycho in his scenes with Caroline Munro, but Ted never really pulls that off here.

Worse, the one scene where he can really cut loose is unfortunately very misguided, and it's (not too coincidentally) the one scene that the writer says he had nothing to do with. In the sequence, Skinner kills a black coworker who annoyed him, and then wears his skin to chase another victim, which might be uncomfortable enough (kinda sorta blackface-y?) but the murderer also uses a "Fat Albert" kind of voice as he runs around in the guy's skin, making it incredibly far from "woke" as they might say nowadays. It's kind of the only truly memorable scene in the movie, but for all the wrong reasons (in his interview, Raimi seems embarrassed by it but has fond feelings toward the rest of the film and its production).

The other good thing about the bonus features is that it explains a bit why the movie was kind of lost for a while - the original owner died, and then other company got the rights in an auction of his estate but had no idea where the elements were. Co-editor Jeremy Kasten talks about hunting down pieces of the film from various labs and storage facilities, working out deals to get the stuff (one apparently told him he could have what they had for 500 bucks if he paid in cash that day) and piece it together without much of a road map to figure out what went there. As I listened to him recount his journey, I couldn't help but think that I'd rather watch a documentary about all of this than the finished product. Oh well.

What say you?


Tweeting For An Actual Cause!

If you've been here long enough you know I'm basically obsessed with the Friday the 13th series, and if you follow me on Twitter you know I'm pretty much obsessed with that too. Every now and then I wonder if I should cut back on one or both things, but not today! No, right nowI'm thinking I should combine these loves to try to put a little good into the world.

Today, *Monday* the 13th, the good folks at Shudder will be running the first eight Friday the 13th movies on ShudderTV, starting at 3pm EST (12pm PST). Since live tweeting seems to be all the rage in these isolated times, I figure I will join the fun (with a hashtag you can mute!) but only if it goes to a good cause. If I can get 50 dollars' worth of combined donations to my Ko-Fi or Paypal by the time the marathon starts, I'll livetweet the first movie (at my usual account HERE), and I'll stick around for all eight movies as long as I get an additional 25 dollars' worth of donations before each movie is out. By my math, that means if I get through all eight movies, that'll be a minimum of 250 dollars raised (50 to "activate" plus 25 for each movie).

The place I'd like to raise money for is Direct Relief, an organization that works to provide medical professionals with the equipment they need. I will donate all of the money in my Paypal to them at the end of the marathon, with a video to prove it in case you're suspicious of me, and I'll be adding in some extra $$ of my own of course. You can donate to my Paypal directly if you wish using the standard "DONATE" button that's on the right side of this page (under "HMAD-ing is actually somewhat expensive..."), or through Ko-Fi if you prefer.

And hey, if you don't trust me, or don't care about live tweeting, just donate to them directly! That's the whole point of it anyway! And it'll spare me from having to sit through New Blood again. But for everyone else who thinks it's a good/fun idea, I hope you can spare a buck or two for this organization in these trying times. And if you don't have a Shudder account yet (boo!) I believe they are offering a free trial right now with promo code SHUTIN, so you can still watch along. Join me!

P.S. I'll be drinking along with it, and you're welcome to virtually join me for that element too.


Malabimba (1979)

APRIL 6, 2020


I never heard of Malabimba until Vinegar Syndrome announced they would be releasing it on blu-ray, but the idea of an Exorcist ripoff directed from the madman behind Burial Ground (Andrea Bianchi) is just about the best one I've heard all year (granted, in 2020, that's not a big hurdle to clear). Had I known the full title was actually Malabimba: The Malicious Whore (!), I probably would have just arranged to fly to wherever Vinegar's offices are and pick up a copy myself rather than wait for the mailing to arrive. Sometimes, a movie description manages to have everything that makes my eyes widen in anticipation of the additional nonsense that the film itself may offer.

But there's one element I haven't mentioned, one that might result in this review turning up when you're most definitely not looking for horror movie reviews: hardcore pornography! OK, technically hardcore "inserts", in which standard (if far from tame) sex scenes are enhanced or ruined (depending on your POV) by some random, badly matched closeups of actual penetration. Apparently these were added later by one of the producers, against the wishes (or even knowledge) of Bianchi and his actors, and they stick out like sore thumbs (or other appendages) while also making a long movie even longer. And since they're inserts, they don't exactly last long enough for someone to... participate? with the film as they would a traditional porno, so the inclusion kind of baffles me.

That said, their presence just adds to what was already a batshit movie, which concerns a young woman named Bimba who is possessed by the spirit of an ancestor who was either killed by one of her many lovers or killed herself on their account (I couldn't quite follow the backstory). The spirit is angry at the family, but rather than do the usual thing of killing them off one by one, she opts to use Bimba's body as a means to returning to her old ways, but when the only people around are family members, well...

To Bianchi and screenwriter Piero Regnoli's credit, Bimba's father rejects her advances, so the ickiness level is kept to something resembling a minimum. Her uncle, however, is an invalid, so he can't put up much of a fight when she turns her attention to him, promising that she can make certain things work again (spoiler: she does!). Then she focuses her efforts on her uncle's nurse, who is also a nun of some sort (I assume the character was originally strictly a nurse but given a habit and some repression to add the necessary Exorcist flair), while Bimba's father is continually and (eventually) successfully seduced by his sister in law, the wife of the invalid brother who has needs of her own. This is a horny goddamn movie, folks.

In fact it's so horny that it's basically not even really a horror movie outside of the opening and closing scenes. Things kick off in high fashion with a seance scene that (shocker!) goes wrong, as they're trying to contact Bimba's recently deceased mother but get the witch-like ancestor instead, which results in the usual haunted house movie stuff being thrown around the screen for a few minutes. But, again, the spirit doesn't seem to want to straight up murder anyone - her lone kill until the film's closing moments is of the uncle, and that doesn't even seem intentional (la petite mort, indeed). Otherwise, until the relatively abrupt finale, if you missed the first ten minutes you might be unaware that Bimba is possessed at all, and merely a sexually repressed and confused young woman who is acting out on the only people she knows because she's never left the estate grounds.

So if you're expecting all the usual Italian Exorcist ripoff hallmarks, you should stick to Beyond the Door or The Antichrist, as this feels more like one of those movies that were completely unrelated but had Exorcist kind of stuff thrown in at the last minute (Lisa and the Devil, for example). That doesn't seem to be the case here, for the record, but it is interesting how relatively extraneous the possession angle feels overall, especially considering the gonzo opening. Perhaps with toned down sex scenes the horror element wouldn't seem so backgrounded? Unfortunately the disc does not offer the option to watch it without them (there are shorter cuts of the movie out there, naturally; this one is uncut) so I can't be sure. There is a lively commentary track by a trio of film historians though, and they're all women which is a refreshing change of pace. They aren't afraid to note some of the film's sillier elements, but spend a lot of time placing it in context of Bianchi's career and that of its stars, as well as the Italian (s)exploitation efforts of the time, while also correctly noting that this is NOT a nunsploitation movie as it is sometimes referred.

Long story short, not much of a horror movie, but if you enjoy your sleaze with a dash or two of weirdness, you'll be well served here. And it's a solid disc as well; Vinegar did a fine job of presenting the most complete version of the movie possible from the best elements they could find (there's a disclaimer about why some shots are a bit low quality, something I always appreciate and wish their peers would do more often) and the commentary is just as entertaining as the film (there's also an interview that I believe is from a previous release on DVD). If you can only watch one movie where a woman accidentally kills a guy by blowing him...

What say you?


Bones (2001)

MARCH 29, 2020


As a huge fan of Demon Knight, I couldn't remember why I didn't see Bones (aka Ernest Dickerson's long awaited return to the horror genre) when it came out in theaters, so I took a quick check at the box office charts for the time and saw that it came out the same weekend as Thirteen Ghosts and K-Pax, both of which I saw instead (was basically dragged to the former, and as for the latter - I chalk it up to my crush on Mary McCormack). But I'm glad I didn't see it then, because at the time I hadn't seen any of the "blaxploitation" horror movies it was paying homage to, which provided some of the fun I got out of it now. Back then, Pam Grier's appearance would have probably yielded a "Hey it's better than Ghosts of Mars last month" type reaction, but now I can smile that her tarot-reading character was a bit of a nod to the mystical woman she played in Scream, Blacula, Scream, which is a much better movie to think about.

Unfortunately, it's also riddled with bad CGI for many of Bones' appearances, which I assume only looks worse now than it did almost twenty years ago and, more importantly, throws off the '70s throwback vibe it's going for. I don't know if Snoop Dogg couldn't offer enough of his time to play the part and forced the filmmakers to use a series of "Option B" solutions to fill in the gaps (I didn't use a stopwatch or anything but it sure seems he's on-screen much less than his younger, lower-billed co-stars), but every dodgy effect makes the film less effective, and since you see some pretty terrible ones in the opening sequence the movie never gets a chance to earn much goodwill on that front. If a movie has a few bad VFX near the end once we are hooked in then it's not too bad, but when they're telling us right up front "We kinda botched our monster" it's hard to get too invested.

It's also too slowly paced for its own good, which has one benefit I'll talk about soon but for the most part also made it very difficult to cement my interest. The basic story is simple (and somewhat generic) enough: Jimmy Bones (Snoop) was a hustler/number runner back in the 1970s and was murdered by a corrupt cop, his partner, and a rival dealer, who covered up his death and swore an oath to never tell anyone. 20 years later, some enterprising youths - who happen to be the children of one of Jimmy's murderers - accidentally uncover his corpse when renovating the building to turn it into a nightclub. Eventually he is revived with the help of a demon dog of some sort and the movie becomes a blend of Nightmare on Elm Street and The Crow, with Jimmy taking out the assholes who murdered him (sympathetic!) and also the youths who just wanted to make something of their lives (much less so!).

The confusing morality doesn't help much either; we kind of want to root for Jimmy since he was murdered and, for the most part, didn't seem like that bad of a guy (he was killed for NOT wanting to sell hard drugs in the neighborhood, so that's something), but he's also going after the club owner kids who never did anything wrong, putting him more in Freddy Krueger's territory than Eric Draven's. In one scene you're rooting for him to take out the asshole drug kingpin or slimy crooked cop, but in the next you're hoping he is stopped - it's just too disjointed. The flashbacks are doled out in chunks throughout the first hour (the point where Bones is finally fully resurrected, another for the "con" list - hell, it's almost 40 minutes before they even find his corpse), which keeps it afloat since you naturally want to know how he died, how the characters in the present day factored into it, etc, but since it's not particularly novel, it's hardly worth the wait. They might have been better off with a lengthy opening flashback - it least it would have kept the lame CGI off-screen for 20 minutes or so.

All that said, I was highly impressed with how damn weird the movie got at times (spoilers for 20 year old movie ahead!), so it's ultimately more or less worth the wait, and certainly wasn't as generic as the first hour lulled me into believing the rest would be. Bones doesn't just kill someone - he somehow uses his powers to rip off their heads but leave them with the ability to talk as he carries them to his lair, which is a giant wall of twisting blackened bodies that looks like HR Giger tackling that thing that grabbed Freddy at the end of Dream Master. And he feeds this thing the heads - one of which is still trying to bribe Jimmy into letting him... "live"? It's hilarious. There's also a kill where he murders two drug dealers at once; instead of showing the actual murder we watch a blank wall that is splattered with human outlines of blood, followed by the rest of the blood "coloring in" those outlines, which doesn't make any sense at all but it's a pretty neat visual.

However you feel about the movie, we can all agree that Scream Factory's blu-ray is pretty jam-packed. It carries over everything from the original DVD (a Platinum Series release!) and adds several new interviews, though none with Snoop, sadly. He is on the old commentary though, with Dickerson and screenwriter Adam Simon, though I think they all partook in his trademark stash as it's the mellowest goddamn track I've ever heard with three grown men sitting together. Usually this kind of setup results in a pretty spirited discussion, but they're all so quiet and soft-spoken it felt like they were recording it while their parents tried to sleep in the next room or something. As for the new ones, they got Dickerson, Simon, the DP, and the always great Tony Gardner, who reveals that the wall of bodies were using, among other things, Bruce Campbell's chin appliances! FX guys are always reusing things from their shop and such reveals delight me every single time (all time fave - the heart that they "pencil stake" in From Dusk Till Dawn is Jason's from JGTH).

All of the pieces are there to make a solid "Elm Street meets Candyman" kind of film, and I was surprised to see that the film rarely went for laughs (I knew it was Freddy-ish, but was thinking more of his jokey era than the earlier, darker version), but the weird pacing and confused "antihero" approach kept me at arm's length almost from the start. Dickerson gives the big scare scenes the energy you'd expect, and the kids are actually kind of fun in their way (Katherine Isabelle can't ever be boring, she's always "on" even in the background of shots), but ultimately my big takeaway was that my "eh, it's fine" reaction would have been even more subdued if I saw it in 2001. And not because it's aged all that well - it's because back then I wouldn't have caught all the references to better movies. Can't vouch for K-Pax, but I think I ultimately made the better choice with Thirteen Ghosts (which is also coming from Scream Factory!).

What say you?


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