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Old 07-30-2006, 01:26 AM
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Default Skinned Alive



Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: November 11, 2002

Released by: Full Moon
Release date: 5/21/2002
MSRP: $19.95
Region 1, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1



When it comes to low-budget filmmaking, the horror genre seems to be the genre of choice. Since horror is largely gimmick related, star power can be negated, thus trimming production costs substantially. Over the years there have been some major low-budget triumphs, the most notable of which include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Evil Dead. Intriguing was it then, that the back of Tempe's new Skinned Alive DVD reads: "Best described as The Three Stooges meet The Texas Chainsaw Massacre…if you like early Sam Raimi you should find something here to amuse you!" Is Skinned Alive a classic along the lines of Hooper or Raimi's work, or is such a comparison unjustly? Let's take a look…

The Story

inline ImageStarting out with some atmospheric shots of the sun setting in the backwoods of Ohio, Skinned Alive begins much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A hitchhiker is picked up by a van with the decal: "Crawldaddy's Traveling Tannery". As he is about to step inside, he is abruptly attacked and killed by the people inside the van. The perpetrators of this heinous crime are: Crawldaddy (Mary Jackson) and her two kids, Violet (Susan Rothacker) and Phink (Scott Spiegel). Lead by Crawldaddy, the mother who wishes to be called 'daddy', the three make a living by skinning bystanders and selling their skin for profit (who knows, maybe they are responsible for Leatherface's masks).

inline Image Everything is going great for the family until they have a run in with car trouble. Their vehicle breaks down in a decaying Ohio town, and they must reside with a friendly mechanic, Tom Miles (Lester Clark), until their van is fixed. Meanwhile, Tom's drunken friend, Paul (Floyd Ewing Jr.) is drinking his life away. Paul has lost his wife, kids, and pretty soon his house in a vicious divorce, and has pretty much given up on life. This is perfect…because the nomadic family is looking for more victims.

During their stay with the Miles family, Crawldaddy's crew kill several people, from a delivery boy to a religious freak. This is not enough for them though, so the family goes after their hospitable hosts as well as the drunken Paul. Will they triumph, or will their tannery go out of business?

inline ImageSkinned Alive begins with real promise, but by the end it disintegrates into an unsatisfying parade of gore and comedy. Does it want to be atmospheric like Texas Chainsaw or humorous like The Evil Dead? Director Jon Killough apparently can't decide, and what ensues is a mismatch of disgusting violence juxtaposed, at times, with sounds out of a clown act. The opening shots of the imposing rural locals are so entirely effective that it is a true missed opportunity when the film descends into a Rambo parody during the climax. This could have been a great film that explored the theme of murder-to-make-a-living that was introduced in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; or, had the director opted for comedy, this could have been a great parody of family values gone too far. By fluctuating unevenly between horror and comedy, the movie achieves neither aspirations, and instead becomes an empty 78 minutes.

inline ImageGranted, in certain situations the comedy is at times funny, most notably when Paul pours himself a tiny glass of vodka, or when Crawldaddy exhibits upstanding table manners. These parts, along with the various juvenile sound effects (horns, springs, etc.) definitely suggest that the film is intended to be satirical, slapstick comedy. The start and the end of the film are entirely serious and downbeat however, which ends up negating the effectiveness of the aforementioned humor. The ending too, is so nonsensical and uninspired, chocked on merely to produce a shock, that the viewer is left cold as the credits roll.

inline Image One thing that does end up working decently in the film is the at times graphic gore by David Lange. As mentioned before, they do appear out of place with the comedy, but on their own they look quite good and repulsive, especially for a low-budget film. Fingers are chopped and stomachs are slit with a charitable amount of blood. In the end this is the only satisfying portion of the film. If one is looking for gore, then this film will suffice, but if one is looking for horror or comedy, one will be left disappointed.

Image Quality

inline Image Tempe wisely provides a disclaimer at the start of the film stating essentially that yes, the print looks bad, but that is the best it will get from us. Nearly every frame is ridden with white blemishes, from specks to lines, and it looks quite beaten and worn. The color scheme is very inconsistent as well, with red suddenly becoming pink in the next shot and vice versa. But both of these are faults of the production, not the transfer. The remastered image, presented in 1.33:1 full frame, looks about as good as it can, and it is obvious Tempe has put some work into this release. The print is sharp, which is surprising considering this is a low-budget film from the 80's. There is no color bleeding, and the colors that are presented are nicely saturated. Even the black levels are acceptable, which is something that does not occur to often with 80's horror films. Make no mistake, the print is in rough shape, but this is about the best that Tempe could do.

Sound

Presented in a newly remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, this mix sounds pretty darn good. There are several isolated surround effects, from moving cars to background dialogue, and the channel separation is fairly pronounced. The audio is very flat and at times a little tough to hear, but this is again due to the low-budget nature of the film. This is one of the better low-budget 5.1 remixes to come out on DVD thus far.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageLike Tempe's other releases, this is another DVD jam-packed with supplements. The least material first, there are five trailers for other Tempe releases: Skinned Alive, eddie presley, Dead & Rotting, Hell Asylum and Ozone. Then there is a 32 picture Artwork Gallery, which shows some new and original artwork for the film. There is a more substantial Production Gallery that includes 81 pictures of the actors, director and special effects. More substantial still, there are four featurettes, "About the Remastering" (3 minutes), "Behind-the-Scenes Footage" (7 minutes), "Camera and Wardrobe Tests" (11 minutes), and "Cut to the Bone: Dissecting the Making of Skinned Alive" (35 minutes).

inline Image"About the Remastering" consists of Producer J.R. Bookwalter talking about what he didn't like about the film and how it was fixed and changed for this new release. Bookwalter also reveals that the credits sequences were updated for this release (which would explain their lack of grain). In "Behind-the-Scenes Footage" there is footage of all the cast and crew hanging out, working on effects, shooting scenes and just having a good ol' time. The "Camera and Wardrobe Tests" consist of interesting comparisons between test footage and the final product in the film. It also contains shots not used in the film and rehearsal footage with the original Phink and Violet.

inline ImageThe longest featurette, "Cut to the Bone: Dissecting the Making of Skinned Alive" is an intriguing recollection by all of the principals of the film (Scott Spiegel is notably absent though). Director Jon Killough reveals that there was plenty of controversy on the set behind all the fun, and it makes for a good featurette. Killough bashes the film pretty handily, stating he wishes all the prints would have been destroyed, and that he "knew that [he] screwed up this movie and [he] wanted to fix it" in the postproduction process. Both Killough and Bookwalter had different visions of the final product, and as a result there were some major tensions throughout the shooting, and Killough still doesn't seem to think highly of Mr. Bookwalter. There was also a lot of fun on the set, and all the actors and crew recollect about the fun they had. There is also interesting information about how the original actors for Phink and Violet had to be replaced.

inline ImageLastly, on the audio portion of the disc, there is a commentary by Producer J.R. Bookwalter and Make-Up Effects Artist David Lange as well as Bookwalter's original isolated musical score on a separate track. The music sounds good, and fans of the film and its score will no doubt be tickled pink by its inclusion. Bookwalter indulges more into the controversy between him and Killough, and painstakingly praises the new transfer, throughout the track. There is also some interesting information to be learned from that track that is thankfully not covered in the featurettes, making this a worthy listen. It was interesting to discover that the effective opening footage was not in the original cut of the film, and that Bookwalter himself shot those scenes to include them later on. Both participants are very vocal, and Lange picks up especially during the end when he talks about the trouble in shooting the final scenes of confrontation in the film. They both have a fun time talking about the movie and make this an enjoyable commentary.

inline ImageA 31 minute sitcom episode, "Roomates", is included as well on the disc, but is fairly out of place. It contains cast and crew that would later collaborate again in Skinned Alive, but unless you were part of the production, this is not worth the time. There are also linear notes provided in the disc's jacket by Mr. Bookwalter. Overall, Tempe has packed a large amount of features on this disc that will please any Skinned Alive fan and interest those unfamiliar with the film as well.


Final Thoughts

Skinned Alive is a bad film with lost potential. It is clear that the conflicting views on the set made the final film very inconsistent in theme (fluctuating between horror and comedy). Although the conflict hurt the film, it helps the extra material, and makes for several interesting discussions throughout the disc. The video looks bad, but still is much better than it used to look, and the audio sounds very good in 5.1. If you like Skinned Alive in any way, then buying this disc is a no-brainer. If you are looking for a movie that reveals an interesting window into the filmmaking process, then this disc will also satisfy, even if the film itself doesn't.

Rating

Movie - C
Image Quality - B-
Sound - B+
Supplements - A-

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 14 minutes
  • Urated
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1

Supplements
  • Commentary by Producer J.R. Bookwalter and Make-Up Effects Artist David Lange.
  • Isolated musical score
  • "About the Remastering" featurette.
  • "Behind-the-Scenes Footage" featurette.
  • "Camera and Wardrobe Tests" featurette.
  • "Cut to the Bone: Dissecting the Making of Skinned Alive" featurette.
  • Trailers for: Skinned Alive, eddie presley, Dead & Rotting, Hell Asylum and Ozone.
  • Artwork Gallery
  • Production Gallery
  • "Roommates" episode
  • Linear notes

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