What I'm Watching: Skinless
This is one I've had sitting next to me forever to review. It was going to be on the list for last October's reviewoween, but I had so many other movies, I let this one, and a bunch of others, slide.
But with Thanksgiving around the corner, and a few days before the next big Trisking, I thought I would finally take another look (Since I had to rewatch it for any coherent, worthwhile thoughts) at Skinless.
Which is a MUCH less interesting title than its original, "The Ballad of Skinless Pete". I'd watch that movie. ...I guess I'd still watch it, since I did, but moving on!
The movie centers around scientist Peter Peele, which is strange because the first line or two of dialogue tells you Peter Peele is dead... Ahem. That, and absolutely rock bottom budget look of this movie instantly tells you what kind of movie you are in for.
Anywho, Pete's trying to find a cure for cancer, as one does. And he believes he's found this with an organism he calls the phagia worm. I have no idea if I spelled that right, so we're just gonna call it Phred. The worm is known for devouring flesh, with enyzymes and acidic like abilities, so he thinks it will devour cancer. It's...a sound theory on the surface, but there's immediately issues anyone can see, surely. Issues this movie completely ignores and creates ones of its own, like sure. It gets rid of all the cancer, buuuut, it also gets rid of all the flesh. So yeah, saying things like, "Every mole, every trace, was just gone!" is kinda meaningless when it EATS ALL THE FLESH! Of course the mole is gone!
Once the purse strings get cut for their funding, you can bet that Pete decides to go ahead with the ever popular human testing on himself, like any good mad scientist with zero funding would do! It's a familiar trope,. but draping it in the guise of "curing cancer" is pretty interesting. This is genuinely important work, and you can understand why someone on the verge of such a discovery, would take the risks. Especially when it's revealed that Pete has cancer himself. You absolutely understand the guy.
So after a brief and brisk 15 minutes of setup and intros, Pete's already injected himself with his Phred serum, and following a good night's sleep, it's already cured his cancer. That is some drug.
Phew, short movie, time to go home, there are sure to be zero side eff...OH wait. After another nap, he wakes up with a giant chunk of the flesh on his shoulder missing. And the body horror just gets wonderfully worse from there. All his skin comes off, although we jump straight ahead to all his skin being gone, and they keep it hidden for much of the movie.
Not only is Pete's skin sloughing off, a reveal they hold back and tease perfectly, he's begun spitting that acidic enzyme of Phred's, so you get some wonderfully gooey Fly-like sequences. The movie largely uses practical makeup effects that are so gross and red and sticky, they almost turn even MY hardened stomach. They use just a hint of CGI for transitions between stages, and I wish they'd avoided doing so. They're JUST used sparingly enough that they don't really detract, but they also really stand out. I'd have preferred cuts, which they also use to great effectiveness anyways, than a rough CG blob.
His colleague witnesses his first acid test, and she tries to run away, which adds an added layer of being held captive by the incredibly melting monster. It is a great mix of body horror and survival.
Look, straight up, if you're gonna come along and ask questions like, "How does anyone survive with all their skin dissolved??" this is not the movie for you. Once you get past that, and tuck in to enjoy the blood and gore and horror, this is an effective, quick, no budget little thriller.
The acting is better than you'd expect from this sort of movie, and the look of it. The gore is, as I have said, amazing (Although you can see the fakery a little too often, but the cheesy fun of the fake heads is easily half it's charm). Pete's ability to act through multiple masks and still feel dangerous is a skill.
Skinless is downright *uncomfortable* at times. I would put it equal to, or above even such movies as Human Centipede. That movie is almost cartoonish with its absurd idea taken seriously. But it's still a rough ride, much like Skinless. You are gonna watch people's faces melt, body parts easily ripped off, and a man performing a face-ectomy before the enzyme can destroy it.
Which also says a lot about Pete's vanity right there, now that I think about it.
The film is well structured, bouncing around in time to slowly build what's happened to Pete. It gives you JUST enough horror at a time, as he recounts his last week of deterioration to his captive, and then stops so he can take care of things, and then continues. It's not too forced, and doles out information and horror almost perfectly, instead of overwhelming her, or you. And believe me, those respites are welcome, and this is a movie that absolutely needs those breaks. I normally deride pauses like that, but Skinless is absolutely a movie that needs the occasional breather.
My only major complaint is that this movie has so many lens flares, JJ Abrams would be jealous.
Well, okay, having Pete wearing his face as a mask that flippity floppities all over the place is a bit silly, but also very disconcerting because you spend most of the movie watching his performance behind a mask. It's all rather Phantom, and as silly as it is, it also works very well. It all depends on how much you're into the movie. It's very reminiscent of Toby from Popcorn.
I really enjoyed Skinless in all its gory gooey low budget fun. It's not a perfect movie, I'd almost wish they'd given more time to his torment of his colleague, maybe a few more victims, but at a lean 80 minutes, it moves along well enough.
The conclusion, which builds to a disturbing climax, the movie pulls it back wonderfully, and Pete's end is perfect.
It's not quite as good of a movie as "Bite" is, but sits comfortably alongside it for gooey horror. And I never even got around to mentioning the skinless dog...
Talk about cutting off one's nose to spite your face...
(As a bit of a warning, there IS some attempted snake tongue tentacley rape scenes and abuse, so be warned. But y'know, there's already blood and melting faces, so you're already walking into a minefield of squick with this movie.)