Crawldaddy and Her Two EVIL, Incestual Kids in “Skinned Alive” reviewed! (Tempe Digital and Makeflix / Blu-ray UE)


Crawldaddy and her two children, Violet and Phink, are psychopathic makers and sellers of fine leather apparel right off the backs of, well, literally ripped right off the fleshy backs of anyone they come across! When their van breaks down in a small, dumpy, low-bred Ohio town, Crawldaddy is forced to play nice with the town’s only mechanic, Tom, who offers a complete line of unreciprocated hospitality to the strange out-of-towners, but that doesn’t stop her and her children from committing slice and dicing of the local residents while bunkering in Tom and wife’s basement spare room. When Tom’s neighbor, Paul, an alcohol abusing ex-cop on the edge as a result of a brutal divorce, senses trouble and discovers Crawldaddy’s den of skin, the quiet small town explodes with bullets and blades in a macabre showdown.

Forget the Firefly family that has brought backwoods kin-in-arms killers to the masses in vogue fashion. Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding have nothing on Crawldaddy’s foul-mouth, foul-smelling skinner family who ranks as the top trash, living the nomad lifestyle with all the depraved trimmings of the criminally insane. Written and directed by Jon Killough, who after working on J.K. Bookwalter’s “The Dead Next Door” and “Robot Ninja” in multi-hat roles, “Skinned Alive” was bestowed a greenlight by Bookwalter to explore the creative side of Killough’s vile and offensive laden hillbilly horror that was released in 1990, before that very subgenre was coined and monetized years later. David DeCoutea, who envisioned the eviscerated virtuoso of the gruesome filmmaking talents from Todd Sheets to J.R. Bookwalter, served as executive producer and Bookwalter’s The Tempe Suburban Company tackled “Skinned Alive” with all the ingenious bloody pizzazz and outlandish death set financier and production company while filming the project in Ohio.

Since The Suburban Tempe Company is a tight-knit production company, familiar faces from Bookwalter’s previous films have been cast, beginning with Paul Hickox, the ex-cop with a drinking and ex-wife problem, played by Floyd Ewing Jr. The Hickox character crosses over from “Robot Ninja” into “Skinned Alive,” but exhibited in a dichotomous life position. While Ewing nails being a man dragged through the pig slop of divorce, Paul feels cut short with the amount of buildup written for the character that’s centered around ex-wife woes of losing his house and kids, depressed into drinking, and has to deal with a sleazy lawyer whose also litigating his former wife in a court of a sex. However, “Skinned Alive” is all about the bad guys.  In the majority of horror films, the bad guys are always the most interesting because of their rancid flavored persona and for our culturally-collective love of the eccentric, the offbeat, and the grim of villainy.  Crawldaddy embodies those despicable characteristics without so much of breaking a sweat with a abhorrent-welcoming performance by the late Mary Jackson.  Jackson, who went on later to work Bookwalter again in a minor role in “Ozone,” is transformed from a singing beauty to a basket case of a wretched, wheelchair bound hag, unearthing her uncouth Hyde at the flip of a switch.  Jackson is complimented by Susan Rothacker as the alluring-but-deadly Violent, a roll filled in the last minute by the film’s makeup artist when things didn’t work with Jackson’s daughter Lorie, and the one and only Scott Spiegel as Phink.  The energetic Spiegel has been a part of the longstanding Sam Raimi entourage, having minor roles in Raimi films, such as “The Evil Dead,” “Darkman,” and “Drag Me to Hell,” and when “Skinned Alive” became in need of a Phink, Spiegel may have just saved the film by his presence alone as the “Intruder” and “Dusk Till Dawn 2:  Texas Blood Money” director brings the manic ticks and callous charisma to Phink’s traits.  Rothacker ups the character dynamics with Phink as the pair’s love-hate relationship is a slap-stick of incest and homicidal cravings that fits right into the vile veneer of the story.  “Skinned Alive’s” cast rounds out with Lester Clark (“The Dead Next Door”), Barbara Katz-Norrod (“Kingdom of the Vampire”), Mike Shea (“Robot Ninja”), Mike Render (“Robot Ninia”), J.R. Bookwalter as a tortured Jehovah’s witness, and Jon Killough as an unlucky the hitchhiker.

As Killough’s indirect byproduct of Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Skinned Alive” is the skewed, bad dream version of the devious Sawyer family with heavy notes of black comedy chucked into the fold for an all-out odious assault on all fronts, but Killough’s first and only feature didn’t come out totally unscathed as a harmonious horror-comedy.  With little film stock left to shoot with and production controversial new scenes written by Killough and then altered by Bookwalter without consent, “Skinned Alive” became a rapid fire production of short shots compiled together that resulted in a choppy flow.  You could also discern which filmmaker wrote which dialogue in the filler scene between ex-cop Paul and his ex-wife with her sidepiece arrogant lawyer; Bookwalter adds witty, if not smart, dialogue to reinforce Paul’s degrading life while Killough’s dialogue for the rest of the feature is an expletive warzone without much of a strategy.  Both discourses work for the benefit “Skinned Alive,” but do cause a blatant, patchwork barrier between the conversing styles.  David Lange and Bill Morrison’s special effect makeup work is a complete continuation from “The Dead Next Door” and “Robot Ninja” of rendering gooey, gory visuals on a budget.  Sometimes, yes, you can see how unflattering the realism can be and easily securitize the flaws, but at the same time, the ingenuity trumps over cost and that elevates the effects beyond any dollar figure the film might cost.  That partial prosthetic of ripped flesh on Spiegel’s Phink when he’s hot in the face is one my favorite effects not only for the gruesome details, but for also its versatility.  It could easily be a bear claw swipe or a flesh eating bacteria, making the possibilities endless for Lange and Morrison.  Thirty-years later, “Skinned Alive” has preserved a rightful staunch cult following for it’s unparalleled grotesque veneer that will endure to linger for another 30 years plus thanks to technological advances and vehement filmmakers who are also filmic preservationist like J.R. Bookwalter.

Speaking of which, J.R. Bookwalter and his company, Tempe Digital, has painstakingly restored “Skinned Alive” and released it on a region free ultimate edition, dual-format Blu-ray/DVD, distributed by Makeflix.  The original 16mm A/B roll cut negative was scanned in 2K and is presented in the retained 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  The scan brought the transfer int a low-contrast in order to color correct and bring more life into the presentation from previous untouched versions and removed all of the white speckled dirt and scratches from nearly much of movie; a silver-lining made possible by COVID-19 quarantine that allotted the time to do so.   The color grading now has a much more vibrant appeal though slightly losing details from the high contrast with some of the more brilliant red glowing scenes in Tom and Whinnie’s basement.  Limited to 1000 pressings, “Skinned Alive,” the 30th Anniversary ultimate edition, by visuals alone, should be blipping frantically on any avid collector’s radar and sought by all genre aficionados.   The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound stem from the DA-88 tape archives of the original 16-track audio masters and while much of the dialogue and musical score remained, a good chunk of the ambience and effects were rebuilt and remixed, defining a clearer, cleaner audio track presentation of balanced levels from all different file sets.  Aside from some small synchronization issues between the dialogue and the scenes, the range is pitch perfect and the depth is excellent.  There are optional English and Spanish subtitles included.  Bonus features, you say?  The ultimate edition has you covered with the BR disc one containing a 2020 commentary with writer/director Jon Killough and moderated by Tempe historian Ross Snyder of Saturn’s Core Audio and Video as well as a 2002 audio commentary with producer J.R. Bookwalter and makeup effects artist David Lange.  Other new material includes a 16 minute featurette entitled “Carving Up 30 Years of ‘Skinned Alive,'” featuring a number of interviews with the cast and crew recollecting good times on set, a remembering Mary Jackson featurette that includes Jackson’s son and daughter, among cast and crew, commemorating the Crawldaddy actress, an interview with Scott Spiegel, 2020 location tour, artwork and promotional gallery, behind the scenes gallery, production stills, and, my personal favorite, J.R. Bookwalter walking through the restoration process step-by-step giving insight on the time and effort into restoring the films such as “Skinned Alive.”  Disc 2, the DVD, includes a 2002 audio commentary with Doug Tilley and Moe Porne of The No-Budget Nightmares Podcast, the 1987 and 1988 “roommates” TV sitcom episode featuring the “Skinned Alive” cast and crew, the Joy Circuit “Love Turns to Darkness” music video, a making off featurette of “Skinned Alive,” behind the scenes, Camera and wardrobe tests, a short 2 minute segment about the 2002 remastering and the original DVD release trailer.  That’s not all!  Let’s not forget to mention the equally packed release package that includes a reversible wrap featuring original 1990 VHS artwork in the casing and new cover art by Alex Sarabia on the slip cover, plus an eight-page color booklet with liner notes by Ross Snyder.  The only thing missing is a soundtrack CD compact…wait, there is one!  Come September 18, the original motion picture soundtrack, featuring 29 tracks, will be released with scores composed and performed by J.R. Bookwalter, songs by Hang Dangle, Foxx, Virgil Pittman, Joy Circuit, Dave Jackson and Kenny Boyd, Seven Sez U, The Ninja Sequencers, and Willie and the Wagon Wheels.  This 2-disc set is the holy grail for die hard “Skinned Alive” fans who know and appreciate the unique, second to none hillbilly horror that’s flagrant on every level.

Pre-order the soundtrack!!! Click to go to Amazon.com

Evil Killers Don’t Always Lurk Below Water! “Shark Killer” review!

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Shark tracker Chase Hunter has been employed by his estranged brother-by-adoption Jake to hunt down a black-finned great white shark off the shores of South Africa. Jake, the head of a South African crime ring, has interest in the shark due to the very large and rather valuable diamond the shark swallowed after a botched meeting between rival gangs. Jake lends his brother his beautiful lawyer Jasmine as a guide who is familiar with the South African waters and has diving experience with sharks. Things become even more convoluted when Chase becomes involved with the ever dangerous and hard to kill Nix, a competing crime lord with a severe diamond obsession, and Nix uses every means of persuasion to motivate Chase in finding this priceless, shark-ingested diamond even if the persuasion is to kidnap Jasmine. Chase and Jake must put their differences aside and use their respectful talents to save Jasmine from a deranged killer that doesn’t lurk under the glassy South African waters.
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Sheldon Wilson was once a director I tried to keep my all seeing eye on over a decade ago after the release of one of his earlier films, a ghost film entitled “Shallow Ground,” which I reviewed (not for Its Bloggin’ Evil) very positively with haunting attributes and a hint of foreshadowing of horror integrity from an upcoming director. Eleven years later and after viewing his latest release “Shark Killer” which he co-wrote with “Prom Night IV” penner Richard Beattie, I’ve come to the conclusion that the foreshadowing I thought I saw within “Shallow Ground” and within a promising young director didn’t quite take and didn’t live up to the expectations of continuing a film legacy or even a cult following. “Shark Killer,” like most films involving the underwater apex predators, doesn’t make the cut of being a cinematic masterpiece, but turns out to be similar to other certain frenzy-feasting films, such as “Sharknado,” “Deep Blue Sea,” and “Shark Night,” and all of which contain charming entertainment qualities in their own right from whether being absolute ridiculous where sharks fly through the air and attack their prey, or where sharks viciously rip apart and devour famous celebrities, or where sharks swim and stalk in unsuspecting places like at an isolated lake resort.
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Here’s what little I liked about “Shark Killer:” I liked the film’s budget which allowed for some decent shark special effects which in any other Syfy channel case would be unbearable. The effects are great, but not great white great and are just barely digestible with a slightly bad after taste. Another positive aspect of “Shark Killer” is the scripted dialogue. A witty dynamic between estranged brothers Chase (Derek Theler) and Jake (Paul du Toit) made for some quaint comedic relief in the second and third acts where the two had to work their way through an army of henchmen to rescue Jasmine (Erica Cerra). Derek Theler has potential to be the next Chris Pratt with a dimwitted charm, a handsome face, and a tall and bulky build. Theler’s acting also flows finely and is well-timed, but he does need to expand his range as his character Chase becomes tiresome and predictable, especially for a character torn between a dwindling family relationship with his brother Jake and a new love interest in Jasmine.
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In hindsight, “Shark Killer” should have never been titled “Shark Killer.” Much of the film rarely involves Black Fin, the diamond eating great white shark, and, instead, “Shark Killer” comes off as more of an action thriller between shark hunter Chase and a criminal warlord over a diamond with such importance that is never actually explained from either of the battling criminals Jake and Nix with the exception that it’s a priceless gem. What’s also not explained is Jake and Chase’s past as we’re given only minute information such as their not actually brothers by blood, but for some reason Chase owes Jake for saving his life from presumably a instance with shark. Again, an important explanation should be provided to give us more reason to believe the Chase needs to do Jake this dangerous and pointless venture. Great white Black Fin swims silently in the background caught in the middle of this diamond war. What’s more interesting are some of Black Finn’s murderous scenes where Chase explains that the giant shark follows them to the harbor and leaves the hunters fatal calling cards; regardless of how mysterious this shark becomes from these scenes, they all become pointless when compared to the foreground story.
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Also, I was expecting a bloody good show from director Sheldon Wilson and a film called “Shark Killer.” What I witness was a tame and timid PG-13 action thriller with witty banter which makes “Jaws: The Revenge” look like a hardcore bloody snuff movie. All the shark kills are off screen and implied leaving everything to imagination, but where is the visual visceral nature of being an apex predator? There should be flesh shredding, vein puncturing, and blood squirting violence whenever sharks are supposedly the main focus. South African native and the film’s most recognizable actor, “Darkman” portrayer Arnold Vosloo had the most violent scene where he executes one of his bumbling henchmen with a bullet to the head. Chase Walker mainly just beats people up, Jake shoots a couple of guys, and a shark becomes stab multiple times, but you don’t really see that part and, instead, just get a a couple of close up scenes of a determined eye of the shark being stabbed to death.
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Overall, “Shark Killer” has classic PG-13 entertainment value, but doesn’t bring any new material to the deep trenches of a vast cinematic ocean. A disappointing creature-feature and action-adventure thriller entry from director/writer Sheldon Wilson who has taken a step in the wrong direction, away from the intense and jarring “Shallow Ground” that gave me hope for new blood in the water. “Shark Killer” incorporates too many variables and just chums the water with useless scenes where only a little simplicity and focus to a film could have been more beneficial for the Blue Ice Pictures production, who gave us “Fido” and “Alien Outpost,” and the RLJ Entertainment home entertainment release.