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

The Lord Examines the Righteous, but the EVIL, Those Who Love Violence, He Hates with a Passion! “Holy Hell” reviewed!


Father Augustus Bane is a go-by-the-book type priest and through his unlimited optimism and passion, grudgingly turns the other cheek when life’s bitterly cold callousness bends him over a barrel and pulls his hair until bruised and raw on that very same turned cheek. When the God dedicated man of the cloth is pushed too far after the merciless slaughter of God worshipping parishioners and he is left for dead by a gang of demented family members, the surviving Father Bane is reborn and becomes destined to a vindictive life path with a six-shooting revolver he baptizes as The Lord. Hell hath no wrath like a priest scorned to obliterate all sinners from every walk of life in a blaze of the almighty glory (and gory) of The Lord and those explicitly responsible for the death of his congregational followers and much of the city’s crime and corruption will have nowhere to hide from their lethal penance.

What could be considered as the pious Punisher on steroids, Ryan LaPlante’s offensive-laden, satirical grindhouse exploitation feature, “Holy Hell,” is a confirmation of that films like LaPlante’s are sorely needed and pleasingly free in speech inside the dominion of today’s sensitive and politically correct cultural society. Surely not a product of the U.S. and will certainly piss some viewers off (especially zealots), this Canadian made production could only exist outside a conservative dome, looking inward for a weakness to seep and taint the sometimes too wholesome American cinema market that’s tiptoeing around what should expressively blunt and in your face. Let’s face it, folks, it’s a movie! LaPlante writes, directs, and stars in this movie of comedy, action, and exploitation that’s even too controversial for some of the supporting cast who used pseudonyms, such as punned Yennifer Lawrence and Zooey Deschansmell, as their stage names because of the deviant material.

The man with many hats, Ryan LaPlante stars as Father Augustus Bane, a cheerful priest with a firm belief of charity instead of violence, and as LaPlante’s first and only feature as a writer and director, “Holy Hell” snuggly fits the filmmaker’s contemning, vindictive, “autistic rage monger,” as another character described accurately. Satirically stoic, Bane reminisces the days of yore when severely slighted protagonist broke and the endured trauma became a journey of eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. LaPlante, whose career pivoted to the video game world and could so seamlessly, understood the mentality of once was with harden, good men turned relentlessly anti-heroic. Father Bane’s opposition had parallel penchants of aggressive stamina, but in a more deplorable and deviant calling. The MacFarlane family is about as coarse and as ruthless as they come ran unflinchingly by Dokes, the head of the family, with his wild eyes and skull earring atop his fishnet undershirt and open Hawaiian button down. Dokes is truly satanic as a ravishing villain from in co-producer’s Michael Rawley’s in his sardonic performance of the father of three. The “Disco Pigs” actor revels as Dokes in not only being the kingpin, but also a special daddy to his three rotten and just as maniacal kids – Trisha (Rachel Ann Little), Buddy (“Red Spring’s” Reece Presley), and, the more flagrant of the trio, Sissy, a labeled sadistic he/she of boundless perversion and a flair for the theatric played vivaciously by Shane Patrick McClurg and McClurg’s Sissy MacFarlane is difficult to dislike and is favorably one of the best and best portrayed characters alongside Father Bane and Dokes MacFarlane. The entire “Holy Hell” cast amazes as deviant delectation and round out with love interest Amy Bonner played by Alysa King (“Slasher” television series), Luke LaPlante, and Austin Schaefer.

While “Holy Hell” trails the established trope about a vindictive good man, a thrilling theme consisting inside half the grindhouse genre films of 70’s to 80’s, Ryan LaPlante doesn’t really offer much new to audiences whom are well versed; however, since “Holy Hell” is one big punch-to-the-face nod toward grindhouse and the filmmaker constructs a complete caricature picture, the shocking, the disgusting, and the hilarity mold almost an entirely new brand of grindhouse or, as I’ve coined, mockhouse. A mock-grindhouse film have natural degrading quality where filmmakers remain on the fray of getting the right look and feel of a grindhouse film, but LaPlante accomplishes the task, echoing the effect while adding his own brand of comedy. Also LaPlante’s bludgeoning of taboo is no holds barred comedy, especially on surface level narratives such as with Father Bane who has a tremendous arch to hurdle as a priest fueled with guilt and rage against an army of inhuman and derange psychopaths, plus all the other miscellaneous miscreants roaming the streets at all hours of the day, but the script is penned like the Divine retribution as the priest endures, almost in a supernaturally reborn or resurrected kind of way, after being shot six times in the form of a cross by Dokes that, ironically, acts as a blessing for Bane to declare war on evil.

Indican Pictures presents a Rogus Gallery production with “Holy Hell” onto a not rated DVD home video. The widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, has a warm toned coloring grading from digital grader Defiant and also embellishes the natural grain and blemishes to assimilate into the grindhouse collective. “Holy Hell” is intent only appealing to a comic book illustration that makes definition fuzzy, but not totally cleared from the playing field. The closes up of the gore is nicely displayed with a drenching and gruesome effect. I couldn’t detect a lot of girth from the Englih language 2.0 stereo track which makes me think LaPlante intended on suppressing much of the ambiance and up the soundtrack quality from composer Adrian Ellis, whose upbeat, synch-rock has killer intentions whenever the MacFarlane’s are rolling heads. DVD extras include a director’s commentary and a blooper reel. Chockfull with affronting one liners, “Holy Hell” is utterly sound being well-rounded with the best intentions paved in hooker blood and indecent exposure, as well as being highly entertaining, in one holy redeemable package of horror exploitation blessed by Ryan LaPlante himself.