Skinned Deep

Skinned Deep~ 2004, Gabe Bartalos

In the bonus features on the Skinned Deep DVD, various cast and crew members speak of director Gabriel Bartalos as though he were some sort of mad genius… That’s a hard sell. I just don’t think if I can buy that, however, I will say this; there is a moment in Skinned Deep where the movie suddenly takes a hard right turn out of inept, and into insane. After this point, the rest of the film is cast an an entirely new light, it stops feeling like it deserves to be lopped in with other low budget, shot on video horror films of the era, like O-Zone/Street Zombies or Darkwalker, and more like it should be viewed as landing somewhere between Basket Case 2/3 and The Last House on Dead End Street. Having seen the whole film, it’s clear that Skinned Deep is a special case. That being said, I’m not sure how to feel about it.

The plot feels unimportant; it’s your typical “Girl get’s kidnapped by mutants and weirdos in the middle of nowhere” type scenario, a cross pollinated descendant of both The Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but the experience feels more like House of 1000 Corpses by way of Fred Olen Ray. The frustrating thing about the movie is that while some areas of the film’s production appear feeble or dangerously malnourished, there are other areas where talent, effort, and forethought are incredibly evident. Again, I’m not one to jump on the “Bartalos is a genius” bandwagon, but I get the feeling that with a proper budget and a good producer to keep things on track, he might be able to achieve something really special. As it is, this film’s execution is incredibly uneven, and there are more than enough flaws to turn off any audience which isn’t accustomed to this sort of straight to video bullshit.

No review of Skinned Deep would be complete without addressing the film’s real claim to fame, however, and that is the fight scene between Shakes, and Plates. Let’s get into this:

In the movie, Veteran little person actor Warwick Davis plays a deranged mutant (I guess?) called Plates, a name he earned due to his lethal use of dinnerware as projectile weaponry. Yep, he wings dishes at people. Plates and his tribe of freaks come up against a motorcycle gang made up of senior citizens, and one of these over the hill roughians is Shakes, an old man, who shakes a lot. With the stage set, the confrontation between bikers and mutants blossoms in a Psychotronic treasure which is the full on, knock down, drag out, King Kong VS Godzilla style fist fight of the New Millennium; the battle between a shaky old man and a dwarf who throws dishes at people. The Shakes VS Plates scene is worth the cost of admission alone. O-Zone can’t compete with that shit.

So, Bartalos has done lots of stuff, but he’s only directed one other film, which is a shame. I’d like to see more out of him. As it is, Skinned Deep is a curiosity, it doesn’t fit in with it’s peers, and is not so easily dismissed as other shot on video horror films of the past twenty years. I recommend it, because of the Shakes VS Plates scene, but I can’t honestly say that you will like it. More than anything else,  this movie exists as a strange detour, and as evidence that Bartalos may be some sort of relatively undiscovered talent waiting for an opportunity.

Of course, who knows what we would get out of him if he had to play by studio rules.


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Basket Case~ 1982, Frank Henenlotter


Basket Case is the debut full length motion picture from Frank Henenlotter. It’s gritty, trashy, bloody, it’s a real classic. There’s also more going on under the hood in Basket Case than you might find in some of it’s 80’s grindhouse contemporaries, and it deserves reverence and praise  all day and all night. I love this movie, and it’s nice when there’s something to talk about in these reviews.

THE PLOT: Basket Base follows Duane, a lanky geek with giant hair and a flannel shirt, as he saunters awkwardly around the Big Apple carrying a large wicker basket. As you can imagine, the first pretty girl he meets wants to get herself a piece of that.


There he is! Nothing weird going on there!

Duane predictably puts the attractive Susan on lock-down for future wrong-side-business. Little does Susan know, however, the contents of Duane’s giant nerd basket, or his mission in New York City… Duane was actually born with a conjoined twin, a monstrously deformed one, named Belial… Their parents made it very clear that they would love all their children equally when they chose to give the ugly one a Hebrew name meaning “worthless,” known to be the name of a particularly loathsome demon in the Catholic faith… Well, if the lopsided affections they had for their offspring wasn’t apparent from day one, things probably came into focus a little more for little Belial and Duane when mom and dad hired a team of doctors to come out to the house, separate the two, presumably killing Belial (but who cares), and then tossed Belial’s corpse into the trash. Secretly, he survives, though, and now he and Duane are grown up and in New York on a quest to track down each of the doctors responsible for their separation, so that Belial can maneuver his surprisingly mobile abomination of a body over and kill the shit out of them with his lumpy, deformed claws. So yeah, that giant, weirdo basket? That’s how Duane carries Belial around.


That’s him. He’s a total dick.

So, that’s pretty much the the movie. Other stuff happens, but that’s the set up.

So, here’s what’s special, beyond all the grue and the grit; what Henelotter has done here is to tell a story by bisecting the the human ego. In effect, Duane and Belial are the same character, with Duane making up the uncorrupted inner child, and Belial representing the parts of us that carry the burden of anger, fear, resentment, hate, and grudge. Belial is everything ugly inside of us all, smooshed into one angry little wad. He’s everything we need to learn to let go of in order to live a happy, healthy lives. At the beginning of the film, Duane’s commitment to Belial is absolute, but as he comes to see what his life could be without all the baggage, and as he starts to form new relationships, his dedication wanes, and he’s nearly able to let go of all these toxic emotions that have taken him down his destructive path… Only, by then, it’s too late.

In the end, the movie is about letting go of your Darth Vader and finding a way to hold onto your Anakin, because hate is destructive for all parties involved. What a positive message for a movie with full frontal (male) nudity and heaps of monster on human violence. Show this to your children.

This interesting dynamic of separating the human ego and exploring the resulting relationship is something Henenlotter would also play with in Brain Damage and Bad Biology, as well as in the two Basket Case sequels, albeit to a lesser extent… The sequels are not great, but this one sure is.