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.