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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Skeleton Crew
Skeleton Crew
Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // July 21, 2009
List Price: $24.49 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Bill Gibron | posted May 5, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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The Product:
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It's also the bastion for individuals without a single original idea themselves. In movies, it's called a 'homage'. In writing, it's known as plagiarism. Granted, there are directors like Quentin Tarantino who can balance outright stealing with his own unique approaches to create something that seems wholly his own. But for the most part, novices draw inspiration from those who came before because it's a shortcut to actually coming up with something different or inspired. Take the horror film Skeleton Crew. Crafted by two clear fans of the genre - novice writer/directors Tommi Lepola and Tero Molin - this attempted haunted hospital possession romp offers the appearance of a brash, bold scare statement. But as another old maxim reminds us, looks can be deceiving. In this case, what should have been suspenseful comes up dull and derivative, too obvious to be imaginative, too scattered to be unnerving.

The Plot:
In a remote Finnish mental hospital, the crew of a new horror movie discovers the private screening room of The Auteur - a deranged doctor from the '70s who was convicted of using the asylum as a staging ground for his horrific violent snuff films. He killed dozens of patients before being captured, though the police never found his secret stash of slaughter epics. Now, UK director Steven has become obsessed with the man's work - and his movie is suffering for it. Indeed, within hours of finding the evidence, people start dying one by one. Seems the Auteur is back (in a manner of speaking) and is returning to his fatal point and shoot ways. However, this could all be part of some elaborate joke. Or a weird scary movie within a movie. Or even worse - reality trapped in the cruel, callous world of an actual horror film. Huh?

The DVD:
Its title instantly reminds the viewer of the sensational collection of short stories by horror master Stephen King. The initial setting is reminiscent of Suspiria. The minute we move inside, it's Hostel combined with every haunted asylum storyline ever. Then there's a little of House on Haunted Hill. Then any number of nominal independent fright film. Then a bit of Scream. Then...well, then just stupidity. While there will be some who celebrate Skeleton Crew as a novel bit of macabre mindf*cking, an experience that never once settles down to let the audience get its bearings, this cinematic excuse for adult ADD is like watching a little kid withdraw from Ritalin. One moment, we're stuck in a mediocre foreign film where bad actors accentuate effective mood to turn things lopsided and lame. Then - BANG! - a twist reveal is offered, and we suddenly realize this is one of those quirky, idiosyncratic deals. Unfortunately, that makes the first 20 minutes of Skeleton Crew a complete waste of time, even if the last shot is repeated near the end of the film. Unfortunately, the middle 67 are so uninspired and boring that the whole experience ends up feeling flaccid and uninspired.

You just know Finnish filmmakers Tommi Lepola and Tero Molin think they are creating some kind of referential masterwork. The attention to detail they offer during the snuff film segments (yes - there's that in here too) can be admired, though the material is less than successful as part of the story. The lapses in logic are also so massive and misguided that we never really understand the situation. Is the director possessed? Just crazy? Is this really some kind of crazy cosmic cock-up where real live human beings end up part of some surreal fictional slice of celluloid? Does everyone die or just pretend to pass on? Or is it all fake, a con to create the ultimate interactive horror film? Who knows - and frankly, who cares. The tendency for those tired of old school scares will be to embrace Lepola and Molin as macabre mavericks, kicking past the antique ways that seem to send dread into a tailspin every few years or so. But the fact remains that Skeleton Crew doesn't work. It can't. The filmmakers haven't even figured out how to make is all appear reasonable and well thought out.

Is there anything of value here, you may ask? Actually, there are some things worth noting. The performances are uniformly decent, even the over the top obnoxiousness of David Yoken's Bruce/Dr. Andersson. Steve Porter may spend too much time looking through his eyebrows as director/demented killer The Auteur (what a terrible comic book name), but he's a compelling presence, while the rest of the ever-European cast are complementary to what the directors want to accomplish. The asylum setting is also very spooky, the aura of past atrocities floating throughout its tattered and crumbling walls. But oddly enough, none of this is adequate. Lesser films have made menacing mountains out of fewer scary movie finery, and yet Skeleton Crew can't build up anything remotely resembling shivers. Instead, it's all intellectualized and full of itself, ambitions treading lead-footed all over the basic tenets of terror. If you're so suspicious about the art form that you can't comprehend anything other than attempts at experimental scares, Skeleton Crew might satisfy you. Otherwise, skip this avant-garde silliness.

The Video:
Lightning Media provided DVD Talk with a Screener copy of the film. No main menu. No added content. Just the movie itself. As a result, there will be no score for the video, audio or extras. The movie does look and sound good, but what will appear as part of any final product packaging remains a mystery.

The Audio:
Lightning Media provided DVD Talk with a Screener copy of the film. No main menu. No added content. Just the movie itself. As a result, there will be no score for the video, audio or extras. The movie does look and sound good, but what will appear as part of any final product packaging remains a mystery.

The Extras:
Lightning Media provided DVD Talk with a Screener copy of the film. No main menu. No added content. Just the movie itself. As a result, there will be no score for the video, audio or extras. The movie does look and sound good, but what will appear as part of any final product packaging remains a mystery.

Final Thoughts:
As a dyed-in-the-wool horror nut, capable of enjoying everything from the gore-laden greatness of Lucio Fulci to the fractured finesse of John Carpenter, it takes a lot to turn this critic off the scary stuff. Even when he's not particularly impressed, he can give attempted fright its due. Not this time. Skeleton Crew is a crime, the kind of waste of effort affront that makes you rethink your love of the genre in the first place. Earning an easy Skip It, there will be those in the dread demo who just can't believe that there's nothing here of value. For them, the advice is simple - enter at your own risk. On the outside, Skeleton Crew looks like something that would deliver on every facet of its fear mongering. It has mood, mystery, and some easy to comprehend menace. But be wary of movies that appear to bear actual horror gifts. They sometimes wind up empty handed.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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